While there’s no questioning the importance of sunscreen in your anti-aging regimen, not to mention overall skin health, the same holds true for your hair and scalp.

By Jenny Jin and Lindsay Tigar
June 14, 2019

After counting down for weeks (ok, months), you finally set that out-of-office in motion. You boarded the flight to somewhere tropical, floppy hat in hand. You packed everything you need for your sunny getaway: a page-turner, a killer swimsuit, and of course, sunscreen. As you lather every area exposed to the sun, you might wonder if you missed a spot. Chances are high something needs more SPF TLC—but it’s not right in front of your eyes. Rather, it’s on the top of your head. We’re talking about your beachy hair waves and scalp.

Scientifically speaking, SPF isn’t necessary for the hair shaft because, unlike skin, hair is not comprised of living cells, but the scalp is a whole different ballgame, says Julia Tzu, medical director and founder of Wall Street Dermatology. While tougher than many other areas, the scalp is still subject to damage from harmful UV rays that can lead to sunburn, or worse, life-threatening skin cancer. Here is a guide to what you need to know about sunscreen for your hair and scalp from trusted experts who have seen it all.

Wearing a hat is your best bet.

Even if you think you look rather silly in a hat, it is the safest solution for preventing scalp sunburn. Heidi Waldorf, director of laser and cosmetics dermatology at Mount Sinai Center in New York, recommends a ballcap, a full visor, or a wicker hat to fully protect the top of your head so damaging rays can’t penetrate and burn your sensitive pores. 

Use a stick to apply sunscreen to your scalp.

If the very thought of applying a gooey-thick lotion to your scalp has you contemplating your shampooing strategy later, consider a different option. Waldorf says using a solid sunscreen stick makes the process less messy and easier to apply (and reapply) during your beach day. Try: Baby Bum SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen ($10; target.com).

Put sunscreen on your scalp while your hair is wet.

Once you’re out of the shower—or whatever body of water is nearest—and you’ve had a chance to cool down, dab a little sunscreen to the part line of your scalp. Because your hair is already drenched, the wet liquid won’t feel so strange or uncomfortable, and the two will dry together, just in time to dive back in. 

Put your hair up.

Out of habit or annoyance, you probably end up tying your hair in a knot above your head at the beach or pool. Without realizing, you’re actually protecting your hair from UV damage—or at least, the bottom section that no one sees. This can be a way to provide more protection to your scalp, too, since it isn’t as visible when your hair covers it up. To be on the safe side, consider using a powder sunscreen that will soak into your strands and cover the skin under your hair. 

Protect your hair against UV rays.

Cosmetically speaking, “ultraviolet radiation will affect your hair in ways you might want and ways you don’t,” says Waldorf. On natural hair, it can have a lightening effect (think back to those sun-kissed highlights you’d get as a kid). On color-treated hair, it may have more of a fading effect. And regardless of whether your strands are processed or not, “too much sunlight will dry out hair and make it brittle,” warns Edward Tricomi, master stylist at Warren-Tricomi Salons.

Luckily, many styling products include UV filters that protect strands while also tamping down frizz and adding shine. Look for ones with moisturizing ingredients like argan, coconut, or sunflower seed oils. Try: Fekkai Pre-Soleil Hair Mist ($22; walmart.com).

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