Why Does Burnt Hair Smell So Bad

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We all need to groom our hair and style it to suit our favorite look. However, when using a hot hair straightener, you might notice a foul smell. 

In most cases, the smell of burnt hair is probably a result of using excessive and unprotected heat styling. Also, using too many chemicals may end up burning your hair. 

While our hair is mostly composed of keratin, it is also made up of about 5% sulfur. When you burn your hair, a chemical reaction is triggered. In the process, the disulfide linkages that hold the Sulfur and protein bonds are broken. 

Most of the Sulfur combines with the hair, but some of it is released into the air. When this sulfur mixes with air, the resulting mixture is foul-smelling.

ironing hair

Why Does Burnt Hair Smell So Bad

We have highlighted that the foul smell from burnt hair comes from Sulfur which is a chemical compound in hair. However, the process is much more complex since it involves breaking down chemical bonds. 

Hair contains keratin which is a protein that emanates in the hair follicle. Structurally, keratin is made up of several amino acids, including cysteine.

The Chemistry Behind It

Cysteine contains Sulfur which is the chemical responsible for the bad smell. Peptide bonds combine these amino acids to form linkages referred to as polypeptide chains. 

In our case, keratin is the polypeptide chain in the hair. 5.2 percent of human hair is composed of Sulfur. Several chemical interactions hold together protein structures, such as ionic bonds and polypeptide linkages. 

However, disulfide linkages hold together amino acids methionine and cysteine. These amino acids contain Sulfur.

These disulfide linkages are destroyed when you burn hair. The process releases Sulfur which is now free to combine with other elements in the air and the protein from the hair.

In the air, Sulfur can combine with either hydrogen or oxygen. The resultant compound is what is responsible for the bad smell.

The amount of air available may influence the extent of the smell. Notably, when Sulfur combines with enough oxygen, a sulfate is formed. 

Sulfates do not have that offensive foul smell. Conversely, when the Sulfur combines with hydrogen, a sulfide is created, which unfortunately smells terrible. 

For a better understanding on what happens to your hair when burnt, watch this video:

How Long Does Burnt Hair Smell Take To Go

There is a chemical change that occurs when the hair is burnt. The Sulfur released from the burning combines with protein or surrounding air. Therefore, it might take a few days for the smell to disappear completely.

Usually, the foul smell disappears after just one or two days. However, depending on the nature and extent of the burn, the odor can linger even for a week. If the damage to the hair was extensive, expect the smell to stay for a while.

Fortunately, some remedies can reduce the smell, such as using shampoo. However, the best treatment is to prevent the burn from happening. 

Try using protected heating tools that will reduce hair burns. Also, cut on chemical processors such as relaxers, perms, and highlights, among others.

Washing can be an excellent way to remove the lousy scent from your hair. However, most people avoid washing due to breakages, especially after styling. 

Therefore, you can use hair perfume or scented dry shampoo. Also, baking soda and lemon juice will get rid of the bad smell. 

Does Burnt Hair Grow Back

Hair getting burnt by a hair straightener or by a flat iron is quite normal. Usually, the hair grows back normally. However, the ability of hair to grow back depends on the nature and the extent of the burn.

A mild burn on the scalp should not scare you much; expect a full hair recovery. If the burn was severe, the hair follicles in the scalp might have been destroyed, and your hair won’t grow back

With surgery, the hair can be restored. However, the procedure is expensive and time-consuming. 

Typically, for minor burns, the hair will start growing back once the scalp heals. Sadly, in most cases, if the hair does not grow after about a year, it will not regrow. Such cases are from severe burns, and surgery is the only solution to regrow the hair.

Why Does My Hair Smell Burnt After Flat Iron

You have probably experienced a foul smell when flat ironing your hair. Sometimes even a heat protectant cannot eliminate the unpleasant odor. When a hot iron is pressed or run along your hair length over time, some sections of your hair will burn.

The burning triggers a chemical reaction that leads to the formation of Sulfur. When exposed to the air, Sulfur reacts with hydrogen to form hydrogen sulfide, which is responsible for the stench smell. Your hair will smell bad even if it is clean. 

Getting Rid Of The Smell From Burnt Hair

The best way to get rid of the burnt hair smell is to wash it. If you do not have a problem with washing your hair, you can rinse it with a shampoo cleanse. You can also apply apple cider vinegar to avoid further damage to the hair. 

The mixture of the shampoo and the vinegar will protect the hair cuticle and also make your hair strong and look shiny.

Moreover, you can use essential oils to mask the foul smell of burnt hair. However, remember that this procedure will not solve the problem, but it will give you time to work on repairing the damage. It is a quick and temporary solution.

Lastly, you can try spraying vodka mixed with water on your hair will eliminate the foul smell. The bad smell will disappear as the vodka evaporates. After this procedure, try a deep conditioning treatment.

Final Thoughts

When you notice the foul smell when treating your hair, you are probably damaging it. The smell is experienced when the heat damages the hair to produce Sulfur which combines with air to form a foul-smelling compound.

Fortunately, the foul smell disappears in a day or two, depending on the damage. A mild burn will not affect your hair growth. However, severe burns may result in permanent hair loss, and only surgery can be used to treat such a case. 

It is vital to protect our hair from burns, especially those arising from flat irons and chemical treatment. Choose the correct procedure for straightening or treating your hair. The use of essential oils can enhance the growth of your hair.