Reader Request: How To Deal With A Smelly Scalp

If you have been struggling with a scalp that seems to smell bad even if you are cleaning it really well, this post is for you.
There are a lot of bacteria and yeast living on the scalp, which is perfectly normal. When the scalp is healthy, it has a normal sebum smell and will start getting funky only after a couple of days of not washing, or if you have been sweating and not letting the hair dry afterwards. However when your scalp smells really rank already the day after washing your hair, you might be looking at an imbalance of the fauna on your head.
If your scalp seems to have a lot of gunk aka heavy sebum build up (a little bit is fine and normal), you might be looking at a fungus.

How to treat a smelly scalp:

Apply apple cider vinegar (unpasteurised) on your scalp half an hour or more before washing your head. Start out with a 1:1 mixture of vinegar and water, if you your skin tolerates it you can try full strength next time. The least messy way to do this is using a cotton pad soaked in the vinegar, and squeeze it gently on your scalp. Or you could use a squeeze bottle. This should cut down on any yeast and bacteria. You can also wash your hair with soap nuts, which are very acidic.

After washing your hair try rinsing with a lemon juice-water mix, which has the same effect as the vinegar but smells way better. Personally I like to make a tea out of rosemary or sage (which are antibacterial and smell lovely), add a dash of lemon juice and use that as a last rinse.

If that didn't work, you need to go for the heavier guns: antifungal essential oils. My favourite is tea tree oil, it's very effective and gentle. My skin can take it undiluted (I massage it in with my fingertips), but not everyone's skin tolerates it neat. I advice you do a patch test first, and maybe start by diluting it with a carrier oil (any vegetable oil will do). Other antifungal oils like rosemary, tamanu, thymian  are also good, however these should always be diluted! Remember to buy pure essential oils, not perfume oils or anything pre-diluted.

Zinc based shampoos can be helpful against yeast and bacteria on the scalp. I don't recommend shampoos with sulfates because although they do get the scalp clean, they don't actually fix anything.

Other things to note:

Be gentle with your scalp, don't scratch. If you want to get your scalp clean of build-up and gunk, I suggest mixing sugar into your shampoo and giving your scalp a nice gentle scrub.

Until you feel like you have restored the balance of your scalp, avoid getting any kind of hair products on the scalp (dry shampoo, conditioner etc).

However if your smelly scalp problem is heavy and isn't going away, you should go to a dermatologist so that he can diagnose the issue. What we often think is simply dandruff may be   fungus, psoriasis, eczema, or seborrhoeic dermatitis or something else. Each of this is a different problem and the cures can be wildly different.

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