Scalp And Hair Sunscreen: How To Choose The Best Head Protection

When we think of sun protection, we immediately think of sunscreen for the skin. Many of us overlook the fact that our scalp and hair also need to filter out UV rays. They are as vulnerable to sun damage — like sunburn and discoloration — as any other part of the body that's exposed to damaging UVA and UVB rays. Dermatologist Orit Markowitz tells Byrdie that the skin on the scalp is at risk, with 80% of skin cancers appearing on the "head and neck" area — "that includes exposed areas on the scalp (hairline and part line)." Hair-wise, sun damage can be manifested in the form of discoloration, frizziness, and dry hair. "Damaged hair has a dry look and feel, is unmanageable and won't hold a curl or style," says dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld (via Cleveland Clinic).

Sun damage is hard to avoid if you're always exposing your head to sunlight. However, you can keep your hair and scalp protected when spending time outdoors by using hair products containing UVA and UVB protectants. Like body sunscreens, they come in a variety of forms to accommodate various hair types. You can find these products in mists, powders, or sticks. Here's how to pick the best hair sunscreens to protect your strands and scalp from UV rays.

Ingredients to look out for in a hair sunscreen

Like body and face sunscreens, scalp and hair sunscreens also contain a diverse mix of placeholders and game-changers. Just because something has an SPF number on it doesn't mean it can give you protection against UV radiation. It can be hard to tell if a sunscreen can really neutralize free radical damage on your hair or if it's just another hair product.

According to Doctor Anne, you know a scalp and hair sunscreen is legit when it contains the ingredients such as Octyl methoxycinnamate, Cinnamidopropyltrimonium Chloride, Benzophenone-3, Benzophenone-4, Quaternium-95, and Propanediol. She claims that these filters are good at binding to the hair and have been proven to deflect UV rays and protect hair whether you're in or out of the pool. 

Meanwhile, MediTresse recommends sticking to a physical sunscreen or a sunscreen that includes zinc oxide as the primary active ingredient for the head. Titanium dioxide, a common UV filter in physical sunscreens for the head and the face, has been associated with frontal fibrosing alopecia so it's not something you want to see in your hair sunscreen. Therefore, stick to a zinc-based formula for optimal safety, MediTresse advises. No matter what type of sunscreen you choose, make sure it has an SPF starting at 30, or is labelled "broad-spectrum," and is a water-resistant formula for decent UV protection.

Sticks and sprays feel super lightweight on the hair

Depending on the length of your hair, you should choose hair sunscreens with formulas and textures that are most convenient for you. For instance, lotions with SPF are a better option for those who are bald. "Lotion [sunscreens] are the most effective coverage, but they're not practical to apply to a scalp mostly covered with hair," dermatologist Eileen Deignan tells NBC News. If you're going into the water, one with a thicker texture and a more lasting formula is an ideal option.  

However, if you don't want your hair to feel greasy or for your scalp to feel a build-up, it is best to resort to a stick, or a spray sunscreen. Compared to lotion, these are more lightweight and convenient for carrying around. They can be applied directly to your hairline and are suitable for reapplication throughout the day. They are quick to get absorbed and you won't have to worry about the white residue sitting all over your hair looking like dandruff.

A powder sunscreen can double as a dry shampoo

A sunscreen powder spray packaged like a dry shampoo is also a fantastic option for the head because it's lightweight, dry, and gets absorbed easily. In fact, this type of SPF can also be used as a dry shampoo. Some powder sunscreens are made specifically for hair, while others are formulated just for the scalp. For more convenience, opt for one that works for both the hair and the scalp.

You can spritz it on your head in the same manner you do with your dry shampoo. If the formula leaves a white, dusty cast on your hair, just massage or brush it away. Aside from UVA and UVB filters, many powder sunscreens also contain hair-friendly ingredients and botanical extracts that absorb excess oil from the scalp and hydrate hair strands for a matte finish and fresh feel. If you have an oily scalp, a powdery formula with mattifying ingredients might be a better fit for you. 

A useful tip for finding a suitable scalp and hair sunscreen is to use one that works well on your face also. "Generally, SPF hair protectors contain similar ingredients to what you'd use on your skin," trichologist Dominic Burg tells Cosmopolitan. If you have oily facial skin, choose a scalp sunscreen with a matte finish. On the other hand, a spray sunscreen with hydrating ingredients for the face is a good fit for those with a dry scalp.

How to apply sunscreen to your hair and scalp

Sun-proofing the hair is a simple process and shouldn't be treated like an intensive hair treatment. "Focus on the hair part exposed, as well as the hairline and then continue parting the hairline to cover the scalp," dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar tells TZR. If you're using a sunscreen formulated for the hair, focus on the hair. If it's for the scalp, prioritize the exposed skin of the scalp.   

When using a sunscreen spray, just spritz the product from the scalp to the ends of your hair strands. To ensure even coverage, run a comb or brush over your hair to spread out the product after application. When using a powder spray, spritz the product 8 inches from your hair at the roots and massage the formula around. If you're using a powder-based brush form, part your hair and gently dust the powder onto your dry scalp and spread the product around. If it's a gel or lotion sunscreen you're using, treat it like a hair lotion — apply the product to dry hair and distribute it evenly before styling your hair. You should apply SPF to your hair 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure.  

There's no one-size-fits-all method on how to slather up with sunscreen on the head. Therefore, pay attention to what the package says and follow the instructions accordingly. If you have chronic scalp disorders, consult your dermatologist before using a sunscreen on that area.