Sunscreen is our most important skin-care product. Our parents weren't dabbing cream onto our under eyes or mixing serums into our baby lotions—they were slathering us in sunscreen any time the sun even thought about peaking through the clouds. And while (hopefully) this skin-protective habit followed us into adulthood, it's time to tweak our routines. Because many of us missed a spot—our scalps.
Why scalp sunscreen is important
If you experience recurring ultraviolet damage (which can happen with or without getting sunburn, FWIW) on your scalp, you can run into a few issues. Scalp melanoma (aka skin cancer) represents 35 percent of head and neck melanomas cases and is accountable for 5 percent of all melanomas.
- Dominic Burg, PhD, trichologist and chief scientist at Évolis Professional
- Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, Miami-based board-certified dermatologist
- Iris Rubin, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Seen Hair Care
- Nava Greenfield, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York
"The scalp—especially the part—is exposed to a lot of UV rays and is a frequent location for the development of pre-cancers and skin cancers," says Nava Greenfield, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York City.
Plus, preliminary research has found prolonged sun exposure may be tied to hair damage. And according to Dominic Burg, PhD, trichologist and chief scientist at Évolis Professional, UV damage on the scalp can lead to inflammation that can disrupt the hair cycle, AKA the pattern for hair growth and regeneration.
"When the hair cycle is interrupted, the main thing that happens is the growth phase is shortened," says Dr. Burg. "A short growth phase means less hair growth and more hair resting and falling. As this cycle of dysfunction progresses, hair quality decreases, and follicles eventually stop being able to regenerate a new hair, resulting in hair loss and hair thinning." Burg adds that hair that isn't growing optimally may also lose its natural wave or curl, appear drier, and not hold color or treatments.
Should you use scalp sunscreen every day?
Before you start applying sunscreen on your scalp daily, Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, says you only need to worry about this kind of intense sun exposure if you're spending a ton of time in the sun, say, on a beach vacay or while gardening or if you're changing up your part by say, wearing French braids or Senegalese twists. Then, you're exposing bits of scalp that are essentially virgin skin.
"It's almost as if you were tanning your bottom," explains Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. "You're going from zero sun exposure to full sun exposure, so your scalp can burn."
How to choose a scalp sunscreen
Technically, any sunscreen can be a scalp sunscreen, but many formulas out there can be too drying or too greasy for your scalp and strands. "Many people, including myself, do not like applying regular lotion or cream sunscreen to the scalp because it makes the hair and scalp very greasy," says Dr. Greenfield. But as any skin pro will tell you, the "best" sunscreen is the one you will wear consistently.
If you have an oily scalp, SPF powders are the way to go—"Powder is a great way to protect while staying grease-free," says Dr. Greenfield. And while a spray might be great for some, they may be too drying for others—"My hair is chemically straightened," says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. "I don't want an alcohol-based liquid because it will really dry out my hair." If you have a dry scalp, Dr. Woolery-Lloyd recommends an SPF product that contains oils, providing protection while also moisturizing your scalp. If you're somewhere in between, congrats—you have options!! Shop the best scalp sunscreen options below.
9 best scalp sunscreens to protect your part(s) all summer long
3 best powder scalp sunscreens
Though this stuff is technically meant for your face, it has awesome applications for your scalp, too. It comes in four different shades to match most hair colors, and delivers SPF 50 mineral protection.
Because it’s straight zinc oxide, this powder provides great sun protection. It’s also free of damaging alcohols and silicones. It comes in a “spray” bottle that more or less shoots out a pile of product, so use a light touch or even do a trial spray before heading straight for your part. Keep in mind that this powder has a chalky beige tinge, so you may want to avoid it if you’re a brunette or have a deeper complexion.
Toss this brush in your bag for easy way to re-up your scalp coverage throughout the day. It’s sweat and water-resistant, which makes it perfect for any sunny summer trips to the beach. It’s got SPF 30, the minimum protection that dermatologists recommend for daily use.
3 best oil-based scalp sunscreens
Because I have dry hair, I love a scalp oil, and this one from Supergoop! is perfect. It’s lightweight and made with a nourishing blend of vitamin E, soybean oil, grape seed oil, radish seed oil, meadowfoam seed oil, sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, and more. It provides SPF 50 protection with chemical blockers.
If you want surefire protection and don’t mind a bit of a white cast, this balm is perfect. It’s thick and made with bentonite clay, so it can withstand physical activity from the ocean to the mountains, plus a blend of jojoba oil and passionfruit oil and bentonite clay.
3 best spray-on scalp sunscreens
Spray this lightweight mist on your face and scalp for lightweight, quick-drying, never-greasy coverage. It’s a chemical sunscreen that also includes aloe and cucumber to provide hydration and antioxidant-rich safflower oil, sunflower oil, and Alpine Caribou Moss to defend skin from environmental damage.
This scalp mist uses monoi oil and gotu kola extract to promote healthy hair while chemical UV blockers protect your scalp and hair from sun damage.
Bonus: Apply an antioxidant scalp serum before your SPF for a boost of protection
"A scalp serum with antioxidants may help protect the skin from environmental free radicals, but this is never a substitute for sunscreen. However, using a scalp serum with antioxidants in addition to scalp sunscreen can help provide optimal protection from environmental aggressors," says Iris Rubin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Seen Skin & Hair Care. "Seen's Restore Scalp Serum helps hydrate, soothe, and balance scalp skin, supporting a healthy scalp microbiome and helps reduce the appearance of flakes and irritation."
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