A recent spate of reports suggests that an increasing number of people are experiencing a little known phenomenon dubbed Smelly Hair Syndrome (SHS). Although experts agree that the condition is genuine, there is not quite the same level as consensus when it comes to defining the cause of SHS.
Commonly reported by women, although men can also experience it, SHS can be a source of embarrassment and may actually point to a more serious condition which can result in patchy hair loss.
Sebum and less than pleasant scents
One of the suggested causes of Smelly Hair Syndrome is an over production of the natural oil, sebum. Released by the sebaceous glands at the base of each hair follicle, sebum is automatically secreted to lubricate and waterproof the skin. Sebaceous glands can be found all over the body, but the highest concentration is located in the scalp.
Sebum has the added effect of making hair oily, which in turns increases the likelihood of hair “picking up” scents from the local environment. Pollutants such as smoke, fumes or general cooking smells are all known to be picked up and retained by greasier hair. People with thicker hair tend to be less affected by sebum problems as the hair soaks up much of the excess oil. Thinner haired folks are not so lucky and are therefore more prone to SHS.
The production of excess sebum can be an indicator of an underlying hormonal imbalance. This may suggest another root cause of both conditions. Hair health is greatly influenced by hormones known as androgens, which themselves are affected by various conditions including stress. Women experiencing high levels of stress will have their androgen balances affected, in turn increasing the chance of elevated sebum production.
If a person is experiencing excess sebum production as a result of a stress-related androgen imbalance, it is perfectly possible that Smelly Hair Syndrome is a precursor of a condition known as Androgenic Alopecia. Androgens have the ability to affect the functioning of hair follicles, effectively “switching them off”, and causing the attached strand of hair to fall out. Androgenic Alopecia manifests as patchy hair loss which can further add to a persons stress levels.
It is therefore advisable that any person experiencing SHS should take the precaution of reducing their stress levels.
A second, rarer potential cause of Smelly Hair Syndrome is a fungal infection. Known as Tinea Capitis, a fungal infection of the scalp can cause hair to not only smell bad, but to fall out altogether. Most common in young children, particularly boys, Tinea Capitis is also sometimes known as ‘Ringworm of the Scalp’ and is caused by coming into contact with a person, animal (particularly sick cats) or object carrying the fungus.
One of the first signs of a Tinea Capitis outbreak is a raised red ring on the scalp which is extremely itchy and uncomfortable. This may also be accompanied by dandruff and patchy hair loss where the fungus has successfully penetrated the scalp. Unfortunately these symptoms often lead to a misdiagnosis of dandruff or sebhorric dermatitis which can delay proper treatment.
As with many fungal infections, Tinea Capitis can be successfully treated with oral antifungal prescription drugs. Over time the scalp will heal and hair should eventually regrow properly without the noxious smells.
Although hairloss caused by Androgenic Alopecia or Tinea Capitis often corrects itself, sometimes the regrowth rate is either very slow, or incomplete. In these circumstances The Belgravia Centre’s hair loss experts have a number of treatments specially designed to promote proper regrowth once any underlying causes, such as stress or fungal infection, have been resolved.
For many people experiencing Smelly Hair Syndrome simply washing their hair twice a day is sufficient to clear the problem. In the event that someone is having a problem which lasts more than a few weeks, it would be sensible to seek professional advice, either from a GP or a hair expert. The sooner SHS is cleared up, the less chance there is of hair loss occurring as a result.
To find out how The Belgravia Centre can help adults with Smelly Hair Syndrome, why not contact us book a free, no obligation appointment with one of our hair loss experts?