When it comes to sun protection, we know that it's critical to apply sunscreen over our entire bodies, but do you count your hair and scalp in that? I didn't. Even as a diligent sunscreen user, I would apply sunscreen up to my forehead and never even consider my hair or scalp, because, well, they're my hair and scalp.
Spoiler alert: Skipping out on that sun protection is one big beauty faux pas. Read on to find out why and, of course, how to keep your locks and your scalp from sunburn.
Why You Need to Protect Your Hair:
You might be thinking, "Do I really need to protect my hair?" Well, while you might not want to add another step to your routine, the answer is yes. Ron Williams, Education Director at Phyto Specific, explained to me that hair is considered a non-living entity when it emerges through the scalp, which is why it doesn't burn like our skin. We may not experience those horrible sunburn symptoms on our manes, but our hair can still become damaged. If we skip sun protection, the result could be a dry, dull, and brittle mane. The damage will only worsen if you're taking a dip in the pool or ocean because of the drying effects of chlorine and salt.
The sun can also change your dye job—and not for the better. Celebrity hairstylist Sarah Potempa told me that bleached or lifted hair is more susceptible to damage because the process opens up the hair follicle, making hair more vulnerable to oxidizing damage (read: fading) from UV exposure.
How to Protect It:
Ideally, we should be protecting our manes on a daily basis. Before you go slapping sunscreen onto your strands, hold up. There are other less greasy ways to keep your locks protected. Our first line of defense against the sun is wearing a hat. Choose one that covers all of your hair, or tuck longer locks underneath it.
In terms of products, look for different formulas with UVA and UVB protection. Dr. Anthony Rossi MD, FAAD, suggests the Colorescience SunForgettable Mineral Sunscreen Brush SPF 30 ($57, colorscience.com). It is a water-resistant powder that has titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to protect against harmful rays. Dust it on your hair, then on your face.
Moisturizing your hair is another essential step. Stock up on oils, masks, conditioners, and treatments. Celebrity hairstylist Clariss Rubenstein says, "I double down in the summer, using lots of oils. I love argan oils. I also use tons of masks. I love Christophe Robin and Kerastase."
Now, Your Scalp:
Just because our hair is covering our scalps doesn't mean we can skip protection. Williams explains, "The scalp is the same construction as the skin on other parts of the body. Therefore, it requires protection it from sun." Makes sense, right?
That means daily SPF, people. A bad hair day is nothing compared to a burnt scalp that is itchy and peeling. Trust—burnt scalps are serious. Dr. Rossi states that you can develop skin cancer from the UV damage.
If you wear your hair in a parted style, you're exposing your skin to the sun's harmful rays—ditto if you have a super short crop or shaved style.
A damaged scalp can also negatively impact hair growth. JB Shelton, Bosley Professional Strength Educator, explained to me that if our scalps are degraded, dry, or have buildup, it can impede and sometimes prevent hair growth. Yikes.
How to Protect Your Scalp
All the experts agreed that hats that fully cover our scalps offer great protection.
Wearing a hat every day is ideal, but if you're not spending much time outside, you can opt for a protective hairstyle. Try slicked back ponytails and buns to avoid parts.
According to Dr. Rossi, if you do go for a parted style, make sure that you're applying sunscreen to your part line. Look for a water-resistant formula with at least SPF 30 protection. Apply it throughout the day and immediately after swimming. Don't forget to apply sunscreen to your ears and the back of your neck. If there's one thing we learned, it's that we need sun protection on all areas.