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Why Does My Scalp Hurt When My Hair is Dirty? Full Guide

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Have you experienced a painful scalp in between washes? Have you wondered: why does my scalp hurt when my hair is dirty? You’re not imagining it. Your scalp can hurt when you don’t wash your hair as often as it needs. They even have a name for it: greasy hair pain. And it goes away by shampooing. Read our tips & tricks, and let greasy hair pain go down the drain!

1. Why does my scalp hurt when my hair is dirty?
  1.1 Is it scalp pain or hair pain?
2. What causes the inflammation of the scalp?
  2.1 What is folliculitis?
  2.2 Can yeast build-up hurt your scalp?
  2.3 Can dandruff cause aches?
  2.4 Can scalp sensitivity trigger pain?
3. A balanced washing routine = a balanced scalp
4. Remedies you can use to soothe your scalp and stop the pain
  4.1 Aloe vera
  4.2 Essential oils 
  4.3 Apple cider vinegar
  4.4 Lemon juice
  4.5 Coconut milk
  4.6 Activated charcoal
  4.7 Nourishing vegetal oils
5. Why choosing a gentle shampoo with natural ingredients helps balance the scalp?

1. Why does my scalp hurt when my hair is dirty?

We’ve all been there. We’ve tried to keep a blowout for too long, we’ve used dry shampoo too often, or we’ve been too sad and devastated, grieving for something or someone, we couldn’t even think of shampooing. No matter the reasons why you can’t bring yourself to shower, your hair needs shampooing. What happens if you don't wash your hair? Not washing the grease out of the scalp and strands will cause pain, tenderness, irritation, itchiness, stinging sensations. 

The reason: the oils on the scalp build up around the hair follicle. At this point, bacteria and yeast overgrow on your scalp. Malassezia yeast, found on our bodies, develops more and more. It starts with an itch. The area becomes inflamed. Redness, itching, scales, and even sharp pain can occur.

1.1 Is it scalp pain or hair pain?

We know that hair consists of dead skin cells. It has no nerve endings. So there’s no hair pain. But there is such thing as scalp pain. The scalp has blood vessels and nerves. And if it becomes inflamed, you can feel it throb, sting, itch, and ache. While it can happen from harsh, irritating substances reaching your scalp, from keeping your hair too tight in ponytails, from migraines even, the culprit can also be dirty hair.

2. What causes the inflammation of the scalp?

Does greasy hair make your scalp hurt? Yes. If it’s been too long between shampoos, then sebum, dirt, and debris accumulate around the hair shaft. Don’t judge yourself too harshly just yet! The yeast infection on your head is the result of your body’s mechanisms. Malassezia, a yeast naturally found on everyone’s scalp, grows to feed on the extra sebum secreted by the oil glands and the body reacts through an inflammatory response. If you wash your hair at this point, things get easy. However, there are a few things that you can do that make things even worse:

  • If you scratch your scalp, although you’ll get an immediate sense of relief, the inflammation gets worse. When you scratch, the body releases cytokines, chemicals that boost the inflammatory process. The bigger the inflammation, the more intense the pain in the scalp.
  • If you pull your hair into a tight ponytail or bun until washing, the traction will irritate the nerve endings in the scalp even more. The result: even more pain!
  • If you use more dry shampoo, you can block the follicles with too much product. That will lead to more oil secreted by the glands, and the circle keeps going.

2.1 What is folliculitis?

Greasy roots cause a pain response. Hair follicles and hair shafts become too oily. When inflammation occurs, the skin and the perifollicular area of the scalp, which is rich in blood supply, oil glands, and nerve endings, hurts. Sometimes, on this already inflamed area, bacteria can overgrow as well. Folliculitis is just that: the inflammation of the roots doubled by a bacteria growth that “feels at home” on a sensitive area.

2.2 Can yeast build-up hurt your scalp?

Why does scalp itch when hair is dirty? The overgrowth of yeast happens due to an imbalance in the pH levels of the scalp. Extra sebum causes inflammation. pH levels modify. Yeast can grow to the point it causes irritation, itching, and even pain.

2.3 Can dandruff cause aches?

It starts with an itchy scalp. You can feel some tingling and stinging that may urge you to scratch. You can feel burning. Scalp tenderness can turn into throbbing pain. The nerve endings, follicles, and blood vessels in the scalp become inflamed if your scalp isn’t clean. Seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff worsen at this point. The cause: the same yeast (Malassezia) overgrowth.

2.4 Can scalp sensitivity trigger pain?

Why do the roots of your hair hurt? If you ruled out shampooing and your hair still hurts when moving or when pressed, you may be dealing with a sensitive scalp. A sensitive scalp can happen due to all the coping mechanisms of dealing with postponing shampooing. Blood vessels are already inflamed, and they press on the nerve endings in the scalp. The result is ouch! Things can get even worse with skin conditions. Scalp psoriasis, eczema, folliculitis, and seborrheic dermatitis may need extensive treatment and a balanced, appropriate washing routine suited for your hair type and needs. 

3. A balanced washing routine = a balanced scalp

Overworking sebaceous glands can even cause hair loss if you leave things untreated. Make sure you start with a proper hair routine. Washing twice or three times a week can help. Forgetting about styling tools for a time, letting your hair loose, stopping aggressive treatments on your hair and scalp can aid. Adjusting your hair care routine can also help. We recommend you let go of chemically enhanced shampoos and conditioners. A delicate shampoo can keep the pH levels in check and sustain healing, therefore helping reducing the pain. 

4. Remedies you can use to soothe your scalp and stop the pain

Scalp discomfort and pain can go away when you forget about harsh shampoos and conditioners. Gentle shampoos can help soothe inflammation. Look for the following ingredients:

4.1 Aloe vera

This healing ingredient can diminish scalp and hair pain. Aloe has soothing effects, gently disinfects, and replenishes the scalp with moisture. And it doesn’t clog the follicles. 

4.2 Essential oils 

Hair products with lavender, rosemary, lemon, or lemongrass essential oil cleanse and clarify the scalp in a gentle way. They also soothe inflammation and provide nourishment due to powerful botanical extracts.

4.3 Apple cider vinegar

Gunk and grease on your hair roots stand no chance if you use apple cider vinegar. If you choose an anti-fungal shampoo containing apple cider vinegar you tackle all problems. You stop the yeast from growing, you diminish irritation, you cleanse, you boost blood flow to the follicles, and you also boost healing.  

4.4 Lemon juice

Lemon juice has anti-inflammatory effects. It relieves tenderness and pain in the scalp. It also restores the pH levels of the scalp. And it has clarifying effects. 

4.5 Coconut milk

Say goodbye to scalp pain! Coconut milk in natural shampoos is gentle to your scalp. It will not strip the scalp and hair of its natural oils. Nor will it clog the roots. But it will cleanse and hydrate.  

4.6 Activated charcoal

Here’s the thing: the scalp doesn’t have only oil glands. It also has sweat glands! That’s why you need a purifying shampoo from time to time to keep pain at bay. Choosing a delicate, yet effective one is key. Activated charcoal hits the perfect spot!

4.7 Nourishing vegetal oils

Traditional shampoos can cause more harm than good. You need sulfate-free shampoos, especially now, when the scalp is irritated. A shampoo containing potent vegetal oils like argan, jojoba, avocado, moringa, or coconut oil will help. It will help heal, provide nourishment and soothe inflammation. Usually, such oils are also non-comedogenic. And you need that now!

5. Why choosing a gentle shampoo with natural ingredients helps balance the scalp?

How do you fix a sore scalp? You forget about harsh shampoos, no matter what they promise. Such shampoos may deliver volume, shine, and glow, but the cost of using them is too high. In time they make the hair coarse, frizzy, and prone to breakage. And they leave the scalp with a large amount of build-up, triggering the same problem we tackled at the beginning of the article. Your hair roots become suffocated, inflamed. That will affect the quality of your hair growth and the quality of your life. After all, an ouchy scalp is no pleasure!

But no more! No more ouch in your scalp! Don’t bun up! Don’t brush! Don’t scratch! Don’t heat up! Don’t add chemical substances! Just choose a delicate, natural shampoo and hit the shower, babe!

Iulia Claudia Dumitru

I feel happy when I get to tell meaningful stories. About people. About the world. About life. About what people need to feel good. Healthy food, a balanced lifestyle, a grateful approach to relationships with others and ourselves. That is how I keep myself grounded and purposeful. That is how I aim to contribute: striving to make ourselves the best we can. Creating life in the little things. Living every day with the joy, wonder, and curiosity of a child. Trying to #seeKbeauty. Inside and out.

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