Smelly Scalp Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, Home Remedies for Scalp Odor

What does it mean when my scalp smells bad? What can be the reason behind this annoying and embarrassing condition or why does my scalp smell? How can I stop my smelly scalp and hair?

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 scalp hygiene, it may be something else ranging from having an oily scalp to some scalp skin conditions and more.

If you have been wondering why your scalp has an unpleasant odor, then today, you are going to get a deeper insight smelly scalp causes, symptoms, treatments and more.

Scalp odor causes – why does my scalp smell

Before we proceed to causes, the smelly scalp is a condition which both men and women are equally vulnerable to. The infant or young children also not excluded. The ideal point to fixing the scalp problem is to understand what causes it. Read through to find out why your scalp may smell.

1. Smelly hair syndrome

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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 on your scalp. Let us state this way, just like other parts of your body, your scalp also has follicles, which secretes sebum for lubricating the scalp. 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 on the scalp.

On the other hand, Excess production of oil can also cause scalp problems. The microorganism still will live in the oily secretions and it is this microorganism that releases odorous substances that can lead to the smelly scalp. According to, “The bacteria is 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 on the scalp

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Various skin conditions is another possible factor that can lead to the smelly scalp. They are usually accompanied by an itching sensation. This can lead to spreading on 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 the stinky scalp:

  • Psoriasis of the scalp
  • Scalp dandruff
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Scalp ringworm
  • Scalp eczema

4. Dry Scalp Skin

Dry scalp dry skin means a scalp skin without 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 that may lead the scratching of the affected. Very dry scalp can trigger sore scalp that can then be open to various infections that can make it to smell. Causes of dry scalp are:

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

5. Poor Hygiene

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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 medicated shampoo for the smelly scalp. The hair washing process is a very crucial process that should be performed with well and with a lot of care.

Remember washing the scalp hair multiple times can wash away the protective oil layer in the scalp making your scalp 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 to 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

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

8. Wearing Hats, helmets and caps

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

9. Stress

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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 scalp.

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 for smelly scalp 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 of Smelly Scalp

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The major symptom of the smelly scalp is the offensive odor that comes from the hair, head and scalp. This horrific smell usually varies from an individual to another. It can really be embarrassing if your bad scalp 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 scalp odor is that it can be transferable to beddings, clothes or towels. Other symptoms that can occur alongside smelly scalp condition and they may include the following:

  • Sore bumps on the scalp
  • Pus-filled lesions on the scalp
  • Buzzing flies over the head
  • Swelling or tendering of the scalp skin
  • Rashes on the scalp
  • Scalp bruising
  • Irritated scalp

How to Deal with Smelly Scalp- Medications and Home 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 serious medical conditions that we cannot manage ourselves. Here are some of the best smelly scalp relief remedies:

A) Medical Treatments

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

a) 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.

b) Corticosteroids

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

c) 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 the sore smelly scalp.

d) 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

e) Benzoyl peroxide

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

f) Salicylic acid

This medicine comes in the form of lotions, gels, soaps, shampoos, and patches. Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in many skincare products for the treatment of acne and warts and more skin conditions. It is also among the effective psoriasis scalp 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 scalp bad odor:

Lime Juice

Regular use of lime juice will help you to keep your scalp fungus-free, clean and you will also have reduced smelly scalp and hair loss. In addition, your hair will not be sticky and will gain wonderful natural shine besides doing away with scalp smell.

To use this remedy, you will need to mix 3-4 spoonful of lemon juice in a bucket of water and then rinse your hair using the solution.

Tea Tree Oil

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

Get one teaspoon of tea tree oil and mix it with water in a squirt 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 smelly scalp.

Baking Soda

Baking soda is one of the home products 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 the 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 in warm water and then apply it directly on your scalp. Rosemary oil is added to add pleasant smell and to diminish stinking smell may be due to dandruff. Massage your scalp for 10 minutes and then rinse your scalp.

Apple Cider Vinegar

This is another wonderful home remedy that can really help in the case of the smelly scalp. It helps in limiting and getting rid of scalp fungus. 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 scalp 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 fundamental hair care routine to protect your scalp from bad smell.

If after applying the above treatments or home remedies, and the stinky scalp condition persists, 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 healthy head and scalp.