If you've ever asked yourself Why does my hair hurt?, you're not alone. It's that bizarre sensation that something is amiss at your roots—not quite a headache and not alleviated by simply taking down your ponytail. It's your actual hair hurting (or, at least, your scalp). Well, you aren't just imagining it—scalp pain is real, and it's quite common. There are a few factors that can cause this phenomenon, but a top offender is not washing your hair. Vogue highlighted this puzzling issue, reaching out to two experts to weigh in on what's at work.
"It's not actually your hair that hurts, but the skin and perifollicular area of the scalp—the region around each hair, pore, or follicle," Francesca Fusco, a Manhattan-based dermatologist, explains. "The scalp is incredibly rich in blood supply, nerve endings, and oil glands. Additionally, this yeast (pityrosporum) builds up, leading to dandruff. The combination of these factors can cause inflammation, which translates to sensitivity that can feel like your hair hurting."
Meet the Expert
Francesca Fusco is a dermatologist and cosmetics surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, NY. She has been featured in publications such as Allure, Glamour, and InStyle.
We often exacerbate the problem because of our tendency to tie up greasy hair in buns and ponytails. Failing to switch up your hairstyle (wearing braids or a high ponytail day after day) can also worsen the pain. Harry Josh, celebrity hairstylist and the man behind the eponymous haircare brand, compares the hair hurting problem to not working out for a week. "If you don't wash your hair and keep it in the same style, it feels sore because it's lacking hair and scalp stimulation." In other words, if you're going to skip the shampoo, be sure to brush your hair and change up your hairstyle.
Meet the Expert
Harry Josh is a world-renowned celebrity hairstylist and creator of Harry Josh ProTools. His work has been seen on the likes of Cindy Crawford and Gisele as well as in Harper's BAZAAR, Allure, and British Vogue.
A final explanation for scalp pain is a phenomenon known as allodynia, which affects around two-thirds of migraine sufferers. "Individuals with migraines may experience the sensation that a mere wind blowing, a hat, or a light touch to the scalp elicits pain," explains Fusco. If you think this is the case, rather than under-washing or over-styling, consult your doctor, and see if a migraine medication might be right for you.
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Here's the definitive answer to how often you should be washing your hair.
American Migraine Foundation. Allodynia and migraine: an oft-overlooked side effect. Updated May 23, 2018.