8 Reasons Why Your Scalp Has a Bad Odor

Issues with your scalp can range from itching and flakes to dryness and irritation. Unfortunately, some people also experience a funny odor coming from their scalp. Many times, it’s easy to brush it off as your hair having a bad smell. But, when it’s the skin underneath it could be the sign of an underlying scalp problem.

If your scalp has a sour smell, it can quickly become embarrassing. Bad scalp smells tend to emanate from your hair. So, it’s unlikely you’re the only one noticing it. Once your friends, family, co-workers, etc., start to notice it, it can become even more of an issue.

Knowing the different potential causes of a foul-smelling scalp can help you treat it quickly. The good news is that many of the issues causing a bad smell can be treated. The sooner you do something about the odor, the better.

The important thing is to understand that if a bad smell lingers even after you’ve washed your hair, it’s more likely that the actual skin of your scalp stinks, not your hair. While it’s necessary to take proper care of both, focusing on the health of the scalp can eliminate the bad smell. As a result, your hair won’t ‘stink’ anymore, either.

Why Does My Scalp Smell Bad?

This article will cover several of the common causes of a bad-smelling scalp. It doesn’t always mean your hair is dirty. It also doesn’t necessarily mean you have a skin condition of any kind. In many cases, a simple fix is all that is needed.

By making a few lifestyle changes or product choices, you can eliminate the stench from your scalp. As a result, your hair won’t smell as bad either, and you can be confident in being close to others without embarrassment.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the prominent reasons people get scalp odor. We’ll also cover what you can do to make a difference, depending on what’s causing your scalp to smell bad.

  1. Over-washing Your Hair

When you wash your hair, you’re also essentially washing your scalp. Unfortunately, over-washing can damage your hair and cause it to dry out. Even if you’ve already heard that bit of information before, you may not realize that it can also cause your scalp to start to stink.

Washing is supposed to help eliminate odors. Doing it too much, though, can have the opposite effect. It can cause a smelly scalp because it strips away the natural oils from your hair. This does more than cause frizz and damage to your tresses. Your body wants to protect your hair. If it notices the oils being removed, it will overcompensate. Your scalp will start to produce more oils.

Not only can this make your hair greasy and lead to things like dandruff, but it also makes it easier for your hair and scalp to hold onto odors. Dirt, sweat, and debris will ‘stick’ to your skin easily. Even when you go to wash your hair again, the constant buildup of oils won’t necessarily help the bad smell.

Obviously, the key here is to cut back on how often you wash. For starters, you may need to switch to a clarifying or anti-dandruff shampoo. Once your hair and scalp are normal, cut back on your washing to every other day, or a few times a week.

  1. Not Washing Your Hair Enough

On one hand, it probably makes sense that not washing your hair enough will cause your scalp to smell. On the other hand, we just suggested that washing it too much can make it smell, too. Both of these causes are correct. It’s necessary to find the right shampoo and the right balance for your hair health.

Ironically, the actual reason behind this cause is the same as it is when you wash too. When you don’t cleanse your hair properly, oils are allowed to build up on the scalp. The bacteria that live within these natural oils tend to die after a few days. If you haven’t washed your hair in that time, they can give off an extremely foul odor.

  1. ‘Smelly Hair Syndrome’

This label is given to people who seem to have smelly hair or a stinky scalp no matter what. But, there is still a reason behind it. Even if you wash your hair properly and at the right frequency, you can develop this condition.

Smelly Hair Syndrome (SHS) occurs when you have overactive sweat and oil glands on your scalp. When the skin on your scalp secretes too much oil and sweat, it can start to smell quickly. More often than not, it’s a hormonal imbalance that causes this problem. Seeing a dermatologist is often the best solution. You may need to start taking a prescription medication designed to even out your hormone levels.

  1. Skin Conditions

Your head is susceptible to multiple skin conditions. Sometimes, these conditions can be even harder to treat on the scalp than elsewhere on the body, because it’s covered with hair. Many of these conditions lead to itching and scratching of the skin. That can lead to potential infections, which can give foul odors a boost.

Additionally, certain skin conditions can create sores that ooze or ‘leak’ from the scalp. These discharges often smell sour and rotten.

Some of the most common skin conditions that affect the scalp include:

Each of these conditions must be taken care of individually. The treatment solutions are different for all of them. Pay close attention to the overall health of your scalp, and ‘look’ at it as often as possible by gently parting your hair. If you see any strange patches, lesions, or sores, seek out the advice of a doctor immediately to begin treatment.

  1. Cosmetic Products

Choosing the right hair care products is important for the health of your locks. Some products contain chemicals that will have a negative reaction to the natural oils on your hair. This can come from shampoo, hair dyes, conditioners, etc.

Even if a hair product smells great in the bottle (often due to preservatives and added fragrances), they can react poorly to the oils your body naturally produces. A product that might make your scalp smell bad may not have the same effect on someone else.

The easiest way to eliminate this problem is to choose hair care products that contain natural ingredients. If chemicals are to blame for causing a smelly reaction, getting rid of them can help to give your hair and scalp a more natural, sweeter smell. This is one of the easiest ‘fixes’ for getting rid of a foul-smelling scalp. A simple product switch can make a big difference.

Here are top three natural shampoos as of today:

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  1. Stress

Having high levels of stress all the time can create a lot of health problems. Stress takes a toll on us, physically and mentally. It can also affect your hair and scalp. Sometimes, stress can even cause your hair to thin or fall out.

When it comes to the smell of your scalp, too much stress won’t do you any favors. Stress tends to interfere with the natural production of hormones. These hormonal imbalances can lead to various skin conditions. Conditions like acne can occur on the skin under your hair. Unfortunately, it’s harder to treat in that spot. So, it can lead to oozing and smelly discharges coming from pimples and other sores.

Stress and anxiety can also cause your scalp to produce more oil, and hold onto more odors in the air. These odors can cling to an oily scalp and hold on much stronger than they would otherwise.

It may seem impossible to eliminate stress from your life completely. However, whatever you can do to make yourself less anxious can help. Try some relaxing techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Or, get more exercise to alleviate some of your daily anxiety. Find what works for you to bring your body into a calmer state, and your hair and scalp should respond positively.

  1. Wearing Hats

It’s not uncommon for people to wear hats, helmets, and head scarves for various reasons. Unfortunately, wearing them for long periods of time can lead to a foul stench coming from your hair and scalp. It’s easy to think it’s just the hat itself holding onto odors. While keeping your hats clean can help, it’s not the main culprit of a bad smell.

When you cover your head for long periods of time, you’re more likely to sweat. Increased sweat on the scalp serves as food for the bacteria that live there. As this bacteria thrives, it will give off a nasty stench that won’t just cling to your hair, but your actual skin.

There are many benefits to hats, but wearing them for too long can create a smelly situation. Be aware of how long you keep your head covered each day. Make sure you’re giving your scalp enough time each day to ‘air out.’

  1. Poor Diet

As with many health conditions, a smelly scalp could be directly linked to your diet. If none of the other causes listed in this article seem to fit, you should take a look at your daily nutrition. You may have an excess of yeast in your system.

Too much yeast can create a sour smell that is extremely distinct and noticeable. Yeast is also considered to be a form of fungus. You may not realize how much yeast you’re ingesting throughout the day. Be sure to read product labels of everything you’re eating. If you notice that many of your regular diet choices contain yeast, cut back on these items to see if it makes a difference in how your hair and scalp smell.

What Are the Symptoms of a Stinky Scalp?

The biggest symptom of a bad-smelling scalp is pretty obvious: Once you notice a foul odor, you can expect that those around you are noticing it, too. However, there are other things to pay attention to.

The following symptoms typically occur with a smelly scalp:

  • Itching and irritation on the skin
  • Rashes
  • Bruising or tenderness
  • Liquid-filled lesions that begin oozing
  • Swelling all over the scalp

In some cases, you may even notice things like gnats or flies constantly flying around the scalp. The worst part is that the smell can be transferred to things like hats, clothes, pillowcases, etc. These embarrassing symptoms make it even more important to figure out the cause quickly so it can be removed.

Is It Easy to Treat a Scalp That Smells Bad?

As you can see, there are multiple factors to be considered if you have a sour-smelling scalp. The good news is that most of the causes listed here can be remedied quickly. Whether you need to change your routine, your products, or your diet, it’s not impossible to reverse the effects that caused a bad smell in the first place.

If you have an underlying skin or medical condition, there are treatments available. Some conditions may never be fully cured. However, you can manage them effectively, so you don’t constantly have to deal with their side effects and symptoms. For these skin conditions, seeing a doctor or dermatologist is often the best option. An official diagnosis should be made before you start a treatment.

We hope this article has given you some insight and some hope. A smelly scalp can drag down your confidence. If you haven’t been sure of what’s causing the problem, to begin with, that can create a lot of frustration. Take a look at the causes listed above. If you find that you can relate to any of them, take comfort in knowing you can make some simple changes and have a healthier, better-smelling scalp.

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