why does my hair smell burnt

The smell of burnt hair is not a pleasant odor, and it's often a sign of hair damage. Whether you accidentally use too much heat on your hair or if it's due to chemical processing, a burnt hair smell can be challenging to get rid of. 

This article delves into the question “why does my hair smell burnt”, strategies to eliminate it, and ways to stop it from happening again.

Why Does Your Hair Smell Burnt?

Whether it's from overusing heat-styling tools or chemically processing your hair, the burnt hair smell is a telltale sign of damage. It can be offensive and unpleasant, and it can last for days or even weeks, depending on the extent of the damage. So let's quickly delve into the different causes of this common problem.

Heat Damage

One of the primary offenders in this story is excessive use of heat-styling tools. Flat irons, curling irons, and hair dryers, when used repeatedly or excessively on a single section of hair, can cause extensive damage. This is especially true if you're not using a heat protectant before styling.

When your hair's subjected to high temperatures, sulfur-containing protein bonds can break down, leading to that signature smell. Extreme heat can result in burned cuticles, dehydration, and altered hydrogen bonds in the hair cortex, temporarily changing the shape of your locks.

Once the cuticles are burnt, hair can lose color, moisture, and nutrients, and continue to burn, even after the heat source is gone. This is often evident when your hair continues to smell burnt after washing or when wet. It's like a smoke signal, indicating that your hair has been badly hurt by heat.

Chemical Damage

Even without a heat source, your hair can acquire a burnt smell due to chemical damage. Chemical treatments, such as hair colors, bleach, perms, or relaxers, can cause protein bonds in your hair to break down, leading to the familiar burnt hair odor.

Over-processing with such treatments by using overly strong chemicals, leaving them on for too long, or treating already damaged hair can worsen the situation. This can leave your hair brittle, dry, and bereft of its healthy shine.

On top of this, certain hair products like hairsprays can lead to chemical buildup on your hair, contributing to the burnt smell. Frequent hair coloring, hair lightening, chemical perming, and use of hair tonics can all contribute to a burnt hair smell.

How to Get Rid of Burnt Hair Smell

Learn how to eliminate that burnt hair smell and restore your hair's natural fragrance with these effective home remedies.

Baking Soda Shampoo

How to Get Rid of Burnt Hair Smell
  1. Mix 1 tsp baking soda with shampoo. Adjust the amount based on hair length.
  2. Thoroughly mix baking soda into shampoo.
  3. Wet hair, apply the mixture to roots and scalp.
  4. Massage into hair and scalp for a few minutes.
  5. Rinse hair thoroughly with warm water.
  6. Optional: use conditioner, and rinse with cool water to seal cuticles.

Baking soda is a natural deodorizer, capable of absorbing and neutralizing unpleasant odors, including the smell of burnt hair. It can also help to remove excess oil and product buildup, leaving your hair feeling revitalized and clean.

However, remember that baking soda can be drying if used too often, so limit its use if you have dry or damaged hair. Also, ensure the baking soda is well mixed into your shampoo to prevent any residue being left in your hair.

Apple Cider Vinegar & Shampoo Cleanse

How to Get Rid of Burnt Hair Smell
  1. Mix equal parts of apple cider vinegar and shampoo.
  2. Wet hair and apply the mixture to the scalp and roots.
  3. Massage the mixture into the hair and scalp for a few minutes.
  4. Leave the mixture on for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Rinse hair thoroughly with warm water.
  6. Condition hair if desired, and rinse again with cool water to seal cuticles.

This method is another effective way to banish burnt hair smell. Apple cider vinegar helps balance your scalp and hair's pH, reducing odors. It can also remove buildup, reduce dandruff, and improve your hair's overall health. However, remember to dilute it appropriately before use, as undiluted apple cider vinegar can be too acidic and potentially damaging.

Essential Oil Spritz

How to Get Rid of Burnt Hair Smell
  1. Fill a spray bottle with water and 5-10 drops of essential oil(s) such as lavender, peppermint, lemon, or tea tree oil.
  2. Mix the ingredients by shaking the bottle.
  3. Spray the mixture onto your hair, focusing on areas with the strongest burnt smell.
  4. Let it dry on your hair without rinsing.
  5. Reapply as needed throughout the day to keep your hair smelling fresh.

Essential oils have natural antibacterial properties that can help to eliminate odor-causing bacteria on the scalp and hair. Additionally, they have a pleasant scent that can mask the burnt smell. This method is also gentle on the hair and scalp, making it a great option for those with sensitive skin.

Vodka & Water Spritz

How to Get Rid of Burnt Hair Smell
  1. Fill a spray bottle with equal parts vodka and water.
  2. Shake the bottle to mix thoroughly.
  3. Spray the mixture on the areas where the burnt smell is strongest.
  4. Allow the spritz to dry on your hair, avoid rinsing.
  5. Reapply as needed throughout the day to freshen hair smell.

Vodka can be a useful natural odor eliminator. This method is simple, using only a few ingredients. However, remember to follow up with a deep conditioning treatment afterward, as vodka can dry out the hair.

How to Avoid The Smell of Burnt Hair

By following these steps, you can help to avoid the smell of burnt hair and maintain healthy, beautiful hair.

Control Hot Tools Usage

How to Avoid The Smell of Burnt Hair

Cutting back on your use of hot tools can help prevent the smell of burnt hair. These tools can cause your hair's cuticle layer to become dry and brittle, leading to breakage, split ends, and, consequently, a burnt smell. If you need to use hot tools, stick to lower heat settings, use them for shorter durations, and never skip your heat-protectant products.

Make Hair Masks

How to Avoid The Smell of Burnt Hair

Making hair masks can be a great method of preventing the smell of burnt hair. Hair masks are typically made from natural ingredients which can help to nourish and strengthen the hair, preventing damage and breakage, which in turn can prevent the smell of burnt hair.

Choose ingredients that align with your hair type and concerns. For example, avocado and coconut oil are fantastic for dry, damaged hair, whereas apple cider vinegar or lemon juice can benefit those with oily hair.

Mix your ingredients into a smooth paste, apply it to your hair, and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour before rinsing it out with warm water. By integrating hair masks into your routine, you can keep your hair healthy and avert the smell of burnt hair.

Stop Hair Processing

How to Avoid The Smell of Burnt Hair

Processes like coloring, perming, and relaxing can damage hair and make it more prone to burning. By eliminating these processes, you can prevent damage and avoid that burnt smell. If you find it hard to quit altogether, consider reducing frequency or opting for gentler alternatives. It's always a good idea to consult with a professional stylist to find safe and healthy hair processing options.

The Bottom Line

The smell of burnt hair, often due to heat and chemical damage, can be a real nuisance. Try the remedies provided here to help eliminate it. But remember, prevention is the best cure—be mindful when using heat or chemicals on your hair. If your hair is already damaged, consider trimming the burnt ends and giving your hair a fresh start. With proper care and attention, you can enjoy healthy, beautiful hair that smells just as good as it looks!