Have you ever had a scalp that smells really bad? If so, you're not alone. Many people experience this problem at some point in their lives, and it can be really irritating. In this post, we'll discuss what causes smelly scalps, and also provide tips on how to treat them. We'll also share some natural remedies that can help if you're struggling with this issue. So whether you're looking for a temporary solution or long-term solutions, read on to learn everything you need to know!

What causes a smelly scalp?

You are doing everything right, but still emitting hair odors? Then it is time to rethink your hair care to avoid smelly scalp.

There are a few reasons why your scalp might smell, but the main reasons for a smelly scalp and hair are excess oil (sebum), yeast and dead skin cells on your scalp.

Scalp Odors 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.

Other causes could be dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, or an infection like folliculitis. If you have any of these conditions, they may be contributing to the smelly scalp odor. In addition, hair products and shampoo can also cause scalp odor. Finally, some people simply have a strong smell of their scalp because of the oils sebum (a natural oily secretion) produced there.

As you see, smelly hair and scalp can be caused by an array of issues. However, some of them—like poor hygiene or improper washing—are fairly easy to address. Let´s see in detail, all the possible causes of smelly hair and scalp.

Improper Hygiene

One common cause of smelly scalp is poor hygiene. Improper hair washing can wash away natural sebum oils on the scalp, leaving an unpleasant smell behind. If you do not shampoo regularly, dead skin cells and buildup will accumulate on the hair shafts over time, contributing to an unpleasant smell.

Seborrheic dermatitis or Dandruff

Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that causes dandruff and can cause scalp smell.. It appears as red, dry, flaky, itchy skin on the scalp and other parts of the body and is common but not contagious. “Seborrheic” refers to the “sebaceous” glands while “derm” means “skin.” It’s called “dandruff” when it’s on a teenager’s or adult’s scalp, and cradle cap when it’s on a baby’s.

Scalp Psoriasis

Scalp psoriasis is a condition that causes scalp skin to become inflamed and oily. This oil production can cause an unpleasant odor, particularly if the oils built up on the hair shafts over time.

Psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis can mimic each other. Both are patches of red skin with flakes. Both can be found on your scalp and back. On the scalp, psoriasis scales are closer to a silver color than white or yellow.
There is a condition called sebopsoriasis where seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis overlap. In that case you have the symptoms of both: both white flakes and silver flakes, both on the scalp or back, both itchy and both may cause smelly scalp.

Scalp psoriasis is often treated with various topical therapies, including topical steroid creams and shampoo.

Excessive sweating

Sweating is the body's natural way of reducing heat. However, if your sweat glands are working overtime and producing an excess amount of sweat, it can lead to scalp smell. When excessive sweating combines with skin cells and oil sebum on the hair shafts, an unpleasant odor can develop.

Under- or over-washing hair

Washing hair too often or washing it with harsh shampoo can strip the scalp of natural oils and lead to an unpleasant smell. In addition, washing hair with hot water can dry out the skin on the scalp, which can cause an oily scalp smell.

Microbiome Imbalance

A microbiome imbalance causes your skin to produce excess sebum and skin cells. This can lead to an oily scalp, dandruff, and hair loss.

Fungal infection

Fungal infection is a common cause of scalp odor. Fungi grow best in an environment that's moist and warm, which is why fungi can cause scalp odor in people with excessive sweating.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes can also cause scalp odor. During periods like menopause, when the production of natural oils decreases, scalp smell may be more pronounced. Additionally, some hair products contain chemicals that can interfere with hormones and lead to an oily scalp smell.


Air pollution, smog, and exhaust fumes contain pollutants that can accumulate on the hair follicles and lead to an unpleasant smell.


Diet can also affect your scalp odor. Foods that contain sulfur, vinegar, and onion can cause your skin to perspire that compounds, which produces stinky odors.

smelly scalp

How Should My Scalp Smell?

Scalp smell can vary from person to person. Usually, scalp and hair doesn’t have any smell or smells like the fragrances in your hair care products - like the shampoo or conditioner you just used.

But if you notice a stinky smell it will be depending on the cause. For example, dandruff flakes usually have a wet or musty smell, while fungal infection may produce a strong odor of yeast.

However, the most common culprits for scalp odor are shampooing too often or washing the scalp with harsh products like conditioner. When hair is shampooed excessively or chronically dry, natural oils and skin cells can be stripped away leading to an unpleasant smell.

Why Scalp smells sour?

The smell of scalp odor is most commonly caused by shampoo washing the scalp too often or using harsh products that strip away natural oils and skin cells. If you have dandruff, hair loss, seborrheic dermatitis or a dry scalp, reducing shampooing frequency and washing with milder products can help to reduce scalp odor.

Ingredients and Products to Avoid smelly scalp

Products that can cause scalp smell include hair dyes, shampoos, conditioners, and sebum-producing skin products. Try using shampoo bars or sulfate-free shampoo to reduce the amount of sebum on your scalp.

Also, avoid foods that can cause scalp smell include onions, sulfur-containing foods, and vinegar. Try avoiding these ingredients in your diet to reduce the chances of developing an oily scalp smell.

Natural remedies for healthy scalp

Natural Home Remedies for Healthy Scalp

Essential oils 

Essential oils Such as tea tree oil, can be applied topically to help dry out dandruff and scalp fungus.

Chamomile tea

This tea is often used for treating scalp conditions like dandruff and psoriasis, which can cause an oily scalp smell. Add chamomile leaves to a cup of hot water, let them steep for 5 minutes then strain the juice. Place a few drops on your fingers and massage into the scalp after washing hair with shampoo.

Calendula oil

This is another natural remedy that has anti-fungal properties; use it diluted in carrier oil (such as jojoba oil) to applied topically to the scalp.

Aloe vera 

Aloe can also be beneficial for scalp care; apply a layer of aloe vera gel or juice after washing hair with shampoo, then leave in place until hair is dry.

Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar has also been shown to be an effective natural scalp odor treatment. Add 1 cup of apple cider vinegar to 2 cups of water and soak a cotton ball in the solution, then place it on the scalp for 10 minutes before washing hair with shampoo.

Olive oil

Olive oil is a great way to combat scalp odor. Apply a few drops of olive oil directly to the scalp before shampooing and hair washing. This will condition, nourish, and decongest your follicles while also fighting accumulated oils and skin cells that can cause scalp odor.

Castile soap

This is a gentle shampoo that's perfect for people with scalp issues like dandruff or hair loss. Castile soaps are composed primarily of water, which means they help remove oil and sweat buildup without irritation. This type of shampoo also helps to condition hair follicles and keep them clean and dry.

How to Address Unpleasant Scalp and Hair Odor

The best way to prevent scalp odor is by following a few simple hygiene tips. Shampooing less often and using gentle shampoo products are essential, but you can also try some natural remedies like apple cider vinegar or aloe vera juice. If your scalp remains smelly even after following these guidelines, consider consulting with a dermatologist for more serious  issues.

Pick the Right Haircare Products for Your Scalp

Conditioner and shampoo products can be a major contributor to scalp odor. Be sure to select gentle formulas designed specifically for the scalp, and avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive products that can damage hair follicles. For individuals with curly or frizzy hair, it's especially important to use conditioners that are lightweight but moisturizing.

Wash at the Right Frequency for Your Hair Type

Hair type is another important factor when it comes to scalp odor. Very curly or thick hair can require washing more frequently than hair that is lighter or straighter, since these strands tend to accumulate more oils and skin cells. Try not to wash your hair more than twice or three times a week if possible, and make sure you shampoo evenly throughout the entire scalp using hot water and a good conditioner.

Apply Hair Serum Correctly

If you're experiencing scalp odor, it's often a sign that your hair is dry and needs equipping with the right amount of natural oil. Apply hair serum before shampooing to give your scalp everything it needs to stay moisturized and smell good. Be sure to apply enough product so that it covers all of the scalp, not just the parts that are oily.

Keeping the scalp dry

By avoiding excessive sweat or humidity will also improve odor conditions.

Avoid washing the scalp too often

Many people wash their hair every day, which can strip the scalp of its natural oils and lead to scalp odor. shampooing every day can also dry out hair follicles, which can cause dandruff and skin irritation. Try to shampoo once or two a week depending on your hair type and scalp condition.

Avoid Using Conditioner On The Scalp

Many people apply conditioner to their scalp thinking it will help to remove hair ruff and dandruff. However, using conditioner on the scalp can actually cause a scalp smell. Conditioner is designed to moisturize the hair follicles, which can create a breeding ground for dandruff and scalp fungus.


If you're experiencing scalp odor, it's important to switch up your hair care routine. Try using light conditioners and washing at the right frequency for your hair type. If you notice flakes or itching on the scalp, it is recommended to seek medical advice.

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https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/fitness/beauty/a292687_how-to-get-rid-of scalp odor -and-dandruff.
https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-get-rid-of- scalp odor 3269585