Why Does My Scalp Hurt When My Hair Is Dirty?

November 08, 2021 4 min read

a woman holding a bamboo comb and hair treatment with a pillow on her face

Nope, it’s not just you. The throbbing pain you feel in your “hair” after going several days without washing your tresses is a real and universally shared experience. Countless users on message boards and internet forums have posed variations of the same question: “Why does my scalp hurt when my hair is dirty?” 

To get to the bottom of this intriguing question, we decided to do a little digging. Turns out, there are many causes of scalp pain: dermatitis, infection and psoriasis, to name just a few. However, the most likely culprit of an achy scalp is going too long in between washes. 

But why does this odd phenomenon happen in the first place, and what can you do to prevent it? Below, learn more about why your scalp hurts when your hair is dirty and how something as simple as switching to a gentle shampoo bar can help put a kibosh to scalp pain for good.

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Here’s Why Your Scalp Hurts When Your Hair Is Dirty

When you go too long without shampooing your hair, oils and dead skin cells can start to build up around the hair shaft. While a little bit of oil can be beneficial for your hair, too much oil can suffocate the hair root and lead to inflammation. This inflammation can then lead to swelling and a buildup of tissue, which presses against nerve endings at the base of your hair follicles and in your scalp. The end result is a painful, irritated scalp that may feel sore to the touch.

Overusing hair products (and using the wrong products in general) don’t help matters. Sticky gels and heavy hair creams can lead to prolonged product buildup around the hair shaft, causing your scalp to become inflamed. Tight hairstyles, curlers and headbands are also common causes of hair follicle irritation and scalp pain.

Like we said, there are several potential reasons why your scalp may be hurting. But if your scalp pain coincides with day three or four of unwashed hair, chances are that excess oil and product buildup are to blame. 

How to Avoid Scalp Pain Caused by Dirty Hair

You would think that the solution to this particular form of scalp pain would be simple — just scrub your hair more often, right? But as anyone with dry, curly, natural or gray hair knows, over-washing hair can lead to an entirely different set of hair problems.

Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to combat a sore, painful scalp. Here are a few tips to keep your mane healthy, strong and pain-free. 

Switch to a gentler shampoo. While it may seem counterintuitive, switching to a gentler shampoo can actually help ease your scalp pain. That’s because shampoos with sulfates and other harsh ingredients can strip the natural oils from your scalp, leading to an overproduction of oil. You can keep your oil production in check by using a pH-balanced shampoo bar with nourishing, plant-based ingredients. Our shampoo bars are highly concentrated and pack tons of nutrients into one travel-friendly bar! For best results, pair it with a hydrating conditioner bar.

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a pair of women holding out shampoo bars

Comb your hair daily. Brushing or combing your hair on a regular basis will help move the natural oils from your roots to your dry, thirsty ends. If you have curly hair that’s prone to tangles or simply want to be more delicate with your strands, we recommend using a wide-toothed bamboo comb to avoid unnecessary breakage and scalp irritation.

Simplify your hair care routine. Hair gels, creams and texturizing sprays contain a multitude of chemicals that damage our manes and cause product buildup. Why not take a break from all of your hair products and embrace a more natural look? Put down the hair cream and tame frizz with all-natural coconut oil instead. (Tip: Make sure you only apply it to your ends!)

Use a dry shampoo. In between washes, you might try using our plastic-free dry shampoo on your roots. On top of being better for your hair and the environment, our dry shampoo is great at absorbing excess oil from the roots, which means you’re less likely to experience a sore, achy scalp. 

a person holding a soap dish with stacked shampoo bars

Wear your hair down or use a cloth hair tie. If you always wear your hair in a ponytail, let your hair down so it’s not pulling at your irritated scalp. Using cloth hair ties instead of elastic ones may also help your scalp by preventing snagging or pulling.

Whether you have thick, wavy hair or fine, pin-straight locks, scalp pain can happen to anyone. More often than not, inflamed follicles are the result of harsh shampoos, infrequent cleansing and too-tight hairstyles. 

Thankfully, the fix is pretty simple: treat your follicles to a little self-care with all-natural products from The Earthling Co. From our plant-based shampoo and conditioner bars to our plastic-free dry shampoo, we have the hair care basics you need for a happier, healthier scalp.


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