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Why does greasy hair make my scalp ache?

Apisums asks…I wash my hair every morning. If I skip washing my hair one morning, it’s not only greasy looking, but by the afternoon/ evening my scalp actually begins to hurt. It’s like a headache on the crown of my head that just gets worse and worse until I wash my hair. After reading all of the articles out there about how washing every day can be damaging, I tried for a while to get by with shampooing every other day. On the off days I tried just using conditioner, or just using water and scritching my scalp in the shower, or not wetting it at all and just using dry shampoo. I had varying levels of success with these, but still, by the end of any day that I didn’t use shampoo, my head would be killing me. No one that I’ve ever mentioned this to has ever experienced similar aching. Any clue what this is, and what I can do to avoid it?

The Beauty Brains respond: 

Wow, that’s an interesting question! I don’t have any solid answers but I do have two guesses:

1. If you have long hair and you’re pulling your hair back into a pony tail or bun on the days when you don’t shampoo, the pressure caused by the weight of your hair could cause a headache.

2. A greasy scalp is a breeding ground for a specific fungus called Malassezia furfur. The fungus feeds on the oils and releases free fatty acids which can irritate your scalp. I’ve never heard of this irritation manifesting itself in the form of a headache but, like I said, this is just a guess.

Post script: Apisums responded to my original answer in our Forum:

“Thanks for the response! My hair is somewhat long and having it pulled up definitely makes it worse, but the ache is different from the ache i get from heavy buns. It’s more like individual spots on the scalp that become incredibly sore, even if my hair is down. I suppose I simply need to accept that it’s my destiny to be a daily-shampooer.”

Have you experienced the greasy hair headache? Leave a comment if you have any suggestions for Apisums.


{ 21 comments… add one }

  • jaann January 24, 2014, 8:13 am

    I get that from time to time, but I don’t remember if it’s because of greasy hair… though I suppose it does ring a bell. I have long-ish hair and I also usually wash my hair every day.

    When it happens, even letting my greasy hair down is just temporary relief. Moving the hair around hurts at the roots. Shampooing makes it feel better.

  • breezy January 24, 2014, 10:45 am

    I get this sometimes! My hair is short, and I round-brush blow dry it every day. I think that on mornings that I don’t wash it until the afternoon it tries to hold the shape of the blow dry (or even holding a kink from my pillow), causing it to hurt. It’s kind of like having long hair up in a ponytail but without the physical hair tie.

  • ll January 24, 2014, 11:04 am

    Yes! This happens to me, too! I have shoulder length fine hair, but a lot of it. Like jaann, moving the hair around hurts at the roots. I didn’t think about it as being connected to second day hair, but that is totally it. Who knew?! No solutions other than washing it to offer here.

  • S January 24, 2014, 11:06 am

    This happens to me as well, but I’ve always thought it was “just in my head!” Jaann described it well also–moving my hair at the roots hurts.

  • Eileen January 24, 2014, 12:08 pm

    I’ve had long hair all my life; anywhere from mid-back to waist length. I have also always had an oily scalp and so I shampoo daily unless circumstances prevent me from doing so. I use a mild shampoo and concentrate on the scalp. I am very gentle with the hair itself and don’t scrub at it or rough it up. My hair is in excellent condition; shiny and undamaged. So, if you need to shampoo every day, I say go for it! I don’t think it is the actual act of shampooing daily that is the culprit, rather it is using an overly vigorous method of shampooing or using a harsh shampoo that has given the daily shampoo a bum rap.

    Apropos the scalp pain, I know exactly what you’re talking about. It happens to me occasionally and only when I’ve skipped my daily shampoo. For me, it’s not a headache per se, rather it is a sensitivity in certain spots of my scalp. Jaann described it perfectly when she said that moving the hair around at the roots hurts but that shampooing gives relief. Bizarre!

  • Randy Schueller January 24, 2014, 12:50 pm

    It appears we’ve stumbled across an issue than many people have but few have articulated. Therefore, I say that the Beauty Brains community gets to name it!

    Here are a couple of options:

    Greasy Achy Scalp Syndrome (GASS)
    Hair Ickiness Can Cause Unusual Pain (HICCUP)
    Pain from Minimal Shampooing (PMS) I guess this one’s already taken.

    Does anyone else have any suggestions?

  • Sarah F. January 24, 2014, 8:26 pm

    No poo I have a headache. NPIHAHA. Sorry the acronym isn’t so catchy.

  • admin January 25, 2014, 12:56 am

    Actually I think the HA HA part is quite catchy!

  • N. January 24, 2014, 9:56 pm

    GASS! And I get that too. Actually it stopped a long time ago, curiously. So I’m not sure what did it, but it really hurt!


  • Daria January 25, 2014, 11:55 am

    Ahhh, I’m not the only one! I have shoulder length fine hair and it does hurt like hell when I skip my morning hair washing procedure. It just feels like all the grease and dust do not let my brain work. Washing hair as fast as I can usually help a lot, so I always thought that was a neat way my organism helped me be clean!

    ps. I also have a theory that massaging your head when you wash it helps to fight headache and the days you skip it the headache comes back (I have headaches often).

  • Rachel January 25, 2014, 4:13 pm

    I also get this… I have long, thick, straight hair and only shampoo/condition 2-3 times a week, but on occasion if I go a long time between washes (like 4 days) my scalp will ache at the top of my head where the hair is most oily… very strange.

  • somebimbo January 25, 2014, 5:14 pm

    YES! I encounter the same issue.
    So glad to know I’m not alone. I don’t shampoo daily but if I skip it for a few days, it’s terrible. This used to happen to me even before I developed dandruff.

    Maybe the roots get clogged up with oil, which slightly hardens and makes it hard for the hair to move, so it pinches on some nerves. I don’t even know if that’s scientifically plausible but since acne is caused partially by hardened oil in the pore, it’s possible that the hardened oil in the pores on the scalp could be somewhat inflammatory. Beauty Brains, tell me if I’m crazy.

  • Randy Schueller January 26, 2014, 7:00 pm

    Somebimbo: You’re not crazy but you’re not exactly right either. Excess sebum is a contributing factor to acne because it feeds the bacteria that can infect the pores. But the skin oil doesn’t “harden,” rather the follicle becomes clogged with dead skin cells because they don’t slough off properly.

  • Apisums January 26, 2014, 1:26 pm

    I’m so happy to find out that I’m not alone! I’ve wondered about the possibility of hardened oil in the roots too, but like somebimbo (haha) I also have no idea if that’s a real thing that could happen.

    Also, I’d like to place my vote for “GASS”. It feels right.

  • Sarah F. January 26, 2014, 8:40 pm

    I don’t get a headache but I feel itchy and uncomfortable by the end of the second day if I don’t bathe. Yuck.

  • Julz January 27, 2014, 12:50 am

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one experiencing this! Like others have said it sometimes feels like the roots are painful when the hair is moved, but the headache also often feels like an inflammatory response, and seems to go along with my face feeling hot and flushed and oily along with an aching head until I can wash my hair. As others have mentioned it does almost feel like an inflammatory response. Any ideas beauty brains? ??

  • Randy Schueller January 27, 2014, 7:24 am

    It could be a reaction to a build up of oleic acid from the excess sebum.

  • rozy January 28, 2014, 7:47 pm

    I’ll call it PMS!

  • Joni January 30, 2014, 5:21 pm

    This used to happen to me all the time! I have long, thick hair. I’m trying to think what I’ve changed, since it hasn’t happened in a while…

    I wash my hair every other day. Daily is too often, but less often leads to very oily scalp, which will bring on the pain.

    I think the biggest change I’ve made is blow-drying my hair straight, starting at the top. (I get really weird cow-licks otherwise.) I used to let my hair air dry, but now I much prefer the sleeker, straighter look. My scalp doesn’t get achy like it used to. Perhaps those two things are related some how?

  • Shrvmom February 17, 2014, 12:09 am

    I have that REALLY bad. I have just below the shoulder length thick curly hair but mostly wear it straight. I have to have it thinned every time I go to the salon and my hairdresser doesn’t do it enough to suit me. Sometimes even shampooing doesn’t make the pain stop. It’s like my body is punishing me for not washing it every day. But with thick, nappy hair, the whole process is time consuming and tiring. Wish I had an answer. I’ve grown my hair out and cut it back to chin length twice before just to get rid of pain. And just had it cut and thinned and still hurts. Maybe I’ll have to start washing it twice a day until the pain subsides then back to every day?

  • Azi July 13, 2014, 5:27 pm

    I have read that scalp soreness when you miss one day of shampooing is linked to hypothyroidism.

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