Get Your Custom Formula
Get Your Custom Formula

Why You May Have a Smelly Scalp and How to Change That

Prose Logo
August 8, 2019
Home Lab Notes Scalp Care Why You May Have a Smelly Scalp and How to Change That

You may think you’re be doing everything right—lathering up daily and wearing a cap to protect your head from UV rays or hide a bad hair day—yet such seemingly benign actions may be causing your scalp to emit and undesirable scent. Your first thought may be to blame it on your strands. It’s true that hair is incredibly porous and quick to absorb odors around it. But, if the smell persists even after shampooing, you’ll need to treat the source: your scalp.

Bacteria, oil and dead skin cells are the main culprits behind that sour smell. The skin on your scalp is similar to the skin on your body in that it produces sweat and has oil glands, so any buildup of sebum and sweat creates a breeding ground for bacteria. Here’s what may be causing that overproduction of oil:

Too many shampoo-free days

Sure, this runs counter to the advice to not suds-up daily, but when hair is super fine or your scalp’s skin is overly-oily, shampooing every one to two days will help keep your sebum levels in check. And even with thick, coarse stands that can handle the hiatus, remember that greasy hair holds onto dirt, sweat and debris.


Just like not shampooing enough can be problematic, so can washing too much with the wrong products. Regular use of shampoos with heavy detergent loads will lead to over-stripping of strands. And while squeaky-clean hair may be the goal, the scalp compensates by amping up oil production. All Prose formulas are sulfate-free which means they avoid harsh chemical cleansing agents called surfactants. Surfactants are listed on labels as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, and while they give cleansers their dense lather, they can be particularly sensitizing to scalps and drying to strands.

Hormonal imbalances and stress

Anxiety and stress both interfere with hormonal function and can result in additional oil production and inflammatory acne on the scalp. Prose has recently introduced anti-inflammatory CBD (short for cannabidiol), made from German-grown hemp, to instantly calm angry skin.

Medical conditions

Certain skin conditions like seborrheic dermatitis (more commonly known as dandruff), psoriasis or contact dermatitis can lead to flaking and a buildup of dead cells (think cradle cap) and a nagging urge to itch, potentially leading to infection. If you believe dandruff is to blame, Prose offers antifungal scalp cleansers like kale, spirulina and peppermint to regulate oil production going forward. They’re gentler alternatives to pyrithione zinc, commonly used in dandruff shampoos. If the problem persists, seek the help of a dermatologist for a prescription treatment.

Wearing a hat

Consider this simple fact: hair keeps your scalp warm. Add a hat to the mix, and the temperature climbs, allowing bacteria to benefit from the sweaty situation. So, be sure to wash your hats and scarves often.

Your diet

It’s no surprise that particular foods don’t mix well with skin and their scent almost seems to seep out of pores. Foods with strong odors like onion, garlic, curry and cumin contain oils that can be excreted through skin including the skin on your scalp. Try taking a time out from these ingredients to see if they make a difference in the way your scalp smells.


Looking for products that are made to address your specific scalp needs? Get started with your Prose consultation here.

Get the latest from Prose