To achieve perfect curls or pin-straight hair, it’s tempting to go overboard with your hot tools. But turn the heat up too high (stay under 400 degrees!) or unintentionally run your flat iron over a slightly damp strand of hair, and you may notice a burning-like stench. While a quick shower and some styling products should theoretically make your hair smell amazing once again, that’s not always the case. Occasionally, the fiery scent can linger, even after your hair is freshly washed. To find out why this fire-like smell can be difficult to kick, we spoke with trichologist Penny James.
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What Is Burnt Hair Smell?
If you use a blow dryer or any kind of hot tool to help style your hair or tame frizz, chances are you"re familiar with the smell of burning hair. Not only does it smell bad, it also serves as a warning sign that you’re overdoing it with the heat styling. If the smell remains after washing your hair, you may have caused serious damage. “When you wrap a chunk of hair around very hot irons and either hold the hair there for a long time or keep running the hot tool over and over the same area, you’re going to burn the outer sections of the hair,” says James. “You’ve burned the cuticle and molecule element of the hair shaft, which is why you still smell the on-fire stench even when your hair is clean.” She explains that you can also burn your hair shaft through extreme and unprotected sun exposure. That’s why we recommend using a heat protectant product like Rahua Hydration Detangler and UV Barrier before heading out in the sun.
Unfortunately, once you’ve burnt off the layer of the cuticle that keeps hair healthy, the burned scent isn’t going to go anywhere, any time soon. “The only way to repair the damage is to have it cut off,” says James. “That’s why it’s so important to take care of your hair and treat it with the same respect you do your face.”
How to Prevent Burnt Hair Smell
TIP 1: Keep Heat on Low
Because burnt hair smell is caused by heat damage and hot temperatures, we suggest keeping the temperature of your hot tools below 400 degrees. You’ll still be able to style as normal but won’t run the risk of extreme damage. It’s also important to use a heat protectant prior to using a blow dryer or any other type of heat tool in order to protect the hair cuticle. We’ve been loving the L’Oréal Paris Sleek It Iron Straight Heatspray.
TIP 2: Avoid Silicones
While creams formulated with amino acids and silk will help moisturize and protect the hair shaft, products with silicone can have the opposite effect. “Silicone builds up onto the cuticles, hardens it and then cracks it,” says James. “This leaves the hair shaft weakened and the cuticle flared, prone to damage and looking dull.”
TIP 3: Style in Small Sections
“Taking organized sections when you are styling your hair is the best way to avoid this problem,” says James. She explains that by working in layers, you’ll end up targeting each piece with brief heat, rather than subjecting it to high temps again and again.
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TIP 4: Do a Hair Mask
If a haircut isn’t in the cards until a later date, James says there are a few DIY concoctions you can try to get rid of the burnt smell. “Try adding a teaspoon of baking powder to your shampoo and massage into the hair, leave it on for a few minutes and then rinse it out,” she says. “You can also mix peppermint, rosemary or avocado oil with coconut oil and apply it directly onto the hair.” She explains this should be left on for 20 minutes and repeated four times a week for two weeks. You can also try a repairing hair mask, like the Garnier Whole Blends Repairing Mask.
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