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Why Does My Hair Smell Sour? Coming Clean about Smelly Hair Syndrome

November 01, 2017 4 Comments

Why Does My Hair Smell Sour? Coming Clean about Smelly Hair Syndrome

I am reluctant to admit that until recently I had not been aware that smelly hair was a widespread problem, and I pay attention. A little research on the topic and I stand corrected. Many people are asking “Why does my hair smell sour?” Offensive hair odors are indeed a concern for many and thus we are here to help.

The term Smelly Hair Syndrome speaks for itself. Writers often compete with each other for the most vivid portrayal of symptoms, e.g. moldy cheese, rancid butter, dirty socks, mold, musty, wet dog…. You get the picture. You have to be a certain age (I am) to remember a shampoo called, “Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific.” Full of sweet-smelling fragrance, its goal was singular, as the manufacturer recognized that smell matters. Today, we don’t wish to just mask unpleasant smells with perfume, but to remedy the conditions that lead to them.

Why your hair smells sour: Causes of Smelly Hair Syndrome

  • Most cases of smelly hair begin 36-48 hours after you wash your hair. This tells us that odor-causing factors – physical and/or environmental – are cumulative.
  • Excess oil production promotes unhealthy scalp conditions. A buildup of oil promotes microbial or fungal growth, which releases malodorous substances.
  • People with fine hair tend to have more of a problem with hair odor. People with fine hair also are more likely to have oily hair. There is a relationship: Those with fine hair have more strands of hair per square inch, which means more hair follicles, which means more sebaceous glands, which means increased potential for excess oil production.
  • Unhealthy skin conditions are unpleasant-smelling, including dandruff. Many scalp conditions are accompanied by itching which can spread infection or lead to secondary infection with unpleasant-smelling secretions.
  • An overly dry scalp has no protective oil layer, making the scalp more susceptible to itching and infections. Coarser hair tends toward dryness, as it has thicker strands and fewer follicles per square inch, thus less oil production.
  • Washing hair with very hot water can lead to dryness, breakage, and hair loss issues.
  • Poor hygiene. Poor diet.
  • Vigorous exercise resulting in excess sweating and oil production that clogs hair follicles.
  • Constant wearing of hats and head coverings.
  • Irritating hair products, including silicones.

Solutions for Smelly Hair Syndrome

Let’s cut to the chase: It all begins with a healthy scalp. A healthy scalp has balanced oil production which deters itching and infection. If you are suffering from smelly hair, you have a variety of options. The common thread is natural hair care practices that result in a healthy scalp and thus healthy hair.

  • What you put on your hair is as important as what you do. A natural hair care method is the safest, most effective approach for a healthy scalp, healthy hair, and healthy growth. It all comes down to ingredients. Natural hair products contain botanical oils, B vitamins, hair-fortifying herbal extracts, naturally sourced surfactants (cleaning and foaming), conditioning proteins, and infection-fighting essential oils.

Abbey St. Clare hair care products are formulated with all the above ingredients. Nettles Scalp Treatment Shampoo and Body Wash and Nettles Leave-In Conditioner are specially formulated for distressed skin. Included in its host of natural ingredients are herbal oils and extracts, and a synergy of essential oils. Salicylic acid is extremely effective to decrease scaling and dryness by clearing dead skin cells that clog pores and promotes infection.

  • Natural essential oils in hair formulas are invaluable in preventing smelly hair. Use hair care that incorporates quality essential oils in meaningful amounts. These natural but effective skin care actives have been used for centuries to combat a range of physical conditions. For smelly hair issues, the essential oils not only promote a healthy scalp, they discourage and eliminate unpleasant smells. The Nettles products include Australian tea tree as well as deodorizing cypress and cedarwood for dry hair and scalp. And speaking of smelling wonderful: Coffee and Cloves Shampoo and Coffee & Cloves Leave-In Conditioner are formulated with the comforting, fragrant essential oils of clarifying cloves, allspice, and cinnamon. Chamomile Shampoo and Chamomile Leave-In Conditioner are formulated with roman chamomile essential oil, one of the most fragrant, calming, and expensive oils.
  • Use a leave-in conditioner with effective essential oils and ingredients. Massage the conditioner into your scalp as well as through your hair. This keeps the actives more available for scalp health. Also, not rinsing out the conditioner adds fullness to your hair.
  • Wash your hair “often enough.” This varies by individual. Generally, every second or third day is sufficient. Dry hair needs washing less frequently. Oily hair may need daily cleaning. If your hair develops a smell after a day, wash your hair with natural hair products that will keep your oils balanced, your scalp hydrated, and your hair full and healthy. In most cases, using natural ingredients will decrease the need for daily washing.
  • Always take time to massage shampoo into your scalp when washing your hair.
  • Use lukewarm water when washing your hair.
  • Use your conditioner with essential oils as a hair masque.
  • Use hair healthy hydrosols on your hair. Mist and work it through your hair, or rub some hydrosol between your hands and use your fingertips to massage it into the scalp as well as throughout your hair. Neroli, rose, rose geranium, and lavender are scalp and hair-nourishing and will leave your hair with a light and lovely fragrance. Yarrow and German chamomile are recommended for itchy, flaky scalp. Roman chamomile is soothing and helps lighten hair.
  • Avoid scalp-drying ingredients of sulfates and cheap fillers, and overuse of silicones. These are drying which encourage more oil production, which encourages odor-causing microbial growth.
  • Use a paste of baking soda and water on wet hair before shampooing to help exfoliate the scalp and remove excess buildup of hair products.
  • Use a dilute vinegar solution rinse after shampooing (no need to rinse it out) and before applying a leave-in conditioner. The vinegar smell does not linger and it rinses your scalp/hair clean. Vinegar (white or apple cider) rinses are also helpful for clearing scalp scaliness.

Finally, and this is more important than you can imagine: wash and change your pillowcases often, a minimum of once a week, and replace any old pillows. Spray your pillowcase – and surrounding bedding -- with one of the hydrosols.

Hair compliments are rare and people love to get them. Don't you think most people spend more time working on their hair than on any other part of their appearance? Washing, drying, coloring, styling, and just plain agonizing take hours. What are you checking when you take that last glance in the mirror?  Your hair. Develop healthy hair care habits, use quality products with a focus on natural ingredients, be kind to your scalp, and not only will your hair look amazing, but someone might make your day saying, “Gee, your hair smells terrific!”

4 Responses

Sherry Brown
Sherry Brown

December 01, 2019

I have the same problem . I stopped coloring my hair several months ago to let it go gray naturally and now my hair smells sour , even after it is shampooed,

Karen marshall
Karen marshall

January 13, 2020

T/gel by Neutrogena
1 wash the smell was gone I’ve just used it so pleased recommends using it 3 times a week first couple of weeks
I will be def using this again

judy slaughter
judy slaughter

December 01, 2019

i just went through weeks of hyperbaric treatments and now my hair (which is fine) smells sour the day after i shampoo. help!

Joan Lunde
Joan Lunde

June 25, 2018

I’ve let my hair turn white this past year, and now my hair has a distinctive odor. It smells like it’s been singed.

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