It's the resident joke mentioned even by Fred in his pirate radio programme:

"He can run faster than Severus Snape confronted with shampoo"

-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Since he was a student at Hogwarts, he's been mocked for his unkempt hair and for a teenager that can be quite painful. Why didn't he brew a potion to fix it? Severus Snape is supposed to be good at this stuff...

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    Conforming isn't exactly something social outcasts are known for.
    – user40790
    Nov 3, 2016 at 16:46
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    There are people with greasy hair in our modern societies as well. And a cure exists... a magical potion called 'shampoo'. Why don't these people use it?
    – RimaNari
    Nov 3, 2016 at 20:15
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    @Axelrod Oh, don't worry, I was only joking. 'T was a parody of the stackexchange norm/standard of claims being backed up properly by cited sources, I thought it'd be funny to off-handedly joke about "sources" about your, also off-handed/casual subjective remark. Nov 3, 2016 at 21:14
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    There are some things even magic can't do. Nov 3, 2016 at 22:59
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    The meta answer to this is that it's an archetype in muggle society. The greasy-haired teen who's quiet and kind of weird and nobody ever sees around and usually keeps to himself. That's the trope that JKR is trying to portray here.
    – jfa
    Nov 6, 2016 at 21:29

8 Answers 8


It's been well addressed that Snape was somewhat of an awkward kid with amazing potion-brewing abilities. Here's my take on why his hair was so greasy:

In Deathly Hallows, chapter 33, "The Prince's Tale," we get to see all of Snape's (important) memories, all the way back to when he was a child. The first description of him we get from these earliest memories isn't very pleasant:

"His black hair was overlong and his clothes were so mismatched that it looked deliberate: too short jeans, a shabby, overlarge coat that might have belonged to a grown man, an odd smocklike shirt."

Honestly, if I heard that without knowing it was about Snape, it would sound like the description was referring to a Weasley! Hand-me-downs from varying sources sounds like Snape's family was very poor. He had very little control over the quality of his clothing. They probably didn't have any money for anything to help his hair as a child.

Moving on to his teenage years, I doubt the family found any extra money still. Snape has been developing his potion skills, and he would definitely know how to fix his hair. My guess is he tried it once or twice, but of course it would wear off after a time. He most likely didn't have much money for so many ingredients as to keep a constant supply of hair-helping potion. He had plenty of practice with potion making though, which would mean he probably had access to the Hogwarts potion ingredients room, but I doubt he would have been able to take the ingredients for that much personal use of hair keeping. Therefore, he kept his greasy hair for his teenage years.

Fast forward to when he holds a steady job as the Hogwarts potions teacher, with enough money to do what he wants and all of the ingredients in his office. Even though he had it all accessible to him, why would he? The love of his life Lily was dead, which looking at his past was the only noble thing he cared about (the only thing else he cared about was the Dark Arts and I don't think getting rid of greasy hair is on the top of that list). He did not care for what his students thought about his hair, because he of course could intimidate them through his position as teacher; naturally he was very rude to most students and fixing his greasy hair wouldn't change how the students viewed him.

So basically, the only reason I can think he would fix his greasy hair would be for Lily, and the only time he had the resources to do so was after she was gone. He had no reason to as a teacher and no ability to as a child.

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    I think Snape didn't care about student's oppinion regarding his hair because he didn't care about students' oppinion regarding him at all. He did care about how Voldy, Deat Eaters and Dumbeldore see him.
    – Crowley
    Nov 7, 2016 at 13:30

J.K. Rowling addressed this in an interview back in 2007. Her answer is short but effective...

Hannah: Why was Snape so badly groomed?

J.K. Rowling: Hmm. Good question. Poor eyesight? Did he look in the mirror and believe he was gorgeous as he was?

J.K. Rowling: I think it more likely that he valued other qualities in himself!

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    Indeed, such a skilled potion maker probably could have brewed himself into improving most of his physical attributes to some degree or another. But he just wouldn't have been Severus Snape! (Also most people with greasy hair, dandruff and other issues probably COULD do something about it - they just don't seem to!)
    – ThruGog
    Nov 3, 2016 at 17:04
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    @ThruGog, false, You don't know most people who have those issues because they do do something about them. The ones who don't... well J.K.'s answer is the usual excuse but it's generally just laziness or a type of mental block. Source: I'm an anti-social, introverted programmer, with a million projects on my plate. I still groom myself.
    – Ryan
    Nov 3, 2016 at 18:06
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    And of course some folks may try their best to take care of basic hygiene or cosmetic matters, none of which may particularly work for them. Other folks simply have other priorities or prefer themselves in a particular way. The point being- don't be so quick to judge. If dandruff were that easy to permanently cure, people wouldn't have to keep buying the shampoos.
    – Broklynite
    Nov 3, 2016 at 19:05
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    @ThruGog - and some people require a high end cosmetologist and a super expensive medicine prescribed by such to even start to fix said dandruff, when 200 other approaches failed for years (several people I know ended up like that). Let's not baseessly generalize, shall we? Nov 3, 2016 at 21:08
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    Dear me, I was only making the point that appearance is not everything to some people, much like one of my favourite characters EVER Severus Snape. I hardly meant to insult anyone with medical issues! And, @Broklynite - regularly using a shampoo = doing something about it, surely?
    – ThruGog
    Nov 3, 2016 at 22:00

I like the above answer, but my personal fun theory is that Snape refused to use the most well-known hair potion (and the only example I can think of), which was created by....

Fleamont Potter, father of James and grandfather of Harry.

Henry’s son was called Fleamont Potter. Fleamont was so called because it was the dying wish of Henry’s mother that he perpetuate her maiden name, which would otherwise die out. He bore the burden remarkably well; indeed, he always attributed his dexterity at dueling to the number of times he had to fight people at Hogwarts after they had made fun of his name. It was Fleamont who took the family gold and quadrupled it, by creating magical Sleekeazy’s Hair Potion ( ‘two drops tames even the most bothersome barnet’ ). He sold the company at a vast profit when he retired, but no amount of riches could compensate him or his wife Euphemia for their childlessness. They had quite given up hope of a son or daughter when, to their shock and surprise, Euphemia found that she was pregnant and their beloved boy, James, was born.

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    That's brilliant! I love your theory of Severus absolutely refusing to touch any potter products.
    – user68762
    Nov 3, 2016 at 18:08
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    While this is a nice connection, there is nothing that tells the potion cleaned your hair. Snape is also shown to be generally messy/dirty rather than just his hair.
    – Skooba
    Nov 3, 2016 at 18:08
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    The only time I remember Sleekeazy's Hair Potion being mentioned in the books was in GoF when Hermione confessed to using it for the Yule Ball. That suggests it's more of a hair-styling potion than a hair-cleaning potion. So, clever theory, but I don't think it holds up.
    – Torisuda
    Nov 3, 2016 at 20:29
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    @Torisuda But it may mean that severus associated haircare potions with the loathed Potter name, that is with a certain jock and his artistically messed up hair (and who probably inspired the sectumsempra curse) while he, Severus was above such superficial things.
    – user68762
    Nov 3, 2016 at 20:56

There may be a practical reason for his unkempt hair and lack of grooming in general. Namely that he is the Potions teacher.

He teaches in an enclosed space, underground. He teaches students to brew potions. Potions emit smoke and various noxious fumes in the best of circumstances. When brewed by students, many of whom aren't particularly interested or talented in mixology, the results tend to be more vile and explosive.

Unlike the students, who have one class each day, Snape has to teach multiple classes and thus is exposed to more, and more varied, effusions.

His greasy hair could be his acknowledgement that it is going to get messed up anyway. It could be the result of the side effects of the fumes it is constantly exposed to. Or it could even be a defense to keep the worst of it from reaching his follicles or scalp.

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    There would probably be spells that could be cast to protect hair from such things. Or more importantly protect the potions from magical properties of hair.
    – PStag
    Nov 5, 2016 at 20:17

Another thing to remember is that 99% of the book series is told from Harry Potter's point of view; his thoughts, reactions, perceptions, etc... This is not to say that Harry is an entirely unreliable narrator of course, but one could imagine that we are technically really only seeing the other characters through Harry's eyes. Yes, his observations are generally backed up by the supporting cast, (ie - nobody in Gryffindor likes Snape)


As a child I was a lot like Snape: Bright, abused at home, bullied at school, with abysmal hygiene.

At some point I simply decided that I wasn't going to wash. The other kids tried to change this with varying degrees of pestering and bullying, but because I was already alienated from them, I couldn't have cared less how they felt, and I had no interest in being more like the people who treated me like crap.

After I grew up and moved out, I started bathing regularly, so I am less like Snape there.

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    Yeah, makes sense that one doesnt make an effort for ppl who treat him like shit. Adult snape seemed to care even less about public opinion and wasnt very good in social situations, so he'd probably also kept his grooming habits.
    – user68762
    Nov 4, 2016 at 7:45

Speaking from personal experience: When you are a bit of a social outcast, and you don't really care what others think of you (for the most part), then you are liable to let some of your personal grooming lapse below what others consider minimal standard. (Not enough to risk people thinking you are diseased, mind you...)

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    Ah, i get that. And maybe we're being terribly shallow discussing poor Severus's hair... :-P
    – user68762
    Nov 3, 2016 at 20:24

One possible reason is that is the byproduct of some sort of protection. Advanced potions can be very sensitive to added ingredients. The grease might be there to hold any loose hairs until he could remove them outside of the lab.

As to why a spell could not do the same thing there could be interference issues. Therefore a non magical grease.

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