No doubt you always remember to spritz or slather your face, limbs, and back with sunscreen before you hit the beach, but what about your scalp? Sure, it’s on the top of your head... but it’s not always top of mind when it comes to SPF application. The area is often neglected, yet it has prime placement: Your scalp is perfectly positioned to soak in all the sun’s harmful rays — the ones that can lead to sunburn or, worse, skin cancer. Basically, the skin on your scalp is as vulnerable as any other spot, so it’s important to protect it from sun damage. Ahead, two top dermatologists break down exactly how to protect your scalp from the sun.
Why Your Scalp Needs Sun Protection
You may think only people with bald heads need to be concerned about sun protection. While it’s true that your hair does offer some protection against harmful UVA rays (the ones that cause premature aging and skin cancer) and UVB rays (responsible for sunburns), how much protection is determined by the color, thickness, and distribution of your hair, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar, M.D. explains.
Your hairstyle matters, too. If you’re rocking box braids, for instance, or some other style that exposes any part of your scalp, you’re at risk of sun damage. “In short, you can’t depend on hair to give you the sun protection your scalp needs,” Sarkar says. TL;DR? “Unfortunately, any part of your skin, including the scalp, can get skin cancer.” And prolonged exposure to UV radiation increases the likelihood of skin cancer, she adds.
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Doris Day, M.D. notes that she often sees patients when sunburns along the frontal hairline — another spot on your head that’s often missed.
How To Protect Your Scalp From The Sun
The upside to this is that protecting the skin on your scalp isn’t much different than protecting that on the rest of your face and body. That said, you may have certain hair concerns that you’ll want to keep in mind when choosing a sunscreen for your scalp, Sarkar notes. For instance, if you’re prone to greasy hair that gets weighed down easily, you may want to opt for an oil-free powder formula, which will mimic a dry shampoo in its ability to absorb moisture and refresh strands. On a similar note, Sarkar explains, “If your hair is frizzy or dry, you may want to avoid products with a lot of alcohol.”
Sarkar says most patients favor a sunscreen powder for the scalp, but she says it’s worth noting that you’ll need to apply more than you may think for adequate sun protection. Sprays and gels are also good options for easy application on the area. With those, Sarkar recommends first applying product to your fingertips, rubbing it in a bit, and then massaging it into your scalp where the skin is exposed. She also says to consider opting for a water-resistant formula even if you aren’t going for a swim, because your scalp is responsible for temperature control. “If it’s hot or humid, the scalp is often the part of our body that sweats the most,” Sarkar says.
One other thing that works without fail? Investing in a fabulous sun hat. “Hats are my favorite form of sun protection for the scalp,” Sarkar tells Bustle. “They don’t expire and you don’t have to set a time to reapply. Just leave it on.” Another perk? “Most of them even help to protect some part of the face and neck, too. Win-win!” Plus, there are plenty of cute options these days — just be sure to look for those that have a high UPF rating.
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Shop Scalp Sunscreens
The Refreshing Mist
This SPF 30 scalp and hair mist is perfect for easy application, and it protects color-treated hair from fading while also shielding your scalp from sunburn and other UV-related damage. Bonus: You’ll love the relief the cooling formula delivers on those sweltering days.
The All-Over Spray
Day points to this lightweight spray (which you can get at the drugstore!) as an option for your face, body — and scalp. It’s SPF 60, oil- and alcohol-free, and uses antioxidants to help protect against environmental damage.
The Straw Beach Hat
Consider skipping the formulas altogether (or grabbing this as added protection) and plop on this darling straw beach hat. Available in two sizes and suitcase-friendly, it’s a foolproof way to protect your scalp from the sun.
The Part Powder
Sarkar recommends this SPF 35 mineral-based powder to protect the scalp from sun damage. It boasts vitamin C — an all-star antioxidant that protects against free radical damage — and a silica blend to absorb excess oils for a dry shampoo effect. That said, Sarkar notes that any powder formulation will work similarly and doesn’t need to be necessarily marketed for the scalp.
The Green Tea-Spiked Powder
Day’s own sunscreen powder is great for brushing on parts and along the hairline. With a tinge of color and antioxidants (via green tea and vitamin E), it controls oil and shine while protecting your scalp against harmful rays.
The SPF Serum
Use this lightweight serum from Venus Williams to protect any exposed scalp from UVA and UVB damage. The prickly pear stem extract helps to calm and hydrate the skin, while the safflower fights against environmental stressors.
The Budget-Friendly Spray
Spritz your scalp and hair with this lightweight formula that works on all hair types and promises not to weigh down your locks while it provides protection.
Dr. Papri Sarkar, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in Newton, Massachusetts