Your Scalp Is *Highly* Susceptible To Painful Sunburns—Here’s How a Derm Wants You To Prevent and Treat Them

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Before you slip into your swimsuit and indulge in a little summer R&R, it’s crucial to consider sun protection all over the body. Typically, we apply sunscreen to our body and face, but there's one area that tends to be skipped: the scalp. Not only is this one of the most common areas where skin cancer shows up (along with the ears, neck, chest, and face), but it can also make for some pretty painful sunburns, which is why derms want you to start paying closer attention.

“Most often, patients layer the sunscreen on the body, but forget the scalp,” says Dhaval G. Bhanusali, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. says. This oft-ignored area is just as prone to sun damage as the rest of our body (arguably even more so, since it's directly exposed to the sun), and can be the site of the most painful sunburns you'll ever get. “For most patients, it feels warm and stings to the touch,” Dr. Bhanusali explains. “Over time, it tends to flake more than usual, and often patients notice pain when they're in the shower.”

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If you’ve experienced these uncomfortable symptoms before, you know the feeling of having to be extra careful while brushing, showering, or even styling your hair. In order to prevent scalp sunburns from appearing in the future, Dr. Bhanusali let us in on his recommendations for preventing scalp sunburn and treating a burn if you happen to have one. Ahead, find a derm-approved routine for protecting your scalp from the sun.

How to prevent scalp sunburns

When it comes to sunscreen application, remember to apply from head to toe (meaning not just your forehead, but the actual top of your head, too). “For our female patients, I recommend using a sunscreen stick,” says Dr. Bhanusali. He explains that these types of products will allow you to hone in on your part, which is most vulnerable to UV damage, while maintaining the appearance of your actual hair. His favorite options come from Neutrogena and EltaMD, both of which are formulated with SPF 50+ and are water resistant, which means your skin will be protected through swim and sweat.  Plus, they're oil-free, so should keep your scalp from getting slick.

If you're still worried about sunscreen greasing up your scalp, powder SPF is another derm-approved option for protecting your part. "Powder is a great way to protect while staying grease-free," board-certified dermatologist Nava Greenfield, MD, previously told Well+Good. "I think it's a great idea, and I recommend it." As an added bonus, these formulas can actually help soak up any excess oil from your scalp, which essentially means they double as UV defense and dry shampoo. Just keep in mind that it can be difficult to apply enough powdered sunscreen to get proper protection (you need more of it than you probably think), so be sure to choose something with high SPF and reapply regularly.

While applying sunscreen to your scalp is a must, if you're looking for even more protection, Dr. Bhanusali names sunhats as “the best option” because they'll keep your entire scalp covered.  On days when you're sitting in the sun, consider this a non-negotiable part of your outfit.

How to treat scalp sunburns

If you're reading this too late and you already have a scalp sunburn, Dr. Bhanusali recommends treating it with an over-the-counter 1 percent hydrocortisone cream (which you should be able to find at your local drugstore for under $10). If the area feels swollen to the touch, he advises applying aloe vera gel to the burn as it should help reduce the inflammation and overall redness.

Check out the video below to see how our senior beauty editor adds SPF into every part of her daily routine. 

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