Dealing with Hair Serum Side Effects: What to Do When Your Hair Serum Causes Problems

Young girl in white t-shirt holds in her left hand the tips of her curly hair and her right hand applies them yellow oil.

Key Points

  • Hair serums come with amazing benefits, but sometimes it takes a few tries to find the perfect product and method for you.

  • If you're experiencing dryness with your serum, check the ingredients of your serum, apply it to damp hair, and perhaps use it more often.

  • Some serums or an excess of serum weigh down hair, especially fair textured hair.

  • Using too much serum or being rough on your damp hair leads to breakage.

  • Stop using your hair serum if you're experiencing scalp irritation or even an allergic reaction.

Is your hair serum lacking the benefits you were hoping for? Don't worry if you experience dryness, breakage, or irritation — there are solutions. It could be as simple as adjusting the amount you use, changing your technique for applying the serum, or trying out a new product.

Be patient when starting a new product, as it takes time for your hair to adjust to new changes and truly reflect how the product affects you. However, if you notice a negative change in your hair, use this guide to find out what might be causing the decline in your hair. Hair serums should bring joy and life to your hair, not cause problems!

Possible Side Effects of Hair Serums

While there are so many benefits of hair serums, there are also possible side effects or issues you might encounter. Don't worry if you're dealing with some minor side effects or negative aspects of your hair serum; it takes some time to find the perfect routine and product for you. Which hair serum side effects are you experiencing?

Close up hand holding dry damaged hair problem in white bathroom


Hair serums that contain alcohol or silicone may dry out your hair. Alcohol strips the natural oils from your hair and draws water away from your hair, drying it out. Silicone creates a barrier that prevents moisture from escaping the hair shaft, but it also leaves a build-up that prevents hair from penetrating the hair shaft. This can make your hair feel dry, brittle, and more prone to breakage.

If you're experiencing dryness from your hair serum, ensure you're using a serum without alcohol or silicones. Use a scalp scrub, clarifying shampoo, or DIY baking soda paste to remove build-up from your hair and allow your shafts to absorb nutrients better. Feed into the (expert-approved) Spring 2023 TikTok trend of hair cycling to switch up your products and give your hair the best of all worlds. Ditch the hair serum that's making you dry and go for a serum designed for dry hair. Apply it while your hair is damp hair so it's absorbed most effectively.

If your hair is still dry while using a proper, nourishing hair serum, your technique may be off. Make sure you apply your serum to damp hair when your cuticle is open to permit water and other substances inside the shaft. Apply a pea-sized amount to the palm of your hand, rub them together, and distribute it from the tips up. It's best to apply serum to damp hair, but you should also reapply small amounts throughout the day if your hair needs an extra boost of moisture, shine, or frizz control.

Weighing Down Hair

Sometimes, hair serums weigh your hair down, making it look limp and lifeless. This is especially common with fine hair as it gets weighed down easily. Hair serums can weigh down your hair, making it look limp and lifeless. If you have fine hair, choose a lightweight hair serum that does not weigh it down. If your hair is still looking drab, remove the build-up from your hair and try a serum for fine hair free from silicones and heavy oils.

Try using less product if your hair feels or looks weighed down. It's likely that you're using too much serum, and your hair is drowning a bit. Start with just a few drops in your hand and evenly distribute it. You can always add more later, but you can't take it back off.

Apply your hair serum to damp hair to avoid a weighed-down effect. Hair serum is easier to distribute into damp hair, and it absorbs more effectively. Applying hair serum to dry hair means you could have patches of hair with heavy serum and patches with no serum. It also means your product has a more difficult time absorbing in. Keep your hair light, bouncy, and full of life by using a light serum, in a small amount, on damp hair.


If you notice that your hair is breaking too easily or more often, you may be using too much serum and weighing your hair down. Using too much serum is too heavy for your hair, weakens your strands, and makes it more difficult to manage your hair. This leads to tangles and more need to pull when styling. Hair serum should strengthen your hair and prevent breakage.

To avoid breakage with your hair serum, start by using less serum and being gentler on your hair. Look for a serum that dispenses as a spray or has a watery viscosity to allow for easier distribution. Avoid brushing or combing your hair while it's wet, as this leads to more breakage.

Breakage comes from a weak cortex of the hair, which gains strength from keratin and other proteins. Strengthen your strands by eating a well-balanced diet containing plenty of protein, seeds, vegetable oils, and nuts. Use a hair serum that contains strengthening ingredients, such as keratin and vitamin E.

Irritation or Allergy

Some hair serums or ingredients can irritate your scalp, causing redness, itching, or flaking. This is usually due to the presence of harsh chemicals or allergens in the serum. If you experience any irritation, stop using the serum and consult with a doctor or dermatologist. Determine which ingredient you're reacting to in order to avoid it in future products.

In rare cases, hair serums cause an allergic reaction, such as hives, swelling, or difficulty breathing. This is usually due to the presence of an allergen in the serum. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop using the serum and seek medical attention immediately. Determine what you are allergic to with an allergist, and avoid using any products with this allergen. If you are prone to allergies, explore the world of effective yet hypoallergenic hair serums.

Scalp irritation and reactions are more likely to happen with serums that contain chemicals, fragrances, silicones, and medications. If you're struggling with scalp irritation, opt for a more natural serum without these common irritants. There are plenty of products that are just effective with natural ingredients!

If your scalp is easily irritated by products, avoid applying the serum to your scalp. You can reap most of the benefits from hair serum by just applying it to your ends and shafts. The only serums that need to be on your scalp are those for hair growth, dandruff control, or other scalp treatments. Cover all of your bases and ensure your shampoo and conditioner don't contain any irritating ingredients. Make sure you thoroughly rinse your scalp on wash day, as leftover shampoo is sure to make your scalp itchy!

Don't Settle, Keep Searching

If your hair serum is causing you problems, don't settle for a frustrating product. There's a perfect serum and routine for you to have frizz-free, nourished, protected, and shiny locks. Don't let this bump in the road turn you away from finding the right hair care for you.

If you've tried several products and routines, but you're still experiencing issues, you may need to see a dermatologist to determine an underlying cause. According to the American Association of Dermatologists, "If changing how you care for your hair does not help you see healthier hair, you may want to see a dermatologist. Your hair care may not be the root cause of your problem. Seeing a dermatologist is especially important if you are concerned about thinning hair or hair loss. Most causes can be stopped or treated. The sooner the problem is addressed, the better your results."

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