If someone asked you to list the parts of the body that are most likely to produce an unpleasant odor, what would your list top?
You might think of feet or armpits first, but as it turns out, your scalp may smell more smelly than you think. Learning to identify the most likely culprit can help you figure out how best to reduce or even eliminate unpleasant odors.
If you’ve wrinkled your nose for a touch of your own scalp and it doesn’t happen just once, you may need to consider the various possible causes of the odor.
Your sebum glands secrete oil, hence the name of this common skin disease.
Seborrheic dermatitis is believed to be caused by the overgrowth of a natural yeast that lives on our body. This leads to dry, yellowish, flaky spots on the scalp – and it can also cause it to smell.
If you’re a regular athlete who skips the post-workout shower even after sweating, your scalp may convince you to change your behavior.
When this sweat build-up mixes with bacteria on your scalp, you may notice an unpleasant odor. Excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, can make it worse.
Underwear or overwear
If you delay a good exfoliation, oils or sebum can build up on your scalp. This sebum can make your scalp and even your hair smell a little unpleasant.
A smelly scalp could be the result of a fungus that lives on the skin. This fungus can cause inflammatory reactions such as folliculitis, dandruff, and eczema.
Changes in hormones affect your hair and scalp. For example, many menopausal women experience hair loss or even hair loss.
When your body produces excess amounts of androgen, it can lead to an overproduction of oil from your skin’s glands – including those on your scalp.
We tend to view pollution (especially particles like soot or smoke in the air) as harmful to our lungs – and it is.
However, exposure to environmental odors can cause all kinds of symptoms, from headaches to nausea. These particles can also stick to your hair – and scalp – and make it smell bad.
If you have psoriasis on the scalp, you may have fine flakes on your scalp or a series of thick, crusty plaques. You might be tempted to skip washing the affected area, but doing so could result in the development of an odor as oil and skin cells build up.
Research shows that 7 to 26 percent of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis. This requires treatment to stop or delay the development of potentially irreversible joint damage.
Your diet – or changes in your diet – can lead to body odor. For example, if you’re an avid carnivore, some research suggests that all of that meat could affect the way you (and possibly your scalp) smell to others.
Some people buy hair products based solely on the fragrance of the product, while others focus more on the results intended.
However, even sweet smelling products can build up on your scalp if they are not washed off. This can result in less than desirable odors.
Some people may be confused by the cause of their smelly scalp. You might even wonder if there is a mysterious smelly scalp syndrome that could be the culprit.
This has not been documented in the medical literature. However, there are other possible medical causes that can cause an unpleasant odor to emanate from the scalp. It is therefore always worth talking to a doctor about these possible causes.
If you’d rather use a home remedy to treat your problem before you see a doctor, consider the following options:
Shampoo for a smelly scalp
If dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis is contributing to the odor emanating from your scalp, it may be worth washing your hair and scalp with a shampoo specially designed for this purpose.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests using a product with any of the following ingredients:
If your first choice doesn’t seem to work, try a shampoo with a different active ingredient next.
You might also consider some essential oils as possible remedies. Some people find that tea tree oil, which is antimicrobial, is effective in treating conditions that cause a smelly scalp, such as seborrheic dermatitis.
Another option: lemongrass oil. A small study of 30 people found that a tonic containing lemongrass oil was effective at reducing dandruff.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has many fans for its various potential health benefits, from helping people control their blood sugar levels to helping them lose weight.
Another important benefit of ACV is its antimicrobial properties. You may see some success treating your scalp with apple cider vinegar.
If you have eczema, avoid using ACV. Additionally, some research suggests that certain people may become irritated from using apple cider vinegar on their skin.
Try to dilute it before applying it to your skin. Or rub something on the skin on your elbow and wait 24 to 48 hours to see if there has been a reaction before applying it to your scalp.
If you suffer from seborrheic dermatitis, aloe vera should be used as a home remedy. Research shows that it can be an effective treatment to treat this chronic condition in some people.
Aloe vera has been used for a variety of dermatological and other ailments for thousands of years as it is known for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Could lemon juice be an antidote to your smelly scalp? Lemon juice has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, suggesting that it can reduce some odor-causing bacteria lurking on your scalp.
Lemon juice is sometimes praised for various beneficial effects it can have on your skin, but like many fruit acids, it can also be irritating and make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Use it with caution.
If home remedies are not effective, you should see a doctor. Depending on the cause, they may be able to recommend medical treatment. For example, you might think you have dandruff if it is seborrheic dermatitis instead.
A doctor may suggest an oral antifungal, medicated shampoo, or antifungal cream on your scalp to help tackle the root cause of the condition.
If the cause is a fungus like Malassezia, the doctor may suggest a certain type of anti-dandruff shampoo that contains pyrithione zinc. Research has shown that this should alleviate the problem.
There are a number of effective treatments for psoriasis on the scalp, including oral and topical medications. But many of them require a prescription.
If none of the strategies or treatments you’ve tried reduced or eliminated the odor, make an appointment with the doctor.
They will continue to investigate more serious underlying conditions and may recommend additional treatment.
If you’ve noticed a change in the smell of your scalp or hair and there’s no obvious cause such as a change in hair products, it may be worth consulting a doctor.
It might just be a matter of needing to wash your hair more often. However, a chronically smelly scalp could indicate that another condition is present that may warrant medical treatment.