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Why My Hair Smells Bad After Showering & How I Fixed It

posted in: Featured, Hair
February 6, 2018

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!

For months I asked myself: Why does my hair smell bad after showering? Why does my hair smell like wet dog? Here's how I got rid of smelly hair with Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo. | Slashed Beauty

I explored a few different explanations of where the hair odor may have been coming from. The first 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!

For months I asked myself: Why does my hair smell bad after showering? Why does my hair smell like wet dog? Here's how I got rid of smelly hair with Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo. | Slashed Beauty

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!

For months I asked myself: Why does my hair smell bad after showering? Why does my hair smell like wet dog? Here's how I got rid of smelly hair with Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo. | Slashed Beauty

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 it 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 focussed 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!

For months I asked myself: Why does my hair smell bad after showering? Why does my hair smell like wet dog? Here's how I got rid of smelly hair with Neutrogena T/Gel Shampoo. | Slashed Beauty

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?

37 Responses

  1. Anonymous
    | Reply

    Hi! I have a very short haircut do you still suggest using t/gel conditioner? Thanks for your help!

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      I’m not sure the length of hair would matter, it’s a scalp issue– just use less 🙂

  2. Tark
    | Reply

    Can you switch back to the regular shampoo after the odor leaves in like 10 days

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      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.

  3. Sherri
    | Reply

    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.

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      I really hope this helps you, Sherri!!

  4. Xzavier
    | Reply

    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.

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      All advice I have is in the article and pertains to my situation.

  5. Jessi
    | Reply

    Hi Miranda. I’m curios to know what is your regular shampoo that you use because the T gel?

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      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!

  6. Angela
    | Reply

    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.

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      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?

  7. Jose E Sagastume
    | Reply

    Im a dude and i thought i was alone thanks for the great info!

  8. Lauren
    | Reply

    Hi there!
    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!

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      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.

      • Lauren
        | Reply

        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 😉

        • Miranda
          | Reply

          Usually not too much, maybe if you really stick your nose in it but not as noticeable as the “before” smell!!

  9. Ashley
    | Reply

    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.

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      No, this shampoo is not conditioning at all so definitely follow up with a deep conditioner!

  10. Jo
    | Reply

    I have gray hair. Will the coal tar discolor it?

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      I’ve never heard of this shampoo discoloring hair

  11. Nancy b
    | Reply

    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?

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      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!

    • Elizabeth
      | Reply

      How much of each ingredient did you use? I’m interested in trying this approach. Thanks!

  12. Haram
    | Reply

    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!

  13. Meridith
    | Reply

    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.

    Thanks!

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      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!

  14. Beekay
    | Reply

    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?

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      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!

  15. Ray
    | Reply

    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!

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      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!

  16. Andrea L
    | Reply

    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!

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      Please let us know an update to see if it worked! Fingers crossed!

  17. Joy Lucas
    | Reply

    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!

    • Miranda
      | Reply

      Good luck, Joy! Please let me know if it works or if you find another remedy!

  18. Giselle
    | Reply

    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.

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