Nixing "oily"hair smell
October 10, 2011 10:04 AM   Subscribe

How do you get rid of a chronic "oily" hair smell?

Even if I've just washed my hair, it has a strong oily smell that's noticeable by my family. I have curly hair and have had dandruff in the past which I tried to treat, but I never worked out a serious treatment regimen for it. I have generally oily skin and easily clogged pores, and treat my acne through retin-a which seems to work. My hair doesn't look oily for 2-3 days since it's curly and easily dried out by products.

My hair smells no matter when I wash it or what I use, whether it's dandruff shampoo from the store or no shampoo (tried just washing it with light conditioner) or something very harsh. The previous smelly hair question didn't offer any solutions I haven't tried. How can I cure this?
posted by sunnychef88 to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Off the top of my head (*snort*), I wonder if this is a scalp issue primarily and a hair issue secondarily.

I have curly hair and a fussy scalp that likes to get grungy, and when it starts to get really fussy I do a sugar scrub with brown sugar made into a paste with conditioner. Some people like baking soda for this instead, but I feel like the sugar scrubs well, melts out quickly enough, and smells nice in the shower.

Now my hair *does* pick up smells out of the air. I cook fish with a bandanna on now, and a campfire will take several washes to fully get rid of. Are you being exposed to an environmental smell that might be sticking to your hair?
posted by Lyn Never at 10:15 AM on October 10, 2011

Go see a dermatologist and get a prescription for a dandruff shampoo and/or topical treatment.

I have this problem and keep it managed by rotating dandruff shampoos (Head & Shoulders, T-Sal and Nizorol) and occasionally using some topical steroid rx.
posted by radioamy at 10:58 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are a bunch of hair powders out there that are great for this because they definitely absorb oil (and, if used liberally enough, are good for that dry/matte messy look). here is an example.
posted by marimeko at 10:59 AM on October 10, 2011

Try T-Gel or Alphosyl, every day. Try to only get the shampoo on your scalp, not the ends. I know dryout is a problem but oily scalps do need to be washed at least once a day. Maybe wrap the ends in cling film and conditioner when you wash. Also, Nizoral(the OTC pharmaceutical) 2 or 3 times weekly.
posted by tel3path at 12:11 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would also guess that it's your scalp and not your hair. Do you brush your hair well before you wash? I can never get my scalp clean unless my hair is detangled. Also, grab your hair at the nape of your neck and lift it up with one hand so you can really wiggle your fingers under it to get to your scalp, especially around the back of your head. And really get behind your ears, too.
posted by anaelith at 12:51 PM on October 10, 2011

I wonder if the smell is actually from scalp oil that's built up on your neck or in your ears. Maybe wet a washcloth with skin toner or rubbing alcohol, and really go to town in your ears, around the back of your ears, in all the ear crevices, and along your whole hairline and neck.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:03 PM on October 10, 2011

My hair doesn't look oily for 2-3 days since it's curly and easily dried out by products.

I think you've answered your own question there - Wash your hair. ;)

Try out a variety of mild shampoos until you find one that does the trick for you - I have one friend with hair and skin similar to yours who swears by Dr. Bronners (which I personally can't stand).

You could also look into regularly using a leave-in conditioner, that should help keep the hair itself in good shape while still allowing you to wash daily.
posted by pla at 1:37 PM on October 10, 2011

I section my wavy hair into 4 or 6 areas so I can make sure the shampoo is really getting down onto my scalp. I wash each section separately, this really helps in the back lower scalp. I also scratch/scrub with my nails gently in my "problem" areas to remove scalp build up (behind my ears and the very top center above my forehead) . I know I'm not supposed to scratch, but it is the only thing that works for me. Then I make sure not to get any conditioner on scalp. Leave in conditioner works for me. I second covering hair from environmental smells!
posted by Swisstine at 1:43 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Our toddler had a similar thing going on with her scalp for a while--in fact, the smell (not horrible, but distinctly whiffing of not-so-clean scalp; does yours smell a bit like wet dog?) was more noticeable right after a wash, when her hair was still wet.

What fixed it was a round of washing with a shampoo that purported to treat cradle cap. We made extra sure that the foam really touched her scalp all over, plus behind her ears, then let it sit for a few minutes to give it a good chance to work, and rinsed. After a couple of washes with this method, everything was all better and her head smells clean and nice like a baby's should, even when it's been a few days since she's had a shampoo. (We don't wash her hair every time she has a bath.)

The shampoo we used was this one from Mustela. The active ingredient is salicylic acid, which also shows up in adult shampoos like Neutrogena's "Healthy Scalp" shampoo.
posted by redfoxtail at 3:18 PM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also recommending Neutrogena T-Gel. But just on the scalp (and scrub. a lot!), use another shampoo on the rest of your hair, or else it'll dry out.
posted by Neekee at 4:08 PM on October 10, 2011

tea tree oil, tea tree oil, tea tree oil, I cannot stress this enough. Apply directly to your scalp. You can get tea tree oil online or at certain cosmetics/natural product stores, etc, but make sure to get the pure stuff. It's not super cheap but it is SO worth it.

(coming from a fellow curly-haired gal with scalp/dandruff issues for which nothing else has worked. Dandruff that is hard to be treated can be fungal in nature, and tea tree oil is an anti-fungus agent, so I think that's why it works. It is also a natural disinfectant).
posted by bearette at 6:49 PM on October 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

also, shampoo can make dandruff worse in my experience, even special dandruff shampoo (if your dandruff is like mine)
posted by bearette at 6:50 PM on October 10, 2011

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