Sensory Issues With Hair Washing (Including 18 Expert Ways to Cope)

Do you know someone that has sensory issues with hair washing?

“Little” things like the trickle of water on their scalp or the sight of shampoo bottles can be uncomfortable, annoying, or even scary. 

This post discusses common sensory issues related to hair washing and eighteen expert-sourced tips to help you and your loved one manage hair washing! 

Oh, here’s a good starting point – an Action Plan Table for Sensory Issues with Hair Washing.

sensory issues with hair washing velacurls

Common Sensory Issues With Hair Washing

Sensory sensitivities can show up in various ways and affect different senses.

Here are some specific sensory issues with hair washing that people may experience. 

1. Vestibular Sensitivity 

The vestibular system in our inner ear controls our balance and sense of direction.

People with vestibular sensitivity can feel dizzy or unbalanced when they tilt their heads back or feel water running through their hair. 

2. Olfactory Sensitivity 

The strong scents of shampoos and conditioners can be overwhelming for individuals with olfactory sensitivity.

They can feel headaches, nausea, or discomfort when they smell hair products, making them reluctant to wash their hair. 

3. Tactile Sensitivity

Tactile sensitivity means extreme awareness and sensitivity to touch.

It makes the sensation of water dripping down the scalp, the pressure of fingers massaging the scalp, or the feeling of wet hair against the skin distressing and uncomfortable. 

4. Auditory Sensitivity 

Auditory deals with sound.

The sound of running water, the noise of a hairdryer, or even the sound of shampoo bottles opening can be pretty scary for people with auditory sensitivity.

5. Visual Sensitivity 

The splashes of water or the sight of foam can trigger discomfort for those with visual sensitivity.

6. Proprioceptive Sensitivity 

Proprioception deals with our body’s awareness of its position in space.

Folks with proprioceptive sensitivity might struggle with the sensation of their head tilting backward during hair washing.

Understanding the Sensory Struggle 

Imagine the feeling of water trickling down your scalp, the scent of shampoo overwhelming your senses, and the sensation of your wet hair against your skin.

These “ordinary” sensations can trigger discomfort, anxiety, or even distress for people with sensory issues.

The thought of facing these sensations can be daunting, making them avoid hair washing.

It can be even more difficult for kids because they may not be able to express exactly how they are feeling, and you find it hard to know how to help. 

Sensory issues with hair washing are common among people (especially kids) with Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) because they are highly sensitive to stimuli, and any action on their hair or scalp can feel extremely scary or painful.

Pro Tips to Manage Sensory Issues With Hair Washing 

Let’s get into the tips to help you manage these sensory issues with hair washing. 

1. Find Out What’s Wrong

Some people experience one or a combination of sensory issues.

So, first, find out which one(s) apply in your case.

That way, you’ll know which tips to focus on.

This table will make it easy to tailor your sensory issues approach to the exact problem. 

2. Gradual Exposure

Just like dipping your toes into a pool, gradually expose yourself to the sensations involved in hair washing.

Start by wetting your hands, then your face, before moving on to your scalp.

Over time, your body might become more familiar with these sensations and make hair washing less of a struggle.

3. Gradual Wetting

Don’t pour water all through at once when you get to the scalp.

Wet in sections, gradually moving from the back to the front, to ease into the feeling of water on the scalp.

4. Choose Sensory-Friendly Products

Opt for mild, unscented shampoos and conditioners to minimize overwhelming scents.

You can also try hypoallergenic options designed to be gentle on sensitive skin.

5. Control Your Environment

Dim the lights, play calming music, or use a soft towel to cover your face during hair washing.

Creating a soothing environment can help reduce sensory overload.

6. Apply Pressure

Gently massaging your scalp while washing your hair can provide sensory input that counteracts the discomfort.

Use your fingertips to create a rhythmic pressure that distracts you from overwhelming sensations.

7. Prepare to Wash Your Hair 

Knowing what to expect can significantly reduce anxiety.

Outline the steps of your hair washing routine and rehearse them in your mind beforehand.

8. Temperature Control

Experiment with water temperature to find what’s most comfortable.

Some individuals might prefer lukewarm water over hot or cold water to reduce sensory discomfort.

9. Routine and Predictability

Establish a consistent hair washing routine to create a sense of predictability.

Knowing when to expect the task can help ease anxiety.

For example, if you consistently wash your hair every Saturday by 10 AM, your body may get used to it and accept it at that time. 

10. Countdown 

Set a timer for how long the hair washing takes.

That way, you can countdown to the end of the uncomfortable hair washing process. 

11. Visual Distraction 

Keep a calming visual focus during hair washing, such as a favorite picture or an object with soothing colors.

This can divert attention from overwhelming sensations.

You can also watch videos of other people washing their hair to help you view hair washing as a “normal” process. 

12. Guided Breathing

Incorporate deep breathing exercises to stay grounded and manage anxiety.

Inhaling slowly through the nose and exhaling through the mouth can be helpful.

13. Mindfulness Techniques

Practice mindfulness by staying fully present during the hair washing process.

Focus on the sensory experience itself, redirecting thoughts from discomfort. 

If you’re washing hair for a child with sensory issues, get them fully involved.

Let them know exactly what’s going on.

For example, say, “I’m now going to apply shampoo on your hair,” or “Now it’s time to rinse off the shampoo, are you ready?”

14. Use a Spray Bottle

Using a spray bottle can provide better control over water distribution for those uncomfortable with water running directly on their head.

15. Sensory Grounding

Incorporate sensory grounding techniques, such as rubbing a textured cloth or holding a comforting object, to redirect attention from sensory overload.

16. Post-Washing Comfort

After washing, wrap the hair in a soft towel and engage in a comforting activity, like listening to calming music or sipping a warm beverage.

17. Reduce Washing Frequency 

Really, there’s no need for you or your loved one to wash your hair daily.

Once or twice a week is fine, especially since you’re dealing with sensory issues with hair washing.

If you want to keep your hair squeaky clean all the time, use a dry shampoo, spray detangler, or co-washing (shampooing alternative) on your no-wash days.

18. Use Sensory Hair Products 

Use sensory friendly products like the no-tear shampoo, bath visor, or soft hair brush.

You’ll easily find these and more innovative products online. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Sensory Issues With Hair Washing 

Let’s answer some of your questions about sensory issues with hair washing. For example, “How can I make hair washing easier for an autistic child?”

What are the Sensory Issues with Hair? 

Examples of sensory issues with hair are vestibular, olfactory, auditory, tactile, and proprioceptive sensitivity.

During hair care, they trigger extreme feelings of balance, sight, sound, touch, and awareness. 

What are the Signs of Sensory Processing Disorder? 

Sensory issues with hair washing can be just one symptom of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).

Other signs of SPD are getting itchy or scratchy with regular clothing, reacting extremely to light, picky eating, and inability to sleep due to sensitivity to bedding textures or noise. 

Why Does My Child Scream When I Wash His Hair?

It may be an isolated case; perhaps there’s soap in his eyes or water in his ears.

But if he always screams when washing his hair, he may be experiencing one or more of the sensory issues with hair washing mentioned above. 

How Do You Wash a Child With Autism’s Hair? 

First, understand that the child is not “just being difficult.”

He’s experiencing something that feels real, at least to him.

So get him involved, choose sensory-friendly washing products, and keep a visual distraction nearby.

The other tips above can also help you manage hair washing with an autistic child. 

You Can Manage Sensory Issues With Hair Washing 

If you or someone you know faces sensory challenges while washing hair, remember you’re not alone.

Many others have faced it, and they’ve found ways to cope.

By practicing the expert tips above, you can transform a potentially distressing task into a more manageable and even therapeutic experience.

Embrace the hair care journey and experiment with different techniques until you find what works best for you! 

Hey, hair lover, this post may contain affiliate links. So if you buy a product through a link in the post, I’ll earn some commission at no extra cost to you.

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