Does Your Hair Smell…”Black”?

 Stink face

While browsing a beauty forum the other day, I came across a thread about good-smelling hair.

The poster said one of the things that originally attracted her husband was her hair. He said it smelled wonderful, not like “typical black hair.”

The first thing I did was *roll eyes* Her husband must be white because really, what kind of dumb mess is that to say?

But then I continued to read some of the responses and realized that I could relate and that maybe you can, too.

Let’s be real…black women have some funky-smelling hair products. I’m not saying that women of other races don’t; I’m just speaking the truth from my side.

You know that “feel-it” tingle in your favorite grease? Or the “super-gro complex” in your trusty hair treatment? That ingredient is called Stankonium Funkdiferous.

And to make matters worse, many of us don’t have the best hair practices. I’ll use myself as an example:

  • Not washing my hair for weeks to preserve a style 
  • but continuing to pile on products
  • Old, stanky extension braids
  • The “I just curled my hair this morning” stench
  • Pump It Up spritz
  • Oil sheen, grease, black gel…

Lawdhammercy! This list could go on for days. And the sad part is that I know some of you can relate and I know people who still follow these practices.

Ultra Sheen hair grease

I have an acquaintance who smells like straight Ultra Sheen grease every day. You know, the green one. It’s so strong that it actually lingers when she passes. When she walks by I get flashbacks of my old hot comb days.

I mentioned the smell to her one day (I’m tacky like that) and her response was:

“Well, I already got a husband, so I don’t have to worry about that.”


Which brings us back to “typical black hair.” Maybe men are just used to our hair smelling a certain way. Maybe we’re used to it smelling that way, too.

 How important is good-smelling hair to you? Is it even a concern? Has your mate ever commented (good or bad) on the smell of your hair?

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57 Responses so far.

  1. Mz Eizzy says:

    Girl u damn right!
    its stupid how we get all defensive about it aswell when someone points it out!

  2. nappyheadblkgrl says:

    Right! Don't let someone point it out. You might catch a beatdown! lol
    My recent post Does Your Hair Smell…"Black?"

  3. naan says:

    This made me laugh….and it’s so true!!!!
    naan recently posted..Bracelet – Indian summer duskMy Profile

  4. Onyx Rose says:

    LMAO. I love this post. You bring up a great point. At some point most Black women have done at least one of the things you mentioned. I know there is “no such thing” as “White hair products,” but what I have noticed is that products that are targeted more to White people smell fresher, more flowery, etc than typical “Black” products. I’m not sure why that is. Before my hair journey I wasn’t concerned about how my hair smelled, but now if a product doesn’t smell pleasant, I’m more reluctant to use it. Don’t wanna walk around leaving a bad smell everywhere. Great post.
    Onyx Rose recently posted..Upcoming Event- Little Miss Happy HeadedMy Profile

    • Hi, Onyx!

      I think part of the reason “our” products have unique smells is because a lot of them have “growth aids” and “hair stimulants” in them. Like the Dr. Miracle products. Some of us don’t think it’s working unless it tingles. That “tingle” is some stank-smelling ingredient lol

      I too wasn’t concerned with smell when I was relaxed. I wonder why that is? And I wonder why it only becomes a concern for many of us once we go natural?
      nappy headed black girl recently posted..Are You Eating For Your Hair’s HealthMy Profile

    • MsKat says:

      *giggle* Black-oriented haircare products often smell like food (cocoa butter, coconut, vanilla, citrus)…or incense!

  5. Hilarious but very true post!! There is nothing funkier then some burnt up greased up hair. I must say that since i went natural a few years back my husbands nose STAYS buried in my hair. He is crazy about that Honey Hemp condish so it stays in my cabinet. It needed to be discussed sis. Great Post 🙂
    TheSistahChick recently posted..BFFs Best Friends ForeverMy Profile

  6. SweetT says:

    omg, i’m sooo late. but yes! my guy friend once said that my hair “smells like Christmas”! lol. in fact, a lot of people tell me that my hair smells great. thanks karen’s bb coco lime, and miss jessie’s! 😉 but i definitely remember those relaxer, don’t want to mess up my wrap, days!

  7. Thandi says:

    Ok, you guys have some interesting -and over powering?-hair products over there! Here in South Africa I can’t say I’ve noticed anything like that.The only bad smell was having the perm products put on.But NOW I’ll be on the sniff, I mean, look out!

  8. Loren27 says:

    This post is very interesting and has shed a lot of light on my situation. I always wondered what kind of products african americans used, and now I know. My dilemma is, my coworker has a very “strong smelling” set of locks, and I cant figure out a way to tell her how much it bothers me without hurting her feelings.

    If anyone has suggestions, they would be greatly appreciated!

    She is such a wonderful/sensitive person, I would hate to create an environment that is awkward or uncomfortable.


    • Whoa, you know you have to tread very lightly when it comes to women and their hair!

      Maybe you could say something like, “What do you use on your hair? Oh, I was just wondering ’cause it’s really strong.”

      *NHBG is not a shrink. NHBG is not responsible for any bruises, punches or flat tires that may result from use of said advice*

  9. yuajah says:

    I just mentioned this to a friend of mine recently. I told him I didnt want people to be able to predict how my hair smells by my ethnicity…without even knowing me. Sorry but I find many jamaican women (which I am) smell like hair oil, and lotion…sometimes its just too much…or how about when that person has spent the day in the sun, with all those products in the hair on the skin…then they sit down beside you on the bus…not a nice smell…anyway…black people we need to be aware…and cool it on the hair products…or get somebody to smell you and tell you the truth before you leave the house….is it too much? do you smell bad? ask a friend.

  10. You need a disclaimer on your blog to let people know that they should not read this when they are at work pretending to actually work.

    I loved this post!

  11. Di says:

    This is sooo true and too funny!!!

    I wrote a post about growing up with a killer afro in a completely white community. Check it out if you have the time–-india-arie/

    Di recently posted..Boo-ism’sMy Profile

  12. Camisha says:

    My hair used to smell like sulfur 8. LOLOLOL!! But now it usually smells like peppermint!

  13. boris says:

    i disagree with this article! (The title can be seen as racist, no?)
    so i should give my opinion here:
    I am a white guy and i love smelling hair of any girl. My ex girlfriends are mostly black.. and love the smell of all. The last one even had dreads, she smelled so good!!!!! i loved so much the combination of pheromones, oils, butter she put and other molecules.

    Bad smells are cooking and cigaret smells that stay in your hair. That’s all i can think about now.
    Thanks for reading

    • Thanks for dropping by, Boris. It’s nice to have a man’s perspective.

      I can see how one might be offended by the title but, as you can see by the comments, there’s some truth to it.

      Many products made for black women tend to have offensive, downright stinky odors. And many of these products are staples in our homes, oftentimes passed down through the family.

      If you’ve never smelled the stench of Sulfur 8 or Doo-Gro in one of your girlfriend’s heads, consider yourself lucky 😆

      Hope to see you around again.
      nappy headed black girl recently posted..Hair RepairMy Profile

      • Bridget says:

        I’m sooo glad you’re discussing this. I live in an area where I (unfortunately) am basically forced to deal with many a racist “redneck” on almost a daily basis. I have been subjected to the most ridiculous rants and raves against black people and am constantly getting in huge verbal arguments just for pointing out the stupidity of their claims. One of these claims I’ve heard often is that black people have a “weird or bad” smell. I’ve always said that if they smell something, it’s probably due to either the hair products being used (or maybe even cocoa butter lotion on the skin). Their reply is to get angry and insist that I’m wrong, that black people’s actual SKIN and SWEAT naturally stinks, and that it’s not to to their products, that products geared towards blacks smell the same as ones geared toward blacks. Well, next time I’m faced with this idiocy, now I can actually tell them that I KNOW, straight from the source, that yes, many black hair products DO smell bad and I’ll even be able to list examples by name. Of course, knowing them and their lack of respect for evidence and truth, actual proof probably won’t make a difference in their thinking anyway. But it’s time people stop saying that other races smell bad. For years television/the media had me convinced that Middle Easterners smell bad. Well, I’ve now been all OVER the Middle East and I can tell you that simply isn’t true. Many of them use certain musky oils and such that we foreigners aren’t used to, but in general, I think the oils smell just divine. I also think there are a lot of racists (in every race) whose douche-ness is so strong that they convince themselves that they can smell an offending odor from OTHER races (it’s always OTHER races, never their own). Either that or they’re just plain lying about what they supposedly smell. So come on people–we’re all just humans. And we ALL have the capability of putting on a substance that’s foul smelling. So blame the companies, not the people.

        • Goodness! Where do you live at that you have to put up with such tomfoolery? From what you’ve discribed, it doesn’t sound like there’s any getting through to those people. I wouldn’t even waste my breath.

          It sounds like no matter what you say, they’ll still feel like they do. You can often tell the difference between those who are truly ignorant and those who are just being malicious. In this case, I’d guess the latter.

        • MsKat says:

          Don’t even get yourself in a fuss with these people. The ones who may have been receptive to your argument already got it the first go ’round, the others aren’t going to change. When they try to engage you in their mess, step back, take a deep breath, and remember: ANYONE can stink. It depends on what you eat and drink, meds you take, what you use to bathe, your activity level, how often you bathe, etc, etc, ad nauseaum. Even how well you wash your clothes can cause an odor over time. Don’t let them draw you in. They are going to believe what they want, and what they grew up being taught, and will always believe they are right about it. Meanwhile, the odor they smell, may be their own.

  14. HairThatSmellsLikeAss says:

    It is a conspiracy!

    They want black peoples hair to smell like crap so they have conspired with all black hair product manufacturers!

  15. Simplicity says:

    OMG! I just had this conversation with my fiance while I was washing my hair. He called it the “black girl” hair smell. Truth be told I can’t stand the smells of most black girl hair products. I’ve been on a hunt looking for mild smiling or just plain ole’ clean smelling products that work. I cant stand the curling iron smell, the oil sheen smell, the oil smell, the JAM or anything like it smell. In the summer we have to fight off bees!! lol

    We either smell medicated or like Alize! wth!!!

    I must say now that my hair is on a Aphogee diet with a brush of olive oil on the ends and a sweep of Keracare oil sheen I smell clean and my hair is light and fluffy. Even my fiance agrees. Now we can cuddle without him catching a contact from all the products…lol

    • lol @ “catching a contact”

      I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you and doesn’t cause your man to get high 😉

      I’ve tried the sweet-smelling products, and they smell good for, like, a day.

      So now I just stick to my wash-and-moisturize routine. Thankfully, I wash every other day, so even if my hair doesn’t smell like candy and roses, it surely doesn’t stink.

      Thanks for dropping by.
      nappy headed black girl recently posted..How I Separate My DreadsMy Profile

    • Ann says:

      I gag when I smell wet caucasian hair. Smells like the fur of wet animals. No one has perfect hair and caucasian hair is certainly far from perfection. Black textured natural hair, Indian hair (East and Native American), and Hawaiian hair are the most beautiful, imo.

      • Karrie says:

        Me too. I’ve heard many a black person (whilst I was growing up) comment on the ‘raw’ smell of white people. Some were just being observational, others (and they exist in all races) were no doubt being prejudiced. Either way, the smell was undeniable. I’ve had to tell some close white friends and/or boyfriends when it’s been overpowering. They often are aware of it and have explained it’s one of the reasons they have to wash their hair – some daily – so frequently; That and grease build-up which can flatten their limper strands. Every group has it’s issues. 🙂

        • I agree…every group has its issues. However, I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this raw smell. Do you mean just in general? That’s a pretty sweeping statement lol

          Thank for adding to the discussion. I don’t think I’ve seen you around these parts before 😉

          • Karrie says:

            Yes, I meant in general. I live in the UK, where perhaps we have a little more damp rainy weather than our US cousins across the pond 🙂
            Hence, it’s not unusual to arrive at work in the morning to the smell of damp ‘raw’ (kind of eggy smell is how I can describe it, or wet doggy smell) hair from your flaxen-haired colleagues – who, I might add have sometimes pointed out themselves in embarrassment. I could also describe experiences at school but this is turning into a bit of an essay 🙂

          • MsKat says:

            I remember that smell from my teen years, when most of the Caucasian kids’ hormones were raging out of control. Kind of reminded me of the smell you get when you have spilled Mayonnaise on your shirt a couple days before laundry day and just realized it. Most of the kids were sensitive about it and stayed shampooed-up and loaded with hairspray or gel (I remember one girl would come to school with the length of her hair frozen sometime in the winter because she felt she MUST shampoo every single day, running late or not), but others just took a natural approach. I also remember elders when I was a kid comparing to the ‘wet dog’smell, though I don’t think it was quite that bad.

      • amethyst777 says:

        I was doing only the BS/ACV at first. I took my hair down from a pony tail one day after being outside working and getting a bit sweaty. I swear my hair smelled like dill pickles mixed with some animal, possibly akin to a wild boar hog!!! YUCK… I haven’t used that type of wash since! I also fussed at friends around me for not telling my my hair was stanky! Please tell me if my hair or any other body part smells offensive LOL!

  16. nancy says:

    i’m glad i am not the only one, recently had a bad experience with a man i liked. We hugged and naturally he placed his nose on top of my head since he is taller and then he nearly gaged he says it wasn’t my hair but something else either way it was a hurtful experience i felt extremely embarrassed being a black women it is not possible to constantly wash my hair as it is not healthy for it but this man did not understand to well when frequency of hair washing came up in previous conversation he found the amount quite disgusting he did not say it but you could tell from his look and surprise (he is white)

    • Oh, no. I’m really sorry to hear that, Nancy. While it’s true that we generally don’t wash our hair as much as other races, it’s OK to wash more frequently than the two-week bologna we’ve always been fed. You have to experiment and see what works for you.

      Also, have yo considered conditioner washing? It’s not a true cleansing, but it will remove odors and give your hair moisture in between washes.

      And what products are you using? Maybe we can recommend some better-smelling alternatives.

      • nancy says:

        I know it didn’t smell that bad but i guess it was something he was not use to. looking into conditioner washing it is something i will have to do just so i never experience that again. It’s not like i don’t wash my hair for months it’s 3 weeks max but i guess the mixture of products don’t really help

        I use a mixture of things which is not good since they all smell so different i use Dax hair pomade – the green smelly one along with lady velvet and then olive oil

        Thank you for the help/support/advice 🙂

        • nappy headed black girl says:

          Aw lawd, you said the “D” word lol Yeah, I know all about Dax. It’s been a while, but Dax is grease, right? Used for “moisture”? I say moisture in quotes because that stuff really doesn’t moisturize your hair. At most it’s a sealant.

          I’m not familiar with Lady Velvet but I looked it up. Are you using the sheen? I’m not sure if you’re natural or not, but if so, our hair often doesn’t have a shine but more of a sheen because of the way the cuticles lay. In other words, that may be a product you don’t truly need. Straight hair will generally bling more than natural hair. It doesn’t mean your hair isn’t healthy.

          Have you considered simply using a leave-in instead of the Dax? The right one will deliver the moisture you need, and then you can seal it in with your choice of oil (or perhaps shea butter).

          I like Neutrogena Triple Moisture Leave-In, but you’ll have to experiment and see what works best for you.

  17. HairThatSmellsLikeAss says:

    Does anyone use cold pressed organic coconut oil before or after washing their hair?

    It is one of the few oils that is actually absorbed into the hair and is great for it. Some don’t like the smell but it beats all of those highly processed products that are full of junk.

  18. Sundra D. Biggs says:

    By the time we smell our own hair, others have been smelling it for days. Gots to wash, or at least co-wash, more than once a month!

    • nappy headed black girl says:

      You ain’t neva lied. We have to overcome our aversion to water.

      And yes, by the time you can smell the funk, others have been suffering for days.

      Thanks for dropping by.

  19. amethyst777 says:

    To be honest I prolly have no business posting anything on this article, cause I’m a white girl. But, I was born without that little part of us that tells us to keep our mouths shut lol!
    I have to say, since I started wearing locs, I’ve browsed many products for keeping the flyaway tamed down, and shampoos and such. The truth is, a lot of these products don’t smell very good at all. (I agree there isn’t any such thing as “black” or “white” products. Marketing marketing marketing… sigh…).
    Anyhow, I did find the Mango and Lime products. OMG! They smell so yummy, I don’t know rather to put it in my hair or eat the stuff!!! So.. after all that rambling, my whole point was to say that stuff smells amazing and works great too! If you haven’t tried it, check it out 🙂 (no, I have no interest in the company, I just really like it.) Peace

    • Hey, sis. Yep, that brand is popular in the dread community. I’ve never tried it myself, though. Thanks for the suggestion.

      BTW, Nappy Headed Black Girl is for everyone. The blog name only refers to me, not who can comment 🙂

      Appreciate you commenting. Hope you’ll stick around.

      • Can't take it says:

        I recently bought a couch which is leather from a friend who uses product in her hair. I can’t take it. Maybe because her hair is so short I can’t smell it that much from a distance but how do I get rid of the smell? Any suggestions?

        • MsKat says:

          You mean the smell is in the couch? I would say use saddle soap (directions on package)then a leather conditioner. Wash & condition the entire visible surface. so you won’t have spots later. Might have to wash more than once, then condition. I see saddle soap all over-CVS, Walmart, Kmart to name a few (In the shoe care area-comes in a tin about 3-4 inches across). The Leather conditioner may be a bit more of a task-call the furniture store to see if they sell any, or a shoe repair shop.

    • Sensei Ken says:

      As a member of the male species who has had the good fortune to date women black, white and in between, I believe the scent of a woman’s hair is largely the combination of body chemistry ~ determined through genetics and diet ~ and the product she uses on her hair.

      I can not stand the smell of vegans. Their natural scent is almost toxic to me. On the flip side there is a product that Asian women, specifically Japanese and some Koreans, use in their hair that at first whiff, my brain no longer functions logically. It smells soooo good to me as do sisters who use simple vaseline/olive oil mixture in their hair.

      BTW, the Jamaican Lime stuff does smell really, really good. I am 8 months into locs for and use it occasionally. It smells good for about a day, but the oil eventually block up the pores on my scalp giving me the itchies. I have to rinse it out [no soap – soap free for five years] after a day or two.

      • nappy headed black girl says:

        Thanks for a male perspective, fam. And I’m glad you realize that JM isn’t the best for your scalp. They reel you in with the smell-good lol

        I’m curious about this Asian concoction. And I’m surprised you enjoy a Vaseline/olive oil scent because, really, that should be pretty much scentless.

        And when you say no soap, do you mean no shampoo? What made you decide to give it up and how has your routine changed?

  20. MsKat says:

    The article is dead-on, to an extent. When I was a hairstylist, whenever I decided to try a new product, unless it was a harsh chemical like relaxer or color one of the first things I did before I purchased it was open it and smell it. I would read the label to see what I was supposed to do with it/what was in it, and what it was good for, then, *sniff*. If it smelled a little funky, it would have to be magical for me to still want to buy it. That being said, with few exceptions there aren’t many nasty-smelling styling products out there, so the scent of a conditioner or styling aid such as grease, spray, styling cream, etc., isn’t a big deal-it’s going to smell clean, conditioned, maybe a little medicated, but to me that’s ok. I know not everyone will like every fragrance (I have a few I am allergic to myself), but well kept hair not overloaded with product isn’t going to smell but so bad even if we don’t like the product fragrance. On the other hand, dirty hair curled with a hot iron, or sweaty hair with stale products in it, or that style that was formed with a load of gel, which hasn’t been touched but has been sweated in and re-sprayed for a week or two, now that’s a little on the yucky side! And not good for your hair or scalp. I guess that anything that smells bad concerning one’s hair, IS bad in some way? (PS-I still sniff before I buy for myself!)

  21. DIVA says:

    I had thought about “doing” hair on the side, but after dealing with one head that was undesirable, I way. I have enough money in the bank..

  22. Iconoclast says:

    I’m a black male who uses du groo grease for my braids. I recently broke up with a long term girlfriend and the contentions issue was my hair smell. She was Colombian so not use to the “black girl smell.” I for the life of me couldn’t understand what she was talking about when she would say my hair stank until recently it dawned on me. It was the grease. I’m looking to find a grease and or hair spray product that wouldn’t give me a flower smell but less of a the help your hair grow product smell. Been researching. Any suggestions?

  23. Requa says:

    White people and asians hair smell like wet dog. Disgusting.

  24. Jess says:

    Ha! Sometimes us black people can be our own worst enemies coming up with things like “good hair”, “smelling black”, etc. Of course this stems from white supremacy, but still, the fact that we carry it on.

  25. Raye Social says:

    I am so done lmfao. This is true though that blue magic is funky and we all know the flat iron smell lmfao

  26. Karen says:

    Loved it… I ran a cross this while searching for help. My granddaughter is mixed and I am raising her. I use absolutely nothing except coconut oil in her VERY dry, long, kinky curly hair. Nothing else worked without drying her hair Even more. The stuff is amazing on her beautiful curls… Provided I don’t wash it often and use a lot of it.. Now her room and hair smell. Even she asked me to “clean the smell in her room”.
    SO, PLEASE if anyone has can tell me about a hair product for her that will moisturize her hair and not smell it would be greatly appreciated. Ps.. She’s only 7 and we prefer all natural products of possible.

  27. Michelle says:

    I am a Caucasian mom raising an Ethiopian daughter and sons. My daughter’s hair has an odor that can be difficult to be around. What products do you recommend? I would ignore it, but she’s been self conscious about it.

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