Many people (*raises hand*) forget or choose not to put sunscreen on their scalp, most often because there’s really no great way of doing it. Who wants to sport greasy strands? However, by not applying sunscreen to the top of your head, you risk an extremely painful and uncomfortable scalp sunburn—which can lead to more serious, life-threatening conditions in the future, like melanoma. Yikes.
Gracefully applying SPF up top is tough, so we set out to make it easier by polling dermatologists on their favorite picks for this extra-sensitive area of your body. Below, you’ll find dermatologist-approved products that make lathering sunscreen on your hairline, part, and scalp much more doable (and practically mess-free). Plus, we’ve included doctor-approved sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF that’ll protect other areas of your body that are often overlooked—like the ears, eyelids, and lips.
Why should you put sunscreen on your scalp?
The scalp—the highest point of your body—tends to burn more easily than the rest of your body since it receives direct ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and is usually less protected with SPF than other parts of your skin. Research has found that one of the most fatal melanoma skin cancers occur on the scalp, Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York-based dermatologist, tells Health. While it’s not as common as skin cancer on other areas of the body, skin cancer of the scalp most often doesn’t get diagnosed until late in the game—typically because hair may be hiding it—Dr. Jaliman adds.
Hair does contain some melanin—meaning it offers a slight amount of protection from the sun—but the protection lessens with lighter hair colors and as the density of our hair decreases with age, points out Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. While it’s not as common to develop melanoma or other skin cancers—including squamous cell and basal cell—on the scalp, that’s not to say that it’s unheard of.
While people with balding or thinning hair are more susceptible to developing skin cancer on the scalp, the same precautions should be taken even if you have a thick head of hair, warns Dr. Jaliman. Hairlines and parts can become sunburned fairly easily (no matter your hair type), so it’s always important to find a sunscreen for your scalp that’ll keep you safe.
How to pick the best scalp sunscreen
Depending on your skin and hair color, every type will feel, look, and smell different on your scalp, so Dr. Nazarian suggests trying out different options to see what works for you. “Try as many as you can to find the most comfortable fit, because the best sunscreen is the one you’re motivated to actually use,” she adds.
Dr. Nazarian prefers powders to sprays since sprays tend to aerosolize much of the product during applications, meaning a smaller amount of the sunscreen actually sticks to your skin. With powder options, you can part your hair and brush the powder directly into your part and along your hairline to prevent any heavy-feeling product buildup in your hair, explains Dr. Jaliman.
Mousse formulas can be applied to the scalp and are surprisingly less oily than more traditional sunscreens, says Dr. Jaliman. These are also very useful because you can gently rub them into the scalp and through the hair with your fingers to guarantee proper coverage.
Don’t forget sunscreen on your ears, lips, and eyes.
Your scalp isn’t the only place you’re forgetting to lather SPF—it’s crucial to apply sunscreen to your ears, lips, and eyelids, too. Dr. Jaliman says she’s seen a lot of patients in her office with skin cancer or pre-malignancies on their lips—probably because they’re either not protecting that area with SPF, or they suffer from compulsive lip licking, which removes the sunscreen.
Although you might not like the idea of getting sunscreen in your eyes (cue the burn), it’s crucial to apply SPF to your undereye area and eyelids because the skin around your eyes is very thin and susceptible to sun damage, according to Dr. Jaliman. You can pick up an eye cream with SPF specifically to protect your eyes or use a general mineral sunscreen—which typically contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide—and sits on top of the skin to deflect damaging UV rays, she explains. “They are safer to use around the delicate eye area than other sunscreens, and won’t burn or sting if it happens to get in the eyes.”
Since earlobes can stick out slightly, they’re often in the direct line of the sun, so it’s important to use sunscreen with a high SPF on your ears. Also a good idea? Wearing sun protective clothing (such as broad-brimmed hats) to help cover your ears, says Dr. Nazarian.
Ahead, the nine best dermatologist-approved sunscreens for your scalp, ears, eyelids, and more.