For the past few months, I’ve had a little problem that I’ve kept relatively secret. No matter what shampoo and conditioner I used, immediately after stepping out of the shower… my hair smelled. My hair smelled bad. Actually, I could smell the odor as soon as it got wet while I was in the shower. It was musty, and honestly had the essence of wet dog. That’s pleasant!
I explored a few different explanations of where the hair odor may have been coming from. The fairst was the possibility of mildew. Because I have very thick and heavy hair, it takes hours for it to air dry which potentially fosters an environment for mildew.
My hair definitely didn’t have the visual signs of mildew, but I still went about the recommended solution of using a clarifying shampoo and blow drying my hair religiously— no more air drying. After a few weeks of this, I saw (or smelled) no improvement. I moved on to a different potential cause.
Maybe it was the hard water in my home? We have a water softener but I’ll admit that I don’t really know how it works. I add salt when it flashes low, and let it run on its own. As my next step, I made sure to top off the salt and had it “recharge” the water in my pipes. Next few showers: my hair felt softer, but the smell was still there. NEXT!
Time to do a deeper dive on the internet. I literally googled “Why does my hair smell bad after I shower?” and was a little surprised at what I found. Something called “Smelly Hair Syndrome” was plastered across sites like Huffington Post and Daily Mail.
I read several articles on the condition, which seemed to be a little more extreme than what I was experiencing, but not too far off. It’s related to oily scalp, and some articles mentioned fungal infections and seborrheic dermatitis.
I looked further into seborrheic dermatitis because some of the other symptoms sounded like a fit for me: itchy scalp, dandruff, and redness. I’ve dealt with this my entire life but it’s definitely enhanced since moving to Vegas where it’s very dry. The condition is also listed as a possible cause of smelly hair due to increased oil production. T/Gel shampoo was brought up a few times, and I remembered I actually had a bottle of the shampoo and conditioner on hand!
I used the Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo, the active ingredient being Coal Tar, which is designed to treat dandruff, psoriasis, and seborrheic dermatitis. The smell of the shampoo is pretty medicinal and a little earthy, but a heck of a lot better than what my hair was smelling like.
I applied the shampoo to my scalp in the shower, and also lathered it a little down the shafts of my hair. Following the directions, I let it sink in for a couple minutes before rinsing out.
Then, I followed up with the T/Gel Conditioner, the active ingredient being Salicylic Acid which is known to help dandruff as well. This I focused on the shafts and ends of my hair.
Once I got out of the shower, I couldn’t smell anything but the shampoo. No mustiness, no wet dog smell. I even asked my husband, who had noticed the odor in the past, to take a sniff— and he couldn’t smell it anymore either!
I used this shampoo & conditioner combo exclusively for about 3-5 washes, then started swapping out the conditioner with some of my hair masks but sticking with the shampoo. As of now, I’m not experiencing the issue anymore. Plus, my dandruff has been virtually non-existent. No flakes, no redness and no itchiness. I’m blown away with how this affordable solution did such an amazing job almost immediately!
I didn’t get an official diagnosis from a medical professional for this particular issue (though I have seen my doctor for my dandruff and gotten prescription shampoo). However, seeing how well this worked to solve basically all my scalp problems, I don’t have many doubts that this indeed was the issue all along.
If you’re experiencing similar problems, whether it be smelly hair or stubborn dandruff, check out the Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo— it’s over-the-counter and extremely affordable… and it works plain and simple.
Have you ever experienced scalp issues?
Wow, That’s some serious stuff. Glad you were able to fix. I know I would gone bezerk. I’m washing my hair regularly & then it stink anyway?! What the crap…
I might try this.. I stopped using conditioner and switched to head and shoulders because my hair would start to smell pretty bad after using conditioner.
Recently I had forgotten this and tried some leave in conditioner as I have terrible hair breakage around my forehead. Same thing happened. After a few hours my hair starts to smell terrible and it transfers to my pillow and I hate it as I usually wash my hair once every 2 days. Stopped using it but I need to improve my hair somehow!
Try my newer scalp routine suggestions here: https://slashedbeauty.com/scalp-care-routine-dandruff-smelly-hair-dry-scalp/
I am SO GLAD I found this blog!!! I started having sweaty scalp smell which lead to smelly scalp syndrome. I tried every natural home remedy as I could justify buying essential oils, ACV, etc., as if they didn’t work, I could incorporate the items into household usage. I thought FOR SURE the ACV would work! It did not much to my dismay! I then moved onto some shampoos. Nothing was working at all! I didn’t want to end up with a ton of expensive bottles of semi-used shampoos under my counter. I bought three different shampoos and then found your advice! I too was familiar with T-gel as I’ve had scalp issues on and off forever. I ran out and got a bottle and after the first shampoo, A MIRACLE!! It immediately got rid of 90% of my SHS. And after a couple shampoos it was completely gone! It also is helping with my sweaty scalp smell. I am also able to incorporate my ‘regular’ shampoos back into my hair care routine. I am keeping the T-Gel in the mix! Thank you so much for wring this and helping us! I hope this works for more people! Ps…I am a non practicing cosmetologist who keeps a active license, but have never heard of SHS…I researched every Avenue I knew of for a solution, but it was fruitless! Again, glad I found this and thank you for saving my hair and sanity!!!
So glad it was helpful!!!
I just recently started having smelly hair when I get out of the shower. Sometimes the smell is gone by the morning but I really want to try to get rid of it. I just bought the t-gel shampoo and I’ll try it as soon as it gets in. What conditioner do you use? Also did you ever switch back to regular shampoo?
Hi! I used my deep conditioner at the time, just a normal one. Yes, eventually I was able to switch back to normal shampoos but I do still have a scalp care routine which includes the derma e Scalp Relief shampoo and conditioner using those every other time I shower. I’m actually going to be doing a post in early Feb about my scalp routine so stay tuned!
OK – T-gel has been well known to me for many years. A few decades ago, my husband and I used T-gel religiously for dandruff. Worked beautifully (better than other brands like Head & Shoulders). Was recommended by our dermatologist. Fast fwd, I decided to let my gray hair grow in (2020) Ever since, I have been telling everyone that my hair smells like wet dog, or musty, wet woolen mittens. However, mine only smells like this whenever I sweat (as in exercising) or when I get it wet as soon as I step in the shower, as you had experienced. I decided to try the T-gel, and honestly, it hasn’t worked that well for me. Because it isnt too costly, It’s worth a try for ppl who are experiencing this, but one should keep in mind it may not work for everyone.
Thanks for sharing your experience. I wonder if, considering you’re experiencing physical changes related to aging, perhaps it’s hormone related? Not sure if that’s something that happens but maybe a good thing to bring up with a doc!
Try nizoral A-D. It might be fungal
Hi, I’ve been having smelly hair for a couple of months. I saw T gel in a shop and thought I’d give it a try. I used it this morning and I’m so pleased, it’s worked!
That is awesome to hear!!
old lady with head cyst
T Gel did nothing for me neither did T Sal. I’m seriously considering trying dog shampoo. I have tried every shampoo people have recommended except one called Sulfur 8, it’s always out of stock. I have a cyst on my head that I’m fairly sure is the cause. It hurts and I’m a baby I don’t want them cutting on my head. I’ve had it half my life but recently it’s decided to grow, ugh. I have a weak stomach I just know it’s going to make me throw up when they remove it. The smell I mean. Ahh the smell of beauty!
I’d definitely recommend seeing a medical provider about that!
Hi! I have a very short haircut do you still suggest using t/gel conditioner? Thanks for your help!
I’m not sure the length of hair would matter, it’s a scalp issue– just use less 🙂
Can you switch back to the regular shampoo after the odor leaves in like 10 days
I used this once a week for several months before stopping use. I will use it occasionally now if I have a bad bout of dandruff or if I notice the smell.
Miranda thank you so much for sharing your story. I thought I was the only one going through this mildewy hair smell. I think I’ve started that evil menopause & it’s affecting my hair and scalp because I’ve never had an issue with dry scalp or smelly hair. I’m so happy that there might be a fix to this terrible problem. Thank you so much for sharing.
I really hope this helps you, Sherri!!
Hi I’m a guy and I noticed that when I get out of the shower and let my hair air dry and then lay on a pillow or just get a breeze from my hair it doesn’t smell good. The smells comes when my hair is dry and leaves about 3 – 4 days later, and those 3 – 4 days are not good when I feel like laying down. Do you know what I could do.
All advice I have is in the article and pertains to my situation.
Try the Tgel. If it doesn’t work try nizoral a-d.
Of the latter works, it’s probably fungal. Be sure to also wash your brushes, towels, bedding and pillows (or replace the pillows if they are not washable) after treating your hair the first time. Include your headboard if it is covered in fabric. Also anything else that comes in contact with your hair. Jackets, hats (even plastic hardhats), sofa, chairs, headrest in your car. You’ll lower the risk of reoccurrence.
If neither of these shampoos work, see a dermatologist! Tell them what you’ve tried and they should be able to sort you out.
*if* the latter works
Hi Miranda. I’m curios to know what is your regular shampoo that you use because the T gel?
Hi Jessi! It switches off. I really like the OGX Kukui line, or the coconut milk line as well. Love Beauty Planet has some amazing shampoos and conditioners as well!
I would love to try this as I have been noticing a wet dog smell especially after going outside. I’ve always had eczema on my scalp and I think it’s worse. It is very red, itchy and flaky. My problem is i get Keratin treatments and I think the T gel would wash out the Keratin. Any suggestions? Thanks.
Oooh I’m not sure, I don’t have any experience with what’s safe for Keratin treatments. Do you think the keratin treatment actually exacerbated your scalp problems though?
Jose E Sagastume
Im a dude and i thought i was alone thanks for the great info!
Glad I could help!!
I’ve been having the same smelly hair problem for the last two weeks and the only thing I can possibly think of is I had a haircut , possible contaminated brushes? No clue but every time I washed my hair it just smelled unclean after that. How long did you continue with the t gel shampoo before switching back to your regular shampoo and did the smell come back? I used the t gel tonight in my shower and luckily it only smells like the t gel , no must but I don’t quite care for the smell of the shampoo ( although obviously better than must, yuck!) so I’d like to switch back to my regular shampoo soon. Thanks for your help!
I basically still use T-Gel but occasionally– once a month or so to keep everything under control! Because I do struggle with dandruff as a whole so I find it beneficial to continue to use it long-term.
Thanks for your response! I used my regular shampoo the last two washes and I feel like now my hair smells like a combo of the two , do you find that the t gel lingers on the hair even after washing with a regular shampoo?? Thanks so much 😉
Usually not too much, maybe if you really stick your nose in it but not as noticeable as the “before” smell!!
I tried the tgel shampoo and it didn’t work. I bought a mason pearson brush and used it to stroke my scalp to ends of my hair 100 strokes per day and it did the trick.
General scalp care is so important and has helped me maintain my results! I have a newer post linked at the top of this page about my current scalp care routine as I moved away from t-gel.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have struggled with this issue for over a year now. On top of it my hair is so coarse, dry and breaks so easily. Do you feel the shampoo helped with that also? I’ll update how it helps my smelly hair and flaky scalp. Very excited to try. Thanks again.
No, this shampoo is not conditioning at all so definitely follow up with a deep conditioner!
I have gray hair. Will the coal tar discolor it?
I’ve never heard of this shampoo discoloring hair
I mixed tea tree rosemary and peppermint essential oils with baking soda and water to make a paste. I rubbed it in especially on the back of the neck, scalp area and left it on for several mins. Then washed as usual. Smell is gone. It seems related to sweaty workout combined with my heavy wavy hair. Maybe some kind of fungus?
Neat DIY idea!!! Sounds like it smells great too. Tea Tree is an ingredient I love in my shampoo/conditioner for dandruff as well. I had some people suggesting it could be mildew from thick hair being damp for too long, but I tried blow drying after every shower and it hadn’t helped. This is a great option for those who maybe are out of ideas though! Thanks for sharing!
How much of each ingredient did you use? I’m interested in trying this approach. Thanks!
So I don’t actually think I have any of these symptoms however my hair does smell disgustingly bad ever since I used a hair mask. It was the first I’ve ever used and it’ll certainly be the last. I just want the smell to go away because it’s really embarrassing when people ask if I’ve washed my hair and I’m like “um yeah?” I’m desperate for help!
So I was having the smelly hair problem and watched your YouTube video last night. Went to CVS today, they only had the shampoo (not the conditioner) but in one wash, smell is gone! I may order the conditioner online but it seems like the shampoo and my Devacurl One Condition work well together.
I think they may have discontinued the conditioner. I actually also use One Condition a lot and it works great paired with that! So glad to help!
A few years back i had the same issue, except my hair also went straight! Like from extreme afro to wavy flat, oily hair, In addition to smelling like sulfur or “wet dog”. As soon as my hair hit the water, that’s all i smelled. My boyfriend noticed my curls were pretty much gone one day! My scalp was EXTREMELY itchy and my hair strands felt rough and hard. I had already been given seborrheic dermatitis shampoos by my dermatologist but it didn’t seem to help the oily slick my hair turned into and only kept the smell at bay temporarily. I don’t really know what happened, but i think i used t gel just because it made sense. My curls are back, and my hair isn’t anywhere near as oily, nor does it stink, but the top of my hair has lost some strength and elasticity, which is an indication of a breakdown of sulfur (cysteine) [the smell] bonds… hmmm?
Interesting! The original shampoo you got from the dermatologist, did it also contain coal tar? Or did it just have ingredients that were supposed to target SD? Maybe that was the missing ingredient! Either way, I’m really glad you are on the road back to the hair you love!
I’m a guy with oily hair and bothered with the “smelly hair syndrome” now. I hate it, especially after taking a shower and towel drying it, and taking public transportation. People give me a look of disgust.
I’ve spent days and hours googling for a solution to this. This is the 1st time running into your article. I hope this is not an ad for T/Gel.
I just want my hair to stop smelling awful!
Not an ad or sponsored– those are always labelled here on the blog. This was just me sharing my experience after I struggled with this issue for a long time, hoping to help others with the same problem!
I also found you due to my internet search. I have had a gross smell to my hair every time I get it wet, I can’t handle it anymore. The last few days I’ve been doing a lot of research. I’ve tried bar soap, fragrant shampoos, cheap stuff, expensive stuff, dandruff stuff and NOTHING works. I used Tgel when I was teen for a dandruff issue, I’m going to go get it tomorrow. I strongly considered chopping my hair off today. I hate the smell! I hope this fixes it. Thanks!
Please let us know an update to see if it worked! Fingers crossed!
I’m dealing with this now , which is how I found you. The only difference is that my scalp itches and my hair (texture?) Is terrible! I’m going to try this and pray it works!
Good luck, Joy! Please let me know if it works or if you find another remedy!
This shampoo is AMAZING! I didn’t know they had a conditioner as well. My daughter has extremely thick hair and her scalp can get so dry that it peels in patches. This shampoo helps keep her scalp healthy and hydrated.