A smelly scalp can develop because of head or hair care or underlying health conditions. It can often be treated at home or by a healthcare provider.
Smelly scalp, also called smelly hair syndrome, is when the skin on top of your head has an unpleasant scent. The smell can also linger in your hair. Stinky scalp can be a symptom of several medical conditions. It can also result from the way you take care of your hair.
You can often treat a smelly scalp at home. You may need to visit your healthcare provider if you have a stinky scalp that won’t go away.
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The most common cause of smelly scalp is a buildup of skin cells, sweat and sebum (body oils). Smelly scalp can also result from:
Medical conditions that may cause your scalp to smell include:
Nonmedical conditions that may cause your scalp to smell include:
You can try the following at-home fixes for scalp odor:
Don’t try any drastic treatments at home. Instead, talk to a healthcare provider first. Though you may feel embarrassed, remember that your provider has handled situations like yours before and can provide guidance.
If home treatments don’t work, see a healthcare provider. Visit your primary care provider or a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin and hair issues.
Treatment for your smelly scalp will depend on what causes it. Causes and their treatments include:
Contact a healthcare provider if:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Having a smelly scalp can be unpleasant and embarrassing. But don’t be ashamed of this common condition. Simple lifestyle changes can often make your scalp smell better. If you still have odor issues, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications to help treat your smelly scalp.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/20/2023.
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