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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.

{ 30 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!

    http://www.newhealthguide.org/Scalp-Hurts.html

  • 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.

  • Ginger August 21, 2014, 1:29 pm

    This is way late, but I’d like to share my ideas:

    1) Similar to what some of the others have said, some of us get pimples or some kind of folliculitis if we skip washing for a day or two.

    I’ll get at least a few VERY sore and itchy spots whenever my scalp is greasy; maybe some of you get a ton, leaving the entire scalp sensitive.

    2) For people like Daria:

    I have daily migraine. For me, nothing really alleviates them better than a long, steamy shower. Some people instead use ice packs or take cold showers, but showing is a common way to relieve the pain. In some people, either hot or cold showers can be a trigger.

    Either way, it seems that showering can affect migraine. Can it affect other headache pain, too? If so, maybe spending more time in the shower or running water over your head might be the difference in a headache v. non-headache day.

  • Kim August 22, 2014, 3:23 am

    I’ve searched the internet for months looking for a solution and this is the first time I’ve seen anyone even recognize this problem!

    I hate washing my hair, mostly because of the time it takes to dry and style it (it’s long and thick and wavy), so I go as long as possible without doing it. I always end up washing it by about day 5 or 6 though solely because of the scalp pain. It gets worse when I pull my hair up into a ponytail or bun, and the pain/itching is limited to the crown of my head. It always goes away when I wash, though it sometimes still lingers for a few hours afterwards.

    Maybe I should just be less lazy and wash my hair more. :) but if anyone figures out the problem and a solution I’d love to hear it!

  • Charlotte August 26, 2014, 7:22 pm

    I get this every day! I washed my hair this morning, and it already looks greasy and my scalp aches. I tend to wash my hair every other day, so about three times a week. But the morning after washing my hair, it looks too greasy to have loose, and my scalp hurts in a headache form. If you have found a solution please let me know!x

  • amyboo August 31, 2014, 11:32 am

    I get this all tge time its so annoying but as soon as I start to feel my head hurt I wash it and it goes away I have no idea of what it can be either..

  • melanie September 5, 2014, 9:03 pm

    Hi all. I’ve come across this thread as I started with this month’s ago. The feeling is like someone has grabbed a handful of hair and pulled it and your left with the pain when it’s moved or brushed? Mine started to go like this and after a while I started getting itchy if I didn’t wash it. If I put up with the itch I develop spots. I’ve sometimes noticed u bleed when I scratch the itch and hit a spot. I think the shampoos are to blame. And conditioners make it worse. I itch now after using conditioner so only on the roots it goes. Well my daughter who is 8 has beautiful long blonde hair. I noticed when I washed it her roots still looked greasy just after shampoo so I tried nutrigloss LIGHT. Both shampoo and conditioner. For her this WORKED! no greasiness after shampooing. It helps for me but I still get the itch not so much the greasy gunky feeling although it does get greasy. I found that a strict every 2 day wash helps but yes, we need to find out if a new ingredient has been added to them. All we ever see is “for greasy hair” “for dry or damaged” and my favourite “for softer hair”! Are there any out there which actually CLEANS hair to take away the muck or are they all there just competing with adding ingredients and more chemicals to get what they claim? Dry hair? Well it needs something to keep moisture in, greasy needs a chemical to take grease away and to get softer hair it needs what?. !

  • Jayna September 6, 2014, 11:59 pm

    I have the same issue, and have had it for years, but here’s what I noticed:

    -If I wash my hair more often, than the pain is more frequent. If I make my scalp get used to going days between washes, then the pain doesn’t come as often, or goes away all together.

    -When I went off shampoo completely, I didn’t notice the pain between washes at all. I was washing with baking soda and vinegar, which rocked my hair world. It made it soft and shiny, and accentuated strawberry blond highlights, BUT I ran out of vinegar and had to borrow my sister’s dandruff shampoo a couple days ago. Well yesterday I got the flu, so today I stayed in bed all day with my hair in a ponytail. When I got up, I put it in a bun while I made myself some food and left it up for about an hour. Five minutes ago, it hurt so bad I had to move the bun to adjust the hair, and eventually take it down. This wasn’t the pain you get from having a hairstyle too tight, it feels like a group of bees or needles stinging your scalp in, for me, the top right side.

    There is a giant cowlick behind the crown of my head in about the same spot, and what fixed the pain for me without washing it, was arranging my hair in the direction of the cowlick. That means that right now, I have a clockwise shaped tidal pool of hair flowing from the back of my head. Hair that usually hangs down in the back of my head is now covering my right eye; hair that is usually tucked behind my ear, is sticking out in front of my ears.

    In my opinion, shampoo is to blame.

  • emmy September 8, 2014, 9:54 pm

    Usually I have greasy hair and it has to be washed everyday. I have a pixie cut so the hair is really short . The day before I had washed my hair n straightened it I don’t know what about my hair that it’s just so oily. I woke up the next morning with greasy hair but I decided to re flat iron my hair n spend the rest of the day like that. Then I noticed when my hair was at it’s most greasy point that I had a pain on the crown of my head as if it’s been in a tight pony tail all day. I believe the hair being greasy made it hurt. So again I have a pixy haircut and I had so much pain at the crown of my head it’s so crazy to know that I had to wash my hair as soon as I got home for the pain to go away.

  • ddoll September 10, 2014, 1:03 am

    I have the same pain, like someone pulled my hair. This was something I thought I had solved years ago. I have very thick and coarse hair. It used to be very long and when I pulled it into a ponytail it would hurt by the end of the day. A solution was to French braid the hair which distributed the tension evenly throughout my scalp. But mostly I just wouldn’t put it into a ponytail. But for the last year my hair has been short and now it just hurts. I wash it every 5 to 7 days, sooner if it starts hurting. Sometimes the washing helps for a while, sometimes not right away. Good to know I’m not the only one too, but I’m beginning to think that there may be something with the shampoo also.

  • Pooja September 17, 2014, 5:00 am

    I also experience this discomfort from pain in the scalp when I don’t wash my hair for longer than three days. I believe it’s due to sebborheic dermatitis.

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