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9 ways to protect your hair & scalp from the sun

22 May 2023 • 12 min read

The scalp is often overlooked when it comes to protecting our bodies from the sun’s harmful UV rays. However, as with other parts of the body, it needs to be protected during the summer and on sunnier days.1

With that in mind, we’re going to highlight how important it is to protect both your scalp and hairline, before suggesting the best ways you can do so.

What’s the link between sunburn and skin cancer?

Sunburn is damage to your skin caused by UV rays from the sun or a sunbed.

In the UK, 8 out of 10 people with melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer – could have avoided having the condition if they’d protected themselves from harmful UV rays and not got sunburnt.2,3

What is scalp sunburn?

Scalp sunburn is the same as any other type of sunburn.

Symptoms of a sunburned head include:

  • Redness
  • Soreness
  • Hot skin
  • Flaking and peeling after a few days

Why do I need to take extra care with my scalp?

A 2008 study of over 50,000 people with melanoma found that people with scalp or neck melanomas die at nearly twice the rate of people with melanoma elsewhere on the body.

Experts believe that this is because the melanoma is often spotted later, so the cancer has had longer to develop, or because the conditions on the scalp allow the melanoma to spread because it’s rich in blood vessels and lymphatics.

How can I prevent scalp sunburn?

There are a variety of ways to help prevent scalp sunburn, including:

  • Skin/scalp sun cream
  • Proper application
  • Knowing what areas to protect
  • Protective skin care
  • Hats
  • Staying out of the sun

We will go into more detail for these below.

Does scalp sunscreen work?

Yes, it works in the same way as other skin sun creams. It’s recommended that you choose one with an SPF of 15 at the very least and reapply every few hours (see the instructions on the back of your cream/spray).

Summary

  • Our scalps need sun protection too, just like the rest of our skin
  • Sunburning our scalp can lead to cancer, so it is vital we protect it with SPF sun cream, hats, limiting time in sun and other protective factors
  • Hair can also get damaged by sun exposure, especially if it is coloured or dry, but hair sun damage doesn’t usually have any other health implications

9 ways to protect your hair & scalp from the sun

  1. Add sun cream application to your morning routine

You need to protect your whole body, including your hairline and scalp, every day, not just on sunny days, so make sure you include the application of sun cream in your morning routine and remember to keep reapplying it during the day.

  1. Don’t forget the scalp!

If you decide to have a parted hairstyle, such as a braid or bunches, make sure you apply sunscreen for scalps to any exposed skin.

There are specific sun protection products you can use on the scalp to give an extra layer of protection or you can use plain old suncream – it’s up to you!

If you have makeup products with SPF-like foundation, you can also use it on these areas.

You should also make sure that you apply sun cream to your ears and neck which are other areas that are easily missed.

  1. Pay attention to thinning and bald spots

If you have thin hair or balding/bald spots, it’s important that you pay extra attention to them when applying your sun protection. This is because the skin here will have less natural protection from the sun's rays.5

  1. Use sun cream for hair

Don’t forget your hair when it comes to sun protection! If you’re not dodging the sun in the shadows or wearing a hat, you may want to use some SPF on your hair.

Is UV protection for hair important? Does hair need sun protection?

Your hair can’t get cancer, but it can react in different ways to UV light if not protected.

It’s not as important to protect your hair from the sun as it is your skin, but it can help your hair stay moisturised, less frizzy and retain colour if you’ve dyed it.

Can I spray sunscreen on my hair?

Yes, there are specific sun protection products for your hair that can help protect it. From straight up SPF hair sprays, to conditioners, oils, and even dry shampoo!

You can use regular sunscreen if you wish, in fact, this would also be great for your scalp! However, it may leave your hair looking and feeling greasier than using a specific hair one.

  1. Choose the right hairstyle

If you can, choose a protective hairstyle, such as a ponytail or bun that cover as much as your scalp as possible.

Head bands, scarfs, and other hair accessories that cover your head can also help protect your scalp.

  1. Wear a hat

Ideally, you should wear a hat or scarf to cover your head when outside, which might not always be practical, but try your best.

If you’re going for a jog, wear a baseball cap, or if you’re going to be lounging by the pool on holiday, a trilby, bucket hat or wide-rimmed sun hat will work well – whatever type of hat suits your look! Some hats even come with a UV rating.6

Handpicked content: How to stay safe and protected in the sun

  1. Stay out of the sun as much as possible

The best protection from the sun is always going to be limiting your time in it, especially when it is strongest at mid-day.

Take the same advice for looking after your skin in the sun as you do your scalp – the important thing is not to forget about it!

  1. Use shampoos and conditioners with UV filters

You can protect your hair by using shampoo and conditioner that contains a UV filter and by applying an after-sun hair mask.7

These products should also help prevent your hair from drying out and will reduce colour damage.

  1. Keep a lookout for scalp changes

It’s a good idea to try and get into the habit of getting a friend or loved one to comb through your hair, looking for any unusual spots on your scalp.

If they find any, you’ll need to make an appointment with your GP so you can get checked out. Read more about the benefits of sunshine and how to stay safe

 

Summary

  • Every little thing, from our hair style to our sun cream and hat collection can help protect our scalps and hair from sun damage
  • If you notice any changes to the skin on your scalp, please contact your GP to check it out
manisha-taggar

Manisha Taggar

Author

Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: May 2019

BSc Hons in Pharmaceutical & Cosmetic Science

Manisha started her career at a Cosmetics distributor as a Regulatory Technologist followed by a Regulatory Affairs Officer, ensuring the regulatory compliance of cosmetic products from colour cosmetics to skincare.

After 3 and half years in this role, Manisha joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.

Manisha specialises in Cosmetic products, both own-label and branded lines, ensuring that these products and all relating marketing material comply to the EU Cosmetics Regulation.

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