"When you're stressed and you increase cortisol, then you can certainly increase oil production as well," says Dr. Garshick. No matter how prepared you are, flying is a stressful situation. Oil production picks up when you're stressed because the glands that create oil and sebum have hormonal receptors on them, and cortisol is a fight-or-flight hormone that our body produces when we experience stress.
Another reason why your hair might be greasy after a flight is that you're stuck in one spot with limited airflow.
"When you're sitting in the same position for a little while, maybe you're wearing headphones—there can be a build-up of sebum and oil," says Dr. Garshick. "And you're not exposed to kind of the outside air so there's a theoretical risk of just build-up contributing to a greasy weathered look."
Lastly, there's a chance that the dry air in the plane cabin could be causing your scalp to overcompensate and produce more oil, but Dr. Garshick says this is very unlikely to happen over the course of a flight.
How to prevent greasy hair after a flight
Unfortunately, prevention is tricky. In some ways, this stress-induced oil production is unavoidable since so many of the stressors that pop up around flying are out of your control. But, do your best to keep stress levels low when flying. Give yourself ample time to make it through the airport and bring along activities that can help keep you calm, like a good book. If the issue is more about being stuck in one spot, there isn't much you can do to change that shy of walking the aisle to keep your hair moving (which is a bit extreme).
Your best bet? Apply some dry shampoo, like the Living Proof Perfect hair Day (PhD) Dry Shampoo ($30), before take-off in an effort to absorb the oil as it's produced. Just make sure you're shampooing before your flight, because if you're boarding with days worth of dry-shampoo build-up, it could end up even greasier. "The challenge with dry shampoo is that even though it's doing what it can to absorb the excess oil in a period of time, if it actually does replace washing your hair over a several-day period, then you are gonna get that sort of perpetual buildup of oil and can get irritation and inflammation," says Dr. Garshick.
Overall, try not to be too hard on yourself. Travel is a stressful situation and if the worst thing that happens is your hair getting a little greasy, you're in good shape.
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