Sunscreen is the most important skin care product we have. Our parents didn’t put creams under our eyes or mix serums into our baby lotions, they were slathering us with sunscreen any time the sun even wanted to show through the clouds. While (hopefully) this skin-protective habit follows us into adulthood, it’s time to adjust our routines. Because many of us have neglected one point – our scalp.
While your scalp is mostly covered in hair and literally never sees the light of day, you shouldn’t ignore it. From scrubs to serums, scalp care is on the rise, and sunscreen brands are getting in on the action. Preliminary research has found that prolonged exposure to the sun may be linked to hair damage, and Dominique Berg, PhD, chief scientist for trichologists (read: scalp specialists) and évolis Professional, says that UV damage on the scalp (which can occur with or without getting a sunburn FWIW) can lead to inflammation. This can disrupt the hair cycle, which is the pattern of hair growth and regrowth.
“The main thing that happens when the hair cycle is disrupted is a shortening of the growth phase,” says Dr. Burg.” A shortened growth phase means less hair growth, more hair rest, more hair fall, and as this dysfunctional cycle continues, hair quality declines and the follicle eventually stops being able to regenerate a new hair, leading to hair loss and hair thinning.” Burg adds that hair that isn’t growing optimally may also lose its natural waves or curls, may appear drier, and may not hold color or care well.
But before you start slathering sunscreen on your scalp every day, according to Dr. DeMed, you only need to worry about this intense sun exposure if you spend a lot of time in the sun, such as on a beach vacation. One of the reasons the scalp is so susceptible to the sun’s rays is that they’re usually protected by hair that may not have built up any tolerance to it. This is especially true if you’re altering your part by wearing French braids or Senegalese dreadlocks that expose bits of scalp that are essentially virgin skin, says Miami dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D..” It’s almost like you’re tanning your butt,” explains Dr. Woolery-Lloyd.” You’re going from zero sun exposure to full sun exposure, so your scalp is definitely getting burned.”
To protect your scalp from the sun’s rays, Dr. Woolery-Lloyd says wearing a hat is your best bet. But if a hat doesn’t fit the beach day aesthetic you want, you have options.Crystal Aguh, MD, a Maryland-based dermatologist, says you can apply your normal, spray-on body sunscreen to your scalp.
Spray sunscreens tend to be made of chemical blockers, so they don’t leave the dreaded white tint that’s common with physical blockers. The downside is that because they’re aerosols, they may contain alcohol, which isn’t great for your hair. For that reason, Dr. Aguh says you should only use them when you’re exposed to the sun for an extended period of time and wash them off when you’re done.” It’s painful to use a spray sunscreen occasionally so you don’t get sunburned, and if that means it has ingredients that aren’t necessarily super-attractive to the overall quality of your hair, that’s fine,” Dr. Aguh says.
Dr. Woolery-Lloyd adds that for her, some of those ingredients are a deal breaker.” “My hair is chemically straight,” she says.” I don’t want an alcohol-based liquid because it will really dry out my hair.” She recommends using an SPF product with oil in it to provide protection while also moisturizing the scalp. Some of the best bets in the game here.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreen, SPF 100+ ($9)
Kill two birds with one stone by spraying this sunscreen on your scalp and body. It’s streak-free so you don’t have to worry about your hair spraying white, but it contains alcohol, so if you have dry hair you may want to avoid it. Since it’s not necessarily designed for hair, it comes out a little thick; so if you’re worried about weighing your hair down, you can test a small section first.
Banana Boat Sports Performance Quik Dri Scalp Spray Sunscreen, SPF 30 ($7)
This spray is great because 1) it’s only $7 and 2) it comes out as a fine mist that won’t weigh your hair down. However, because it comes out so thin, you must spray a lot to get enough protection. Again, be wary of this alcohol-based product if you’re worried about your hair drying out.
Supergoop! Poof Part Powder, SPF 45 ($34)
Because it’s straight zinc oxide, this powder is a great sunscreen. It’s also free of damaging alcohol and silicones. It has a “spray” bottle that more or less shoots out a bunch of product, so use a light touch or even do a test spray before heading straight to your part. Keep in mind that this powder has a chalky beige tint to it, so if you’re brunette or have a darker complexion, you may want to avoid it.
Glossier Invisible Shield Daily Sunscreen, SPF 35 ($34)
This clear face SPF is also great for the scalp. It comes out looking a bit like Vaseline, but it’s not greasy and when you rub it in, it disappears into your skin. It’s alcohol and paraben free and has a delightful subtle orange scent.