As we get ready for days at the beach and poolside, we’re prepared to pour on the SPF. But, how many of us will be applying sunblock to our hair parts? Though this sliver of skin is often forgotten, it’s one of the most sensitive areas on our body. The top of our heads is the first thing the sun hits after all, so why haven’t we all been applying SPF to our hair?
To find out more about the importance of using sunscreen on our hair part, we reached out to the experts. KKT Consultants founder Krupa Koestline and Dermatology and Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta (DESSNA) co-founder Kathleen S. Viscusi told us everything we need to know about using SPF in our summer haircare routine. Keep scrolling to read what they had to say!
But Should We Use SPF for Our Hair?
Sunscreen is critical for our skin, though Krupa isn’t entirely convinced it’s as necessary for our hair.
“All current sunscreens are tested for their efficacy and safety on skin, not hair,” she says. “We don’t know their effects on hair or if they are even effective on hair the same way. I would be skeptical using a sunscreen on my hair without knowing if the heat generated is more damaging to hair than UV itself. There hasn’t been a comparative study to determine that yet.”
She notes the adverse effects of UV on scalp health have been studied. “According to those, UVB radiation stays in the cuticle area, but UVA radiation passes through the cuticle and penetrates to the cortex. Photochemical impairment of the hair includes degradation and loss of hair proteins as well as degradation of hair pigment. UVB radiation is responsible for hair protein loss and UVA radiation is responsible for color changes.”
Kathleen is team sunscreen. She says that absolutely, you should use SPF on your hair and scalp. “Like any other area of your skin, your hair part is exposed to dangerous UV rays that cause skin cancer. This is an especially vulnerable area, as it receives constant sun exposure and is often overlooked. To further exacerbate this issue, skin cancer on the scalp is often diagnosed late.”
Kathleen also stresses the importance of being weary of any hairstyle changes that may leave your scalp extra exposed to the sun. “These areas have been covered for many years and suddenly become ‘naked’ with hairstyle and part changes, making them incredibly vulnerable to blistering burns. New areas of exposure quickly become high-risk for skin cancer with a seemingly simple hairstyle change,” she warns.
What Are the Benefits of Using SPF for Our Hair and on Our Scalp?
Sunscreen used on the scalp will benefit the hair overall by preventing protein loss and follicle damage. While Krupa admits that there needs to be more studies conducted to understand the nature of damage to hair follicles, she references an interesting study. “While there has been several reports of alopecia in people with sunburnt scalp skin, phototherapy is also a recommended option for alopecia in many cases. So, it may be hypothesized that the effect of light on scalp depends on the wavelength.”
Her advice? “If you are concerned about UV damage to the scalp, it’s best to wear a hat with UPF protection. Extend your facial sunscreen toward your hairline as well.”
Additionally, sunscreen benefits the scalp by protecting our strands from damage. “Protecting the scalp from the sun dramatically helps to prevent structural damage to the hair shaft. This leads to hair problems like dry and brittle hair, which sets the stage for premature dead and splitting ends,” Kathleen confirms.
How Should You Use Sunscreen on Your Scalp?
Make sunscreen part of your routine and apply it daily to your scalp and face. “I tell patients to think of applying sunscreen like brushing your teeth—you wouldn’t leave the house in the morning without this important step, right? Applying sunscreen should be no different, including application to the part/scalp. There are many non-greasy alternatives to assist here as well, including spray formulations and even tinted powder sunscreens. The latter are effectively equivalent to dry shampoo, making these a win-win,” Kathleen says. “And don’t forget to reapply! This is most important when spending a long day outdoors or with increased moisture, such as activities that involve swimming or increased sweating.”