Smelly hair
June 29, 2017 4:07 AM   Subscribe

My mother has noticed for the past several weeks that a quarter of her shoulder length hair (the right front quadrant only) has a fishy smell. The smell is gone immediately after washing but returns within an hour. For several days it was gone altogether but came back. What is going on and how does she get rid of it?

I have verified the smell with my own nose.
Googling reveals some people have problems with smelly hair due to sebhorric dermatitis but it seems to be the whole head then.

Possibly relevant info about my mother and her hair:
She is in her 60s and went through menopause ten years ago.
There are no other apparent symptoms, for example, her scalp appears normal.
No recent diet or lifestyle changes.
No recent travel.
She gets highlights every few months, most recently six weeks ago about three months before the smell started.
She last got her hair trimmed six weeks ago as well.
Her daily hair care routine is Pantene shampoo and conditioner and then a surf spray and hair dryer. None of these products seem to be the source of the smell.

Things she has already tried:
Washing her hands thoroughly after giving the dog fish oil.
Washing her hands thoroughly after eating or preparing fish (not a daily activity anyway).
Getting a new hair brush.

Any ideas?
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How does she wear her hair (up or down)? If she's wearing it down, can she try a ponytail or bun for a few days to see if that makes any difference?
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:14 AM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: Does the dog sit to her right in a chair or in a car or.... something along those lines? Her hair may be absorbing scent from the dog's fur if he/she leans against your mom in a specific way.
posted by the webmistress at 4:22 AM on June 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Does she sleep on that side with her face pressing on that portion of her hair? Maybe she is using a facial product that has an ingredient that's going bad.
posted by victoriab at 4:26 AM on June 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My first thought is her pillow she sleeps on.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 4:31 AM on June 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: OP said that the smell returns within an hour, so probably not a pillow, unless she goes to bed after showering?

A new vitamin? Does she use barrettes or scrunchies or that sort of thing?
posted by the webmistress at 5:13 AM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: Did the dog leak anal gland juice on a part of the couch she regularly sits on?
posted by phunniemee at 5:19 AM on June 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Does she sit with (that side of) her head propped up by the palm of her hand? If the dog's pill is transferring to her hands, maybe try doling them out wearing plastic gloves. If she's washing her hands with just water afterwards, I wouldn't expect that to get rid of the oil.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:40 AM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: Is it possible that the smell disappearing after washing is just because the hair is wet?
posted by amtho at 5:44 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Could it be the result of a fungal infection of some sort?
posted by asimplemouse at 6:16 AM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: Suggest the culprit is the surf spray. Ingredient list says sea kelp extract.
posted by effluvia at 8:08 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It could be one of the hair products when heated to a certain level (thinking perhaps she heat-styles the front of her hair more than the rest) and/or when combining with face products (including oil from the forehead or makeup).
posted by pammeke at 8:11 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would almost guarantee this is something to do with the fish oil. That stuff is unbelievably tenacious when it gets where it's not supposed to be. If it gets on fabric, the smell is still there after several trips through the wash. She must be touching that part of her hair to something that the fish oil is already on. Furniture? A pillow? The dog? Hugging someone who has it on them? Next time it inexplicably goes away, she should have someone watch her to see what she's unconsciously doing that might be causing it.
posted by HotToddy at 9:20 AM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you operate on the assumption that it's somehow the fish oil contaminating it, she should try washing with a clarifying shampoo (maybe more than once). And maybe y'all can sniff around her house together for anything else that might have the smell on it.

She should sniff her seat belt if she drives a car. (Sometimes I get in a rental car and later smell like perfume--it's always a transfer from the seat belt and someone's horrendous choice of perfume/cologne that's transferred to it.)
posted by purple_bird at 10:53 AM on June 29, 2017

Best answer: Oils undergo a process called oxidation, which will make them taste and smell differently. Coconut oil, for example, smells great to me when I first apply to my body, but after a while, it undergoes oxidation, and I loathe the smell and must wash it off.

My bet is that the surf spray kelp extract has some omega 3 in it---flaxseed, for example has it as well. Omega is great for the body, but it does have a post oxidation fishy odor that sets off a four alarm removal trigger in my brain.

So you might try a swatch on your mom's forearm and let it sit for a bit to test her body chemistry interacting with the product.
posted by effluvia at 11:10 AM on June 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! These are great suggestions. Our working theory is that it is the fish oil somehow (maybe from touching the dog or the dog's dish sometime after the initial administration of the fish oil). She's going to try keeping her hair up so she can't accidentally touch it for a few days after washing well with a clarifying shampoo and washing all linens multiple times to see if that fixes the problem.
If that doesn't work we will swatch all the hair and face products to see if any are the culprit.
posted by Waiting for Pierce Inverarity at 3:25 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am so curious how this turned out
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:14 PM on October 17, 2017

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