“I workout a lot and break a serious sweat at least five days a week. I either play basketball, do HITT, boxing or I run so I really sweat. I currently have braids but I switch between box braids and a sew-in just because it’s easier for me in the winter. However, I’ve noticed that my scalp starts to smell after a few weeks. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I wash my hair twice a week and don’t put any extra products on my scalp like grease or anything like that. To avoid the smell, I’m spending so much freaking money on changing out my braids and weaves every couple of weeks. Do you have any advice on how to keep braids smelling fresh and clean (as well as my scalp) while working out because wearing my natural hair out right now is just absolutely not an option.” – Yvetta
This is actually a much simpler fix than it seems. When your scalp starts to smell it means one of two things. The first and most common reason is that your scalp and your hair is dirty…Really dirty. A dirty scalp means natural scalp oil and dead cell buildup plus a combination of products and environmental things that affect our hair smell like going to a cookout and walking away smelling like a bon fire. The second reason is that you have an infection which should be immediately accessed by your doctor. If your problem is the later you only need to do a few things.
FIRST: LISTEN TO YOUR HAIR
Your body is telling you what it does not like. It’s saying it does not like being washed twice a week on your current workout schedule. You can either cut back working out so much or you can wash your hair more. Since you have braids and sew-ins, this is pretty easy to do every day. However, it’s important that you keep in mind that wet braids (whether underneath your sew-in or individuals) can cause major problems if you are not careful. Having wet hair that does not dry completely or takes a long time to dry down in the “row” or at your scalp can cause mildew and your hair can begin to smell sour from the trapped hair oils and products that are hiding in your braids. We’re going to take a guess that this may be what’s happening with you, which leads us to back to that washing. When you’re wearing braids for exercise convenience, make sure they are not too big. Small to small-medium sized braids are more effective for washing and long term wear because, when wet, you risk the heavier individual braids pulling your hair out especially around your hairline and them smelling because they can often take so long to dry. Smaller braids will dry faster and have less tension on your scalp and hair. We don’t recommend “Janet Jackson a.k.a. Poetic Justice” or “Patra” style braids for long term wear, instead opt for smaller braids that can be washed every day and that will dry faster. After washing your hair, your braids should be fully dry within a couple of hours. If they are not, then they are too big for wearing and washing as much as you need to wash them. When wearing sew-ins, make sure your stylist braids medium-small cornrows as well so that they will dry faster. It also may be worth playing around with not doubling your weave tracks and instead, splitting them to space them out which will cut down on the amount of bulk concentrated on each of your braids.
SECOND: MAKE SURE YOU’RE USING THE BEST PRODUCTS FOR YOUR BRAIDS, SCALP AND HAIR
Human hair will wash and handle a bit better than synthetic hair so keep that in mind. Also, since co-washing conditioners and regular conditioners can cause buildup overtime under these circumstances, stick to using a sulfate free shampoo and moisturizing but very light weight leave-in conditioner along the length of your braids like Yarok Feed Your Ends Leave-In Conditioner, Kinky Curly Knot Today Conditioner or Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen, Grow and Restore Leave-In on your hair after you wash. These are light enough and even similar in consistency to some braid sprays. If you want them lighter you can dilute them in a separate spray bottle with a little water. Spray your leave-in along your braids, being sure to avoid getting the conditioner on your scalp. This will help keep scalp itching at bay and will also keep your braids from looking so dull from buildup. Speaking of braid sprays, you don’t have to specifically purchase a braid spray. What you need most is a lightweight, leave-in type spray that won’t cause lots of build up or make your hair too greasy. You can make your own with the leave-ins above or use any of these leave-ins from 4 Moisturizing Drugstore Leave-In Conditioners. One braid spray that you can buy that we like is Taliah Waajid Protective Mist Bodifier. You may be able to make it a few days in between washes by cleaning your scalp with alcohol free (no exceptions) Rose Petal Witch Hazel (or you could try the Peach Witch Hazel or Lavender Witch Hazel). Witch hazel is a natural cleaning astringent and helps to balance our skin’s pH which will help to keep smells at bay. The rose calms skin and it’s alcohol free so it’s gentle enough to use on your hair without stripping it (this is a personal trick we sometimes use here after a good workout). If you don’t have time to do the witch hazel routine, dry shampoo is an option. Using dry shampoo will soak up wetness on your scalp and hold you over until your next wash.
After using your water-based spray leave-in conditioner to treat the length of your hair in the braids, finish that off with a little natural oil to keep your hair from drying out. Just take quarter sized amount for each side of your head and rub the oil into your braids fully with your hands being sure to apply well to the area along your braids where your ends would be. You can also use the oil on your scalp if you feel you need it. Stick with oils that have a faint smell like coconut oil (the coconut scent won’t last long) or jojoba. Trying these tweaks should keep your braids fresh and clean.