Fend off a burnt scalp and brittle strands with these expert picks.

By Taylyn Washington-Harmon
June 12, 2020
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Advertisement
Credit: Getty Images

Getting sunburnt is essentially a summer rite of passage, and your typical sunscreen usually poses a solution when used correctly. (Yes, that means you need to reapply!) But while you’re slathering your body in a pasty white lotion or sticky spray to prevent burns and hyperpigmentation (like melasma), the easiest spot to miss is your scalp. Enter: Hair sunscreen, formulated to protect your scalp and tresses from the sun's damaging rays.

Why you need to apply sunscreen on your scalp

Because your scalp is the highest point of your body, it makes first contact with the sun, receiving direct ultraviolet radiation—meaning, it tends to burn more easily than the rest of your body. Plus, the likelihood that you are applying SPF to your scalp or hairline is probably slim to none, because who wants greasy strands anyway?

The bad news: Research shows that scalp melanomas, a form of skin cancer, exist and can be especially dangerous if found too late, giving you yet another reason to give your scalp some cover. While skin cancer of the scalp is not as common as skin cancer on other areas of the body, it’s usually diagnosed at a later stage (which can be lethal) due to your hair hiding it, Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York-based dermatologist, previously told Health

And if you have a full, thick hair, you might assume you're in the clear, but think again. “Even if you have a full head of hair, your scalp is at risk for a sunburn,” Arielle Nagler, MD, a dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City, told Health in an interview. Sure, those who are balding, patchy up top, or have thinning hair are more at risk of developing skin cancer on the scalp, but the same safety measures need to be taken for everyone, since hairlines and parts can burn easily, Dr. Jaliman previously told Health.

Why you should put it on your hair, too

So you obviously need to protect your scalp, but don't forget that your actual hair is also at risk of becoming dry and brittle from UV rays. Sun exposure can result in cuticle damage (translation: it can destroy the outer cover of each hair strand), according to Cleveland Clinic. Not to mention, sun damage can come in the form of split ends, frizz, discoloration, and thinning hair, similar to what you’d get with heat damage from your favorite curler or flatiron. Yikes. Even more reason to protect your hair with SPF, or—at the very least—a hat. 

Finding a hair sunscreen that you like enough to use consistently is key. If you buy something that just makes your strands an oily mess, chances are, you're going to leave it at the bottom of your beach bag or toss it in the trash. Opt for sunscreen powders, which will soak up grease and won't cause any unwanted buildup. Mousse formulas can be applied to the hair and scalp, and are surprisingly less oily than more traditional sunscreens, Dr. Jaliman told Health in an interview. Finally, be careful when using spray sunscreens on your scalp and hair, since many times more of the product ends up in the air than on your skin.

The hair sunscreen products derms swear by

Since you definitely don’t want to massage sunscreen lotion into your hair (*cringe*), try these dermatologist-approved sunscreens to protect your beautiful locks this summer and beyond. 

Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Brush

This powder SPF not only sets your makeup, but also makes for seamless, invisible protection for your hair and exposed parts of your scalp on hot beach days. Mona Gohara, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at Yale, loves that this sunscreen not only protects her hair part, but also “acts like a dry shampoo by absorbing oils.”

bareMinerals Mineral Veil Finishing Powder SPF 25

Angela Lamb, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine, is a fan of this mineral powder, which goes on sheer to match any skin tone, allowing for easy scalp and hair part coverage. The SPF 25 provides just enough coverage from powerful UVA and UVB rays that can cause a sunburnt scalp.

Supergoop! Super Power SPF 50 Sunscreen Mousse

Credit: AMAZON

Supergoop's whipped sunscreen mousse is super lightweight (read: won't weigh down your locks or make them look or feel oily), and can be easily applied onto your hair and scalp just by using your fingertips. It gets Dr. Jaliman's stamp of approval, thanks to the fact that it's packed with antioxidants and has SPF 50 protection.

Sun Bum SPF 30 Scalp and Hair Mist

Recommended by multiple dermatologists, this fast-drying hair mist adds healthy moisture, while also protecting your hair and scalp with SPF 30. Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, loves how “lightweight and fresh-smelling” it is, while protecting from ultraviolet rays.

And Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, is a fan of the non-oily consistency, since it won't leave hair feeling heavy or greasy. Another perk: "I love that it has a specially designed nozzle that allows precise delivery along the frontal hairline and in the part," adds Dr. Zeichner.

Clarins Sunscreen Care Oil Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 30

A go-to for Dr. Jaliman, this dry oil is packed with organic nyamplung oil and extracts of gold cob, sycamore, and aloe to moisturize and protect your hair and scalp from the sun, salt water, and chlorine. The formula is water-resistant, letting you take a dip in the pool or ocean without worrying about your sunscreen melting off. Dr. Jaliman also loves that it’s lightweight, preventing that dreaded oily hair look—a huge win.