Summer’s in full swing, and we’re pretty sure you don’t need to be reminded to wear sunscreen. On the skin, sun protection helps you not only avoid sunburn and photoaging, but also, hopefully, skin cancer. Now, you may be wondering about your hair. Is it necessary to use hair sunscreen, and if so, how does it benefit your hair? Today we are here to explain everything there is to know about hair sunscreen and the effects of sun exposure on the hair. Come along!
On this post:
- How the sun damages your hair
- Practical tips to protect your hair over the summer
- Hair sunscreen: Is it necessary?
- Hair sun protection products you can try this summer
- What about scalp protection?
How the sun damages your hair
Like your skin, your hair is vulnerable to the effects of sun exposure. We feel it’s important to draw a line here, though, because the health consequences of sun exposure on the skin are a lot more serious. Excessive sun exposure on your skin can lead to sunburn and even skin cancer, over the long term. Meanwhile, excessive sun exposure on your hair will mostly bring cosmetic consequences–which you may be able to fix with a post-summer trim. To quote a study from 2006, “if hair proteins are altered by sun exposure, damaged hair can be removed and replaced by new growth.” Therefore, from a health perspective, protecting your skin from the sun will always be more important than protecting your hair.y
From a beauty perspective, however, there’s no doubt that the sun can change the appearance of your hair. According to research, “excessive sun exposition is the most frequent cause of hair shaft’s structural impairment. Photochemical impairment of the hair includes degradation and loss of hair proteins as well as degradation of hair pigment. Hair protein degradation is induced by wavelengths of 254-400 nm. UVB radiation is responsible for hair protein loss and UVA radiation is responsible for color changes.”
To put it simply: sun damage will manifest as dryness, color bleaching (meaning your hair will grow lighter), loss of shine, and even split ends and breakage. Over time, the hair may also grow brittle and harder to manage and style–you may struggle to hold a curl after a long summer in the sun! You may be into that “surfer babe” summer look, with its signature saltwater waves and bleached ends, but make no mistake: there’s also a lot of damage involved in that look.
The thinner and drier your hair is, the more vulnerable it will be to sun damage. This also holds true for very curly and coily hair, color-treated hair, and, of course, hair that’s already pretty damaged to begin with.
How salt and chlorine make it worse
If you combine your exposure to the sun with a few hours in saltwater or chlorinated water (depending on whether you prefer the seaside or the poolside), then know that these aren’t beneficial for your hair either. Both saltwater and chlorinated water can strip your hair of moisture, often leaving it brittle and more prone to split ends and breakage. They can also cause hair color to fade faster. This is particularly true of chlorinated water, which can leave light hair colors with a recognizable, yet very unwelcome green tint.
Practical tips to protect your hair over the summer
If the consequences we’ve listed in the previous section sound sort of unwelcome to you, then you may want to look into ways to protect your hair from the sun. Here are some of our best suggestions.
Wear a hat or headscarf
Just like clothing provides an undeniable layer of sun protection to your skin, hats and headscarves can provide the same service for your hair. You can add on an extra layer of protection by sitting under an umbrella when you’re at the beach or pool.
Rinse your hair before and after swimming
This one may seem a little counterintuitive, but stay with us here. By rinsing your hair before swimming, you can allow your hair to absorb more freshwater than saltwater or chlorinated water. By rinsing your hair after swimming, you’ll be removing salt and chlorine and residue from the surface of your strands, which will definitely help you avoid that dry, “crunchy” finish hair can take on after swimming.
Wear a swimming cap while swimming
This tip may not be for everyone. However, if you’re absolutely set on maintaining the health of your locks while you swim, consider wearing a swimming cap! It will not only keep your hair relatively dry while you swim, but it will also add on a layer of sun protection if you’re swimming outdoors.
Detangle your hair with care
If you’ve ever tried to detangle your hair after a long day at the beach or pool, you know it can seem like a never-ending–and painful!–task. The sun, the sand, and the sea have a way of tying your hair up in infinite knots, and trying to make your way through them by force will most likely result in damage and breakage. This is especially true if you are detangling your hair while it is wet. Wet hair is much more prone to damage than dry hair, so take good care of it!
Opt for low-damage hairstyles
This tip follows the previous one: if you’re sunbathing, swimming, always in and out of the water, your hair is already experiencing a lot of damage. There’s no need to add more damage by wearing elaborate hairstyles that will only add tension and risk breaking your already fragile strands. Keep things loose and simple, with low ponytails and braids that will keep your hair out of your face without adding tension.
Is hair sunscreen necessary?
As we’ve seen, the hair can sustain sun damage, and that sun damage can show through changes in color, texture, and more. Health-wise, this is nowhere as serious as sun damage on your skin, but it’s still pretty annoying if you like to keep your locks in perfect shape. That should pretty much answer your question. Is hair sunscreen necessary? Yes, if you want to avoid damage at all costs; or, not really, if you’re planning on going for a trim in the fall anyway.
Is skin and hair sunscreen the same?
If you’ve ever bought a hair sunscreen, you’ve no doubt noticed that it doesn’t have an SPF rating. And how could it? SPF is calculated based on how the skin reacts to UVB radiation, so an SPF rating would tell you very little about the efficacy of a particular sunscreen product on the hair. Likewise, ratings related to UVA radiation, such as the PPD or PA systems, do not apply here either. Don’t panic, though!
The skin and hair have different needs, and that’s just how it goes. All this means is that the ratings that help you navigate the many options of sun protection for your skin won’t necessarily help you pick sun protection for your hair. It also means that you won’t necessarily benefit from using your regular face or body sunscreen on your hair. (Although, let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t like the feeling of those formulas on your hair anyway.)
So, what should you look for when shopping for hair sunscreen? In our experience with our Care to Beauty community, most people will simply choose their hair sunscreen based on texture, scent, and feeling of application. Some people prefer oils, some people prefer water-light sprays, and some people prefer creams–it’s all good! The best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually wear, so take your time in finding your favorite.
Does hair sunscreen contain UV filters?
We get where this question is coming from. We’ve told you hair sunscreens do not feature SPF, PPD, or PA ratings, so it wouldn’t be that far-fetched to think they don’t contain any UV filters either. They do, though! UV filters are very much present in hair sunscreens, and we’ll show you a few examples in a moment. Keep reading for our suggestions!
Sun protection products you can try on your hair this summer
Hair oils are one of the most popular options when it comes to hair sunscreen. As they envelop the hair strand, hair oils can form a protective layer that not only helps minimize heat and sun damage, but also improves the appearance of the hair (by smoothing down the cuticle and adding shine). These oils are also amazing allies when it comes to detangling hair–something you’ll be doing quite a lot after a day at the beach or pool.
And don’t think that these oils will make your hair feel heavy or greasy! As they are specially formulated for the hair, these oils will leave your hair feeling softer, no doubt, but with a dry, light and weightless feel. As far as UV protection goes, these products will also have you covered with UV filters. Of these options, you’ll find the highest number of filters in the Esthederm Sun Protective Sun Care Oil Body&Hair Strong Sun–owing to the fact that it’s formulated for both skin and hair.
Leave-in sprays and creams
If hair oils aren’t your thing, you can always opt for hair sunscreen in a leave-in spray or cream formula. Here, the textures will be a little more varied, and ranging from the finest spray to the most nourishing cream. It’s all a matter of experimenting and seeing what kind of application you like best. Would you rather apply a few spritzes around your head and call it quits? Or do you prefer the idea of applying the leave-in cream to your hands and then working it through your locks? You decide!
Once again, we’re bringing you only options that feature UV filters in their composition, so you know exactly what you’re putting on your hair:
After-sun hair repair
To keep your hair as healthy as possible during the summer, it’s important to take care of it not only before sun exposure (with sun protection, as we’ve already seen), but also after. When you wash your hair after sun exposure, it’s important to choose products that pamper your hair and replenish lost moisture and oils. It is also important to opt for repairing products that will help counteract any damage your hair has already sustained.
What about the scalp? Can you put sunscreen on your scalp?
We couldn’t possibly wrap up this post without addressing this question: can you put sunscreen on your scalp? The answer is a lot simpler than it seems.
Time for a show of hands: who has never suffered from sunburn on the scalp? Here at Care to Beauty, where most of us have long hair–which does a great job of protecting our heads from the sun–we’ve seen our fair share of sunburns on our hair parts. And it’s no accident: no matter how diligent we are in applying sunscreen, we do tend to forget about that tiny stripe of skin that gets exposed where we part our hair. It doesn’t really matter whether you go for a middle part or a side part: where you part your hair is where you expose your scalp to the sun.
In short, the answer to the question “can you apply sunscreen to your scalp?” is a resounding yes. Yes you can, and please, do. The scalp is skin, after all, so spare a little bit of your favorite face or body sunscreen and apply a nice steady stripe to your hair part before sun exposure.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into the world of hair sunscreen. If you’re committed to maintaining the health and beauty of your locks all though the summer and into fall, you may want to look into adding a little sunscreen to your hair care routine. Explore our full range of hair sunscreen in the shop, and find your favorite!
Beauty Writer & Editor