Dermatology Community
53.6k Members
Avatar universal

Smelly Scalp

For the last year or so I have had what I've come to know by searching on line as Smelly Scalp. I have been to a dermatologist twice now and have gotten no answers except to use Nizoral which has not helped in the least. I have tried everything under the sun from sulfur soap to Head n Shoulders to even Listerine but no matter what I do just hours after washing, my scalp gets oily and muggy smelly. I've always had to wash daily because my scalp would get a little oily but never had the smell until about a year ago. I have no dandruff or anything else wrong, just the smell. Please help!
11 Responses
563773 tn?1374250139
Two possibilities are there for your symptoms. First of all, stress or hormonal changes may lead to excess oil produced by the oil glands in your scalp. This causes the harmless bacteria that live in the scalp to proliferate and feed off the oil, which produces the odor.

Second possibility is of a fungal infection causing tinea capitis. It is contagious and can spread direct contact with someone who has the condition, or if you touch contaminated items such as combs, hats, clothing, or similar surfaces. Diagnosis is by clinical examination of the scalp as well as a skin lesion biopsy with microscopic examination. Anti-fungal medications, taken by mouth, are used to treat the infection.

It is important to keep the area clean. A medicated shampoo, such as one containing selenium sulfide like selsen may also help. It is very difficult to precisely confirm a diagnosis without examination and investigations and the answer is based on the medical information provided. For exact diagnosis, you are requested to consult your dermatologist. I sincerely hope that helps. Take care and please do keep me posted on how you are doing.

Avatar universal
I believe it has everything to do with stress and or hormones! It all happened along with other med problems around the time I was going thru my divorce. I was diagnosed with eczema, alopecia (I lost a spot about the size of a 50cent piece on top of my head), got acne on forehead, which would get really oily, and had to use pro active. The acne went away and now its the smelly scalp! Its like the oil went from my face to the top of my head. Its so weird. I feel like no one will listen. Who knows their bodies better than anyone...you! So why when I saw the dermatologist, twice, didn't he listen or try to figure this out or have me come back for a follow up? Its like, here, try this, I have another patient to see. Its like he didn't even believe me. Like I would pay to see him if I didn't have to! I'm just so depressed by this. Its one thing after another and no one seems to be able to help. This being to me the worst, longest lasting to deal with.
So I guess my question is...what can I do? What should I do? Go back to GP? I'd rather do that than see the derm. Besides, it takes forever to get into one. Can they test for fungal infection? Or is there something to prescribe to help with hormones/stress? Please tell me what I should do. Desperate!
1134679 tn?1260570198
A side note....

If you take a black light and go into a dark room and shine it on the scaley eczema patch it shouldn't show anything.  If it glows than you have a fungus.  That's the down and dirty way.

You might also try Neutrogena Coal Tar shampoo and leave it on for awhile before rinsing hair.
Avatar universal
I definately feel your pain. Same problems, same lack of solutions. I've tried basically everything...it's depressing, isn't it?

It's interesting though, because you said that you had oily hair and I've had the same problem too before my scalp started smelling bad. The oilyness would get so bad that I couldn't wear my hair down and would always need to tie it up.

It HAS to be an internal problem. I just wish doctors would believe us when we tell them our problems...........*sigh*
Avatar universal
I already posted in another topic, so this a copy and paste:

WHAT WORKED FOR ME: I had the same odor coming from my scalp.. tried it all- tea trea oil, acv, coconut oil, medicated shampoos, etc. One thing is working for me is CITRONELLA oil. First I applied it every night for 3 nights and this cleared the odor. However the odor came back after a week so obviously whatever infection was on my scalp wasnt killed completely. Now I apply the citronella every 4 days and will continue to do so for a month. the citronella itself is found at pharmacies (its famous as an insect repellent, and remedy for lice in kids). hope this helps
1484228 tn?1287852008
I had the same problem with my scalp.I`m healthy 28 year old woman with beautiful long hair.Out of nowhere this odor came to me.I think I got it from the combs of the salons (they don`t really clean them-same brushes for all)I start going to hair hair salon since last year because my mom trimmed my hair till i`m 11 then i cut my hair myself( im pretty good) So,since then I have been struggling with this for almost a year until i took moms advice.
The bad smell is a fungus.It "grows" on oily skin especially on top of the head .They like less oxygenated and warm area.It doesn`t matter how often you wash -you cant get rid off the fungus. Get the small spray bottle and fill it up with alcohol and solve the problem-after shower while your hair is damp spray all over your head. Go generously on the top then massage your scalp for while.Alcohol will reduce the oil charge and eventually will kill the fungus.First week do the procedure every day and sleep on clean pillow case ,if you cant afford that cover the pillow with clean towels ,second week do the same for every other day.But remember you should wash your pillow cases in very hot water( since you sleep on it the fungus is still there),wash your towels regularly also wash your combs and brushes with hot soap water and spray them with alcohol before using.The purpose is -you want to kill the fungus everywhere.Otherwise anything left dirty with fungus on it it will get on your head.Try not to itch (there are a lot of bacteria/fungus under your nails too) ask your barber/hair stylist to clean the combs in front of you -tell them that you have been struggling with skin problems,Im sure they will understand.If not then after coming home wash and spray your head with alcohol.Dont share any hair/head accessories with anyone! Believe me,if you do this all - you will see  how it will change your life.It`s amazing wake up in the morning and feel the nice smell of your shampoo?! Good luck!
Avatar universal
Pure Tea Tree Oil is the answer! I have tried everything and nothing worked, or at least not for long. Mix 1 part pure tea tree oil and 3 parts olive oil. Make enough to cover your scalp (~1/4 cup), massage it into your scalp, leave on for 30 minutes, shampoo and rise as usual. You will see results after first use, all of your dandruff will be gone as well. You can even add 20 drops of pure tea tree oil to your regular shampoo and/or conditioner, it is great for your hair and scalp, it will NOT leave your hair greasy, instead yo will notice how nice, soft and shiny they are :) Make sure to mix it with olive oil, since pure tea tree oil will be to harsh.
You're welcome my friends!
Avatar universal
I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to provide my comments as I searched for years online for suggestions and remedies.  I had a big problem with smelly scalp as well. It was also extremely greasy and often itchy. I had to wash my hair every day because it smelled so bad and was visibly very greasy. I'm not sure exactly when this started, but it lasted for several years. I tried sulfur soap, switching shampoos, using bar soaps which dried my hair out and made it look dull. I finally decided to try something that I have read many times on curly hair sites. I stopped shampooing! I know that sounds crazy and very counter intuitive. Instead of using shampoo, I now only use conditioner. I use a large amount, massage it into my scalp and run it through the lengths with my fingers and a wide tooth comb. I rinse it out, towel dry and style as usual. Not only does my scalp no longer smell bad, it is also much less greasy. I can easily go 3 days without "washing" my hair, and you truly cannot tell. I have been doing this for 4 months now, and I'm so happy with the condition of my hair and scalp. I don't know why this works, or why shampoo seems to stink up my scalp. All I can think is that it dries the scalp out so much that it fights to gain some oil balance, but goes way overboard. I also stopped using any products with silicone. It can be really hard to find conditioner and styling products without it, but it can be done! Avoid anything with ingredients ending in "cone", "conol" or "xane". I think my hair is also much thicker and I seem to have a lot of baby hairs growing in. Good luck, everyone. I know how frustrating the smelly scalp problem is.
Avatar universal
My scalp is very red, slightly smelly and itchy, however it is only down the centre part of my hair.  In addition, I am losing handfuls of hair every time I wash it.  I have tried oral antibiotics, topical antifungals, corticosteriods, coconut oil, Head & Shoulders shampoo for itchy scalp, Nizoral shampoo and Neutrogena Tar shampoo, however, nothing has improved my scalp. It started about five months ago and it is getting more severe.  
Has anyone ever experienced this and what treatment has worked for you?
Avatar universal
The big issue is an overgrowth of candida. Most likely you had an overuse of antibiotics etc. I know because this is me....
My solution for this is 2 parts
1. Spray Braggs apple cider vinegar on every morning before showering and let it set for 15 min. Apple cider vinegar especially Braggs helps combat fungus and help absorb oil.  Use a shampoo 2 times a day like organic excellence.  It's a very gentle all natural shampoo and conditioner. Since starting it I noticed itching dissipating etc. I also use a little baking soda each time I wash to remove any flakes built up.
After showering I made an amazing spray this is the life saver. Use ultra pure water. I use penta bought from whole foods due to its purity. Then add tea tree oil,  lavender and rosemary. If doing this in a small spray bottle make sure the oil fills up approximately 1/5 of the bottle. I prefer 2 parts tea tree to 1 and 1 part lavender and rosemary. Then add the penta water until full. This should last you around a week or so. Spray on scalp and leave on for a min or two then dab dry. If you feel a tingle that's the oil working against your fungal infection. After about 5 min your scalp will feel cool and calm. And smell great.
Be sure to get some chlorine filter for your shower head as well as chlorine fuels fungal infections on the skin.

2. This is where it gets tough. You need to eliminate gluten dairy and most to all sugars. This includes fruit. This is the short term diet. The sugar and carbs fuel the beast from inside that's causing the scalp issues.
Killing candida is tough especially if you are like me and have systemic candida... you will need a good protocol to eliminate the candida overgrowth.

Email me if you have any questions. I hope this helps someone like it's helped me from all my experiments.
Lastly do not look yo head and shoulders etc to save you as these are partially the issue.  The ingredients and chemicals flare allergic reactions and are not ph balanced to help our issue. Google the ingredients in those products and you will see what I mean. Most are carcinogenic or toxic to our skin.
Avatar universal
Since I know these things start with the inside, start there!. There's a natural roto rooter of herbs called golden seal. Take it for 2 weeks - allow it to cleanse your insides clean. From that point take chloraphil tablets (the internal deodorant). This little miracle pill cleanses your breath, sweat, and bowel movement from the inside, and in turn the scalp stops stinking too. Remember that part of the scalp odor comes from smothering your head with oils, hats, weaves, scarfs, etc., but for sure, to have your hair smelling extremely fresh after washing it, find "Flex" conditioner, wherever you can find it. That conditioner will leave your hair smelling April Shower clean!!! If this fails, shave your head, because all of the above worked for me after many years of trying!!!
Have an Answer?
Top Dermatology Answerers
Learn About Top Answerers
Didn't find the answer you were looking for?
Ask a question
Popular Resources
Learn to identify and prevent bites from summer’s most common pests.
Doctors argue for legislation to curb this dangerous teen trend in the latest Missouri Medicine report.
10 ways to keep your skin healthy all winter long
How to get rid of lumpy fat on your arms, hips, thighs and bottom
Diet “do’s” and “don’ts” for healthy, radiant skin.
Images of rashes caused by common skin conditions