Your scalp’s foul odor must be embarrassing. We understand that monsoons make your sweaty scalp condition worse. If you want to fix the hair smell naturally, we are here to help you.
In this article, let’s explore effective herbal and home remedies to make your hair smell great.
Our Ayurvedic Doctor Speaks
"The microbes break down your scalp sebum, sweat or dead cells, into certain acids that cause an unpleasant foul smell."
Dr. Zeel Gandhi (Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine & Surgery), Chief Ayurvedic Doctor, Vedix
What Is Smelly Hair Syndrome?
Smelly hair syndrome involves a malodor that your scalp and hair produce due to a variety of bacterial and fungal growth. ‘’The microbes break down your scalp sebum, sweat or dead cells, into certain acids that cause an unpleasant foul smell’’, says Dr. Zeel Gandhi, Chief Ayurvedic Doctor at Vedix.
What Does Smelly Hair Smell Like?
People often compare the odor of smelly hair and scalp to sour milk, dirty socks, and sometimes stinky diapers. People can easily notice the pungent stench.
Why Do You Have Smelly Hair?
‘’Often, a smelly scalp can be the result of insufficient washing or bad hair hygiene. However, there could also be much deeper issues that may cause a smelly scalp despite regular washing,’’ says Dr. Zeel.
According to Ayurveda, if Kapha and Pitta doshas are aggravated in your body, your scalp produces excess sebum and sweat. This, in turn, results in various microbial scalp infections like oily dandruff, scalp psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, yeast infestations, etc. causing smelly scalp and hair.
This is usually more common in people with Kapha dominating innate Prakriti, who have oily scalp with highly active sebum glands.
In adults, the average rate of sebum production is 1mg/10 sq cm every 3 hours. It is considered oily skin when the sebum production exceeds 1.5 mg/10 sq cm for every 3 hours .
To reverse your smelly hair syndrome, you need to bring tridoshas in your body to a balanced state that can be achieved naturally through Ayurveda.
Before that, let us understand different factors that cause an imbalance in your Kapha and Pitta doshas, resulting in smelly hair and scalp.
What Causes Smelly Hair And Scalp?
1. Hormonal Imbalances And Stress
During conditions like puberty in men and pregnancy, menopause, etc. in women, the body undergoes extreme fluctuations in hormone production. This leads to sebum overproduction on your scalp.
‘’A stressful lifestyle could often be a potential cause for hormonal imbalance. This triggers excessive sebum production on your scalp,’’ says Dr. Zeel.
2. Improper Diet
Eating oily or fried foods, dairy products, excessively spicy, and salty foods may cause vitiation in your doshas. This results in the secretion of excessive scalp oils.
3. Seasonal Conditions
Extreme humidity in the environment during monsoons promotes microbial growth on the skin and scalp. This can lead to smelly scalp if not washed regularly.
Various pollutants in the air can get trapped in your scalp oils and sebum, emitting pungent smells. This further clogs your hair follicles, causing hair loss.
5. Chemical Hair Products
The chemical build-up from different hair care products disturbs your scalp pH. Accumulation of the chemicals can also cause overproduction of sebum and scalp smell.
6. Unhygienic Hair Habits
Here are some of the bad hair habits that can aggravate your scalp smell syndrome:
- Not washing your hair enough
- Prolonged usage of scarfs or caps made of a material that trap sweat on your scalp
- Washing your hair using hot water
- Keeping your hair tied for a long time when you are sweating can block air passage. This leads to accumulation of sweat in the inner layers of your hair
7. Excessive Sweating
Some people tend to have a sweaty scalp compared to others. This condition is called scalp hyperhidrosis . People with this condition need to wash the scalp more frequently to keep it clean and odor free.
Also, if you skip hair wash after your workout session, the sweat builds up on the scalp tissue, resulting in a bad smell.
8. Under Or Over Washing Hair
It’s a known fact that not washing your scalp and hair adequately using a good cleanser paves way for sebum and bacteria to build up. But, over-washing your scalp with harsh cleansers can do the same.
Excessive use of toxic hair products like shampoos strips essential natural oils from your scalp. This triggers a counter-reaction of excess sebum production to balance the dryness. Thus, it leads to sebum build-up and smelly scalp.
9. Fungal Infections
Some fungal species that live on your skin microbiome, can trigger inflammatory reactions such as eczema, folliculitis, dandruff, etc., on your scalp. These infections can be associated with smelly scalp and hair.
Effective Ways To Get Rid Of Smelly Scalp And Hair
1. Essential Oils For Smelly Hair
Besides their strong aromatic capabilities, the essential oils mentioned below possess vital chemical properties that can benefit your scalp health.
A. Cedar Wood Oil
B. Lavender Oil
It is rich in linalool and linalyl acetate, known to be potent antimicrobial agents against pathogenic bacteria. Also, lavender oil is very helpful in maintaining your scalp's pH balance.
C. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is the most commonly used essential oil in treating dandruff and other pathogenic scalp infections due to its stronger antibacterial and antifungal properties . It reduces your scalp stink effectively.
D. Peppermint Oil
It contains menthone, L-menthol, methyl acetate, and limonene, which exhibit powerful antibacterial activity. Besides imparting a freshened and cooling sensation, peppermint oil gives a unique fragrance to your scalp and hair.
E. Ginger Oil
It is an effective scalp cleanser and reduces your scalp itchiness as well as smell very well by eliminating bacterial build-up. Also, ginger oil treats your scalp redness by repairing your damaged and inflamed follicles.
F. Clove Oil
Clove oil contains eugenol, which has antimicrobial, antiseptic, and antifungal properties. It effectively treats conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis, scalp pruritus, etc. Along with providing a refreshing aroma to your hair, clove oil eliminates dirt and grease from your scalp.
Studies have shown that clove oil is very effective in inhibiting the growth of different fungi that cause dandruff on the scalp.
G. Turmeric Oil
A popular antifungal and antibacterial agent , turmeric, in the form of essential oil, has many benefits. It keeps your scalp away from various microbial infestations and stinky scalp smell.
How To Make Your Hair Smell Good Using Essential Oils?
- You can incorporate any of these essential oils in your hair care regimen by adding a few drops into your shampoo.
- You can also mix 5-10 drops of any of these essential oils into 2-3 tsp of carrier oil like coconut, almond, or jojoba oil and massage your scalp and hair thoroughly with it.
- Then, leave it for about half an hour before proceeding for a gentle hair wash with an Ayurvedic shampoo.
2. Shampoo For Smelly Hair
A. Kumari (Aloe Vera)
Aloe vera has natural antiviral and antibacterial properties . It is beneficial in treating dandruff, scalp psoriasis, and other problems that cause stinky scalp while providing gentle conditioning to your hair.
B. Karpoora (Camphor)
Owing to its rich antioxidants  and antibacterial properties, it resolves your scalp smell while detoxifying your follicles effectively.
C. Nimba (Neem)
Besides fighting against microbial growth on your scalp with strong antibacterial and antifungal properties, neem repairs your broken hair and boosts healthy hair growth.
A study by researchers at the University of the Cordilleras, Philippines, found that neem is an effective treatment for a variety of scalp infections, especially dandruff.
D. Amalaki (Indian gooseberry)
E. Japa (Hibiscus)
Hibiscus has strong astringent properties that control sebum secretion on your scalp. Also, it rejuvenates your scalp and promotes longer hair growth.
Invitro studies have shown that hibiscus extracts have potential anti-bacterial properties.
You can also treat your scalp with the above ingredients in the form of homemade herbal shampoos or dry shampoos to fix your smelly scalp syndrome.
Vedix Tip: Keep your hair wash limited to not more than thrice a week, even if you have an oily scalp. A common misconception is that the more you wash your hair, the less your scalp becomes greasy. In reality, your hair becomes more greasy if you wash it too frequently.
3. Hair Spray For Smelly Hair
You can start using Ayurvedic hair sprays or hair mists. They not only revitalize your dull hair but also save you from your scalp smell. Herbal hair sprays also add a natural and soothing fragrance to your hair.
4. Home Remedies & Hair Masks For Smelly Scalp
A. Lemon Juice
- Mix 2 tsp of lemon juice in a cup of any carrier oil like coconut oil or almond oil.
- You can also add the juice to a cup of water.
- Massage your scalp thoroughly with the solution and let it sink in for 15 minutes.
- Now, wash it off properly using normal water. Repeat the process twice a week. This is an effective home remedy for both oily and dry hair.
B. Baking Soda
- Mix 1 tsp of baking soda in a cup of water.
- You can also add a few drops of rosemary oil for fragrance.
- Now, wash your scalp properly with this solution and leave it for about 20 minutes.
- Later, rinse it off with normal water.
- Repeat the process once a week. This home remedy is best for oily scalp.
C. Apple Cider Vinegar
- Prepare a solution by mixing ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar and ¾ cup of water.
- You can add ⅛ cup of lemon juice and a few drops of essential oil of your choice into it.
- Massage your scalp with this solution thoroughly.
- Leave it for half an hour before washing it off. This home remedy is best for smelly scalp with hair.
D. Tomato Juice
- Remove the peel and grind the pulp of tomato  into juice.
- Apply it across your scalp and give a gentle massage.
- Leave it for about 20-30 minutes before washing your scalp and hair.
- This is one of the best home remedies for smelly, oily scalp as well as dry hair.
- Put four chopped garlic cloves into ½ cup of coconut oil.
- Now, heat the oil on a low flame for a few minutes.
- Keep the oil aside for cooling.
- When the oil is slightly warm, apply it across your scalp while giving a gentle massage.
- Let the oil sink into your follicles for 20-30 minutes before you go for a hair wash with an Ayurvedic shampoo.
F. Onion Juice
- Blend onions and extract the juice using a strainer.
- Apply this juice across your scalp using a cotton ball and massage it for a few minutes.
- Leave it for about 30 minutes before rinsing it off using an Ayurvedic shampoo.
- Repeat this once or twice a week.
How To Prevent Smelly Scalp And Hair?
1. Stay away from alcohol as it aggravates your doshas.
2. Use chemical-free hair products. Ensure that your hair products are free of sulfates and parabens.
3. Wash your scalp and hair thoroughly post-workout. This prevents sweat build up on your scalp.
4. After hair wash, make sure your scalp and hair are thoroughly dried before stepping out or tying it up.
5. Use a clean cotton scarf or hat to protect your scalp from pollution and sun damage. It also absorbs the sweat produced from your scalp and keeps it dry.
6. Avoid scratching your scalp frequently. Scratching leads to excessive shedding of dead cells, which, in turn, increases the risk of microbial infections.
7. Regular physical workouts, yoga, and meditation help you in mental detoxification and managing your stress levels.
8. Always use clean hairbrushes, combs, and towels.
Why Does Your Hair Smell Even After Washing?
Your hair may still smell after washing because your shampoo might be ineffective in curbing the fungal and bacterial activity on your scalp. Hence, it would be best to use shampoos with strong antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Also, the moisture of wet scalp after hair wash can further aggravate the microbial activity, causing a terrible scalp smell after a few hours or immediately. Thus, air drying your hair under the fan or using low heat hair dryers is important.
Please consult a dermatologist or Ayurvedic doctor before administering any of the remedies mentioned in this article to treat your scalp smell.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What Should Your Scalp Smell Like?
Generally, your scalp should have no smell at all. Rub your scalp gently with your fingers. If the fingers smell pungent, unpleasant, or bad, then you have a smelly scalp.
2. How To Make Your Hair Smell Good?
Preventing fungus build up on the scalp and using essential oils like tea tree and lavender in your shampoo can make your hair fragrant. Herbal hair mists can also help in achieving good hair smell.
3. What Shampoo Is Good For Scalp Fungus?
Dr. Zeel recommends herbal shampoos containing ingredients such as tea tree oil, neem oil, camphor oil, etc., which help in fighting the fungal infection. Also, dermatologists suggest using a medicated shampoo containing ketoconazole to treat smelly scalp associated with stubborn fungal infections such as psoriasis.
The Last Word
- Smelly scalp is caused by different bacteria and fungal growth, which feast on sweat, dead skin and sebum on your scalp.
- It is more common among people with oily scalp (Kapha-dominated Prakriti).
- Hormonal imbalances, stress, improper diet, varying seasons, unhygienic hair habits, pollution, over sweating, etc. are the other most common causes for smelly scalp.
- Essential oils such as cedar wood oil, tea tree oil, peppermint oil, etc. are very effective in treating smelly scalp.
- Holistic herbs such as aloe vera, camphor, neem, hibiscus, Indian gooseberry, etc. also eliminate microbial infections while keeping your doshas in balance.
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10. Antioxidant activity of Camphor leaves extract based on variation solvent (2019), IOPScience
11. Amla (Emblica officinalis L.) Oil (May-2019), Fruit Oils: Chemistry and Functionality (pg-875-882)
12. Tomato-A Natural Medicine and Its Health Benefits (Jan-2012), Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry
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