Smelly Scalp or Odor: Causes, Remedies and Treatments

What does it mean when my scalp smells bad? What can be the reason behind this annoying and embarrassing condition or why does my does it smell? How can I stop this odor? Scalp smells are usually depicted by an unpleasant, exasperating odor that seems to emanate from the hair, head, and scalp.

The big surprise is that it is not necessarily about poor hygiene, it may be something else ranging from having an oily or scalp skin condition among others. If you have been wondering why such an unpleasant odor, then today, you are going to get a deeper insight into its causes, symptoms, treatments, and more

Causes – why does my scalp have an odor

Before we proceed to causes,  this problem affects both men and women. An infant or young children also not excluded. To fix this problem you need to understand what causes it. Read through to find out why it occurs.

1. Smelly hair syndrome

According to, “Smelly hair syndrome or SHS is a condition where you develop a stinky scalp even after you wash your hair twice a day.” People with this condition may have overactive oil and sweat glands that secrete excess oil and sweat.

Excessive oil and sweat will soon begin smelling. It should be noted that hormonal imbalance is the key cause of smelly hair syndrome.

2. Microbial Growth

Another cause for your stinky scalp would be the presence of microbial. Let us state this way, just like other parts of your body, your scalp also has follicles, which secretes sebum for lubrication purposes.

Sometimes a condition develops where the follicles cannot produce enough sebum leading to a dry scalp. This helps the microorganism to thrive in the minor’s cracks formed.

On the other hand, Excess production of oil can also cause the same problem. The microorganism still will live in the oily secretions and it is these microorganisms that release odorous substances that can lead to a smelly head.

According to, “The bacteria are harmless and present whether you have oily hair or not, but excess oil gives bacteria the food they need to thrive and proliferate, causing the odor.”

3. Skin Conditions

Various skin conditions is another possible factor that can lead to some smell. They are usually accompanied by an itching sensation. This can lead to the spreading of infections on the scalp leading to secondary infections.

Other skin conditions can also be accompanied by bumps that may ooze smelling discharges. Below are the common skin conditions that can lead to this problem if they affect your scalp:

  • Psoriasis

  • Dandruff

  • Seborrheic dermatitis

  • Ringworm

  • Eczema

4. Dry Scalp

Dry scalp means one that lacks or a protective oil layer and this will make such skin to be prone to several skin infections or conditions.

Some of the conditions usually occur alongside itching which may lead to scratching of the affected.  A very dry one can trigger sores that can then be open to various infections that can make it smell.  Some of the causes of dryness include

  • Extreme cold or heat
  • Over-washing your hair
  • Hormonal Disorders
  • Sunburn and more

5. Poor Hygiene

Scanty hygiene can also lead to smelly scalp syndrome or smelly hair condition. People who have overactive oil and sweat glands should wash their hair regularly with a medicated shampoo to avoid the smell.

The hair washing process is a very crucial process that should be performed well and with a lot of care. Remember washing the hair multiple times can wash away the protective oil layer in the scalp making it very vulnerable to infections.

6. Tinea capitis

The reason behind the occurrence of Tineacapitis is a fungus infection and this condition is considered to result in smelly scalp syndrome. Usually, the fungus will invade the hair follicles and shafts, a condition medically termed dermatophytosis. It is often treated with the application of topical and oral antifungal medicines.

7. Reactions to hair care products

Some hair care products will react with natural oil on your scalp leading to a bad odor. For instance, when you use some hair shampoo or hair dye and other chemicals on your hair, such chemicals may react with the natural oil on leading to a foul smell. However how sweet the shampoo may smell, when it reacts with these oils, the resultant smell will still be annoying.

8. Wearing Hats, helmets, and caps

Putting on helmets, caps, or hats on your heart is another contributing factor to the odor. When your hair or head is covered for a longer period, there may be increased head sweating which the bacteria can feed on hence releasing odorous substances which it to smell like hell. Make sure you limit the period when your head is covered to be on the safer side.

9. Stress

When you are immensely stressed, many of your body functions will be obstructed. Stress normally interferes with the production of vital body hormones. The end results hormonal imbalances can lead to various skin conditions such as acne that can discharge smelly fluids leading to bad smell hair on the head.

A person should try to walk away from stressful life for instance by avoiding being lonely or watching television, chatting with friends, listening to music or just anything that can keep one busy. Therapy from experts may also be necessary in cases of chronic stress. More causes may include:

  • Vigorous physical activities that can lead to increased perspiration
  • Dandruff
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Poor diet i.e. excessive consumption of fatty or oily foods
  • Weak immune system
  • Generalized body disease such as cancer

Symptoms to expect

The major symptom is the objectionable smell or odor comes from the hair and head. This horrific smell usually varies from an individual to another. It can really be embarrassing if your bad smell can be felt to other people.

This can really lower your self-esteem and may make you avoid public places or crowds. Another embarrassing thing about the odor is that it can be transferable to beddings, clothes or towels. Other symptoms that can occur alongside smelly condition and they may include the following:

  • Sore bumps
  • Pus-filled lesions
  • Buzzing flies over the head
  • Swelling or tenderness of head skin
  • Rashes
  • Bruising
  • Irritation

How to Deal with Smelly Scalp- Medications and Remedies

Smelly scalp remedies or treatment usually depend on the causes and symptoms. They are some symptoms that can easily be treated at home or using over the counter medicines. Severe symptoms, should at all times, be treated medical professionals since they can be an indication of a serious medical condition that we cannot manage ourselves. Here are some of the best relief remedies:

A) Medical Treatments

Medical treatments are mainly aimed at treating the skin condition or infections leading to sour scalp odor. These medication include topical and oral drugs. Here are examples of such medications:

1) Antibacterial Medications

These medications are used to treat infections due to bacteria. They include mupirocin or clindamycin that are often used to treat or prevent infection. The can be taken orally, injected or applied topically.

2) Corticosteroids

These medications are used to treat skin conditions including eczema. Corticosteroids come in many different forms such as foams, lotions, ointments, and creams.

3) Retinoids

Retinoid medications are gels or creams stemmed from vitamin A and they are used to treat conditions including scalp acne that may lead to sores and a bad smell

4) Antifungal Agents

Oral or topical antifungal drugs can be used to treat skin conditions such as ringworm and athlete’s foot. Clotrimazole, ketoconazole, and terbinafine, are a few examples of common topical antifungals

5) Benzoyl peroxide

Creams, gels, washes, and foams containing benzoyl peroxide can also be used to treat skin conditions that may trigger the odor. A good example of skin condition that can be treated using Benzoyl peroxide acne.

6) Salicylic acid

This medicine comes in the form of lotions, gels, soaps, shampoos, and patches. Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in many skin care products for the treatment of acne and warts and more skin conditions. It is also the among the effective psoriasis treatment. Other common treatments for skin conditions that can lead to a smelly scalp include:

  • Immunosuppressants
  • Biologics
  • Enzyme inhibitors

Despite the fact that most of the above treatments may work perfectly, some can irritate sensitive skin or have side effects. Consult your doctor first before you could apply them.

B) Home Remedies

Below are the best home remedies for the bad odor:

 1. Lime Juice

Regular use of lime juice will help you to keep your head fungus-free, clean and you will also have reduced smell and hair loss. In addition, your hair will not be sticky and will gain wonderful natural shine besides doing away with the smell. To use this remedy, you will need to mix 3 to 4 spoonful of lime juice in a bucket of water and then rinse your hair using the solution.

2. Tea Tree Oil

This home product help in balancing the oil on the scalp and also soothe its skin. Remember fungus and infection are usually due to excess oil accumulation. However since this oil has fungicidal properties, it will help it to treat skin infections resulting from fungus.

Get one teaspoon of tea tree oil and mix it with water in a spray bottle and shake well to make sure a complete mixture. You can then shampoo your hair and then spray this solution all over the hair. Then massage your scalp and allow the mixture to sit there for some minutes. Daily application will help get rid of fungus and bacteria that can trigger a bad odor.

3. Baking Soda

Baking soda is one of the home product that provide relief to several skin conditions. It can effectively aid the clearance of dandruff by exfoliating the scalp skin which removes the dead skin cells from the scalp therefore preventing scalp odor fungus. According to, “It helps to kill bacteria or fungus which tends to develop on dandruff.” This will help in getting rid of smelly scalp condition.

To apply this remedy, you need a cup of water, some drops of rosemary as well as one teaspoon of baking soda. Add the baking soda to warm water and then apply it directly on your scalp. Rosemary oil is added to add a pleasant smell and to diminish the stinking smell may be due to dandruff. Massage your it for 10 minutes and then rinse it. Baking soda remedy

4. Apple Cider Vinegar

This is another wonderful home remedy that can really help in the case of a smelly scalp. It helps in limiting and getting rid of fungus overgrowth. It also helps to reduce hair fall due to the spread of the fungus.

To use this treatment, mix lemon juice, rosemary, green tea, and apple cider vinegar. Rinse your hair using this solution. You can store the solution in a spray bottle for easy application. Apply the solution on your hair and leave it there for 35 minutes then wash off using water. This will for sure will help you achieve your desired result.

More remedies for smelly scalp

Here are more homes remedies that can as well be used to treat smelly this condition:

  • Coconut oil
  • Bay Leaves
  • Fenugreek Seeds
  • Azadirachta Indica Leaves
  • Tomato Juice
  • Neem Oil
  • Milk of magnesia

Bottom Line

All the treatment and home remedies we have provided here are usually effective but you also must adhere to a fundamental hair care routine to protect your scalp from a bad smell.

If after applying the above treatments or home remedies, and the conditions persist, before it could lower your self-esteem, it is recommended to consult your dermatologist to intervene in your condition. Remember scalp hygiene is a paramount factor for a healthy head and scalp.

List of References