Have you ever been at a restaurant with family or friends who urge you to try an exotic dish? They describe the taste, texture, maybe even health benefits of the dish in such great detail that by the time you finally place your order, you’re practically salivating. Finally the waiter places a dish before you that looks and maybe even smells like something that was forgotten in the back of somebody’s fridge for six months. This is probably the best comparison to the experiences I’ve had with a few natural hair treatments. Some of which harbored such an odor that it made me the center of attention and not in a good way. Below are a few products I have tried and even loved that gave off an unexpected odor which left me reconsidering if the benefits outweighed the smelly drawbacks.
I remember the day I walked into the Indian grocery store in Cambridge, MA eagerly looking for the oil some women raved about on hair boards. Finally, I found a bottle and although it contained mineral oil, a product I had stopped using for months, I was set on using it in my next pre-poo treatment. On some of the reviews I read about the product some users described it as having a robust, exotic and spicy smell. Either I purchased the wrong stuff or those users were living in the land of lies, fairytales and fantasies. The stuff stank! It wasn’t the strong, noxious type of smell that turns your stomach. Rather, it had a strange “after smell”. A quick sniff of the oil didn’t predict how it would smell after an hour of letting it sit on my hair. The best way to describe the scent was this: the distant, faint fragrance of urine you smell when you enter a New York City subway station downtown. After that first use, I was positive that I could only use Amla oil (at least the thick, heavy kind I purchased at the Indian grocers), if I was going to wash it out of my hair within the hour.
So, you may wonder: Was it worth it? For me, the benefits outweighed the smelly negatives. The oil provided great slip and after a year of use my hair was a dark, shiny black (Amla oil darkens the hair over time). While I no longer use Amla oil because I now only use a slippery conditioner to detangle, I’d be willing to bear the acidic smell because it faded immediately after washing my hair.
About 6 months into my hair journey I decided that I would no longer consider taking supplements for the sole purpose of increasing my rate of hair growth. My breakout from Biotin and the migraines and bizarre dreams I experienced from taking MSM was an unpleasant experience to say the least! Around that time I began to read articles on forums and watch hair vlogs that described the benefits of sulfur on hair growth. I saw before and after hair shots that made me truly believe that I could exceed my 6 inch a year hair growth goal. Needless to say I eagerly ordered a bottle of an oil mix containing sulfur and applied it to my hair. In fairness to the manufacturer of the product, it was clear they used a variety of essential oils in an attempt to mask the smell of the product. Nevertheless my hair smelled like a cross between fruity oils and rotting eggs. I can laugh about it now and I do think the oil helped the dryness of my scalp (not so much with hair growth), but it was embarrassing to have someone question the source of a smell only to realize it was your hair. Unlike Amla oil I would not use sulfur in the future. I’m fastidious about my hygiene so the thought of using a product that may make others think I don’t wash my hair is simply not worth it. I wish I could say that I don’t care what others think, but when it comes to wearing smelly hair in public, I really do care.
When it comes to essential oils the saying “everything in moderation” is apropos. If you’ve tinkered with essential oils, then you know that very little goes quite a long way. One of my favorite essential oils is peppermint oil. I have found that helps itchiness on my scalp and skin. However, I didn’t always realize the potency of the product. I recommend using too little rather than too much of this oil because, trust me, your bed linens, clothing and hair will smell like chewing gum for quite some time. The same can be said of other essential oils. You will want to play with proportions before you apply it directly to your hair or your skin.
As an aside, if you ever have the misfortune of having little gray, furry visitors, as I did when I lived in a college dorm, peppermint oil is a harmless way of getting rid of mice. So, not only does it sooth your scalp and skin, but helps with any potential pest problems too. Just be sure to use in moderation.
What are the strangest smelling hair products that you’ve used?