Should I Be Using Sunscreen On My Scalp?

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Let’s talk about protecting your whole body at all costs from the sun. While we rave about the importance of sunscreen, we mainly focus on protection for the body and face, often leaving out the scalp. You may raise an eyebrow on why you should protect this area from the sun… but, remember, your scalp is skin, too.

Dermatologists Dr. Mary Alice Mina, MD; Dr. Jody Alpert Levine, MD, FAAD, FAAP; Dr. Tina Alster, MD, FAAD, and Dr. Allison Larson, a physician executive director of dermatology at MedStar Health at MedStar Health and Rosanne Paul, DO, an assistant professor of Dermatology at Case Western Reserve University discuss why we need to protect our scalp from the sun below. 

Why should you apply sunscreen on your hair and scalp?

“The scalp is often overlooked when it comes to sun protection, yet it is just as vulnerable to UV damage as other parts of the body,” Dr. Alster tells ESSENCE. “The skin on the scalp can be quite thin, especially if there is thinning hair or baldness, which makes it more susceptible to sunburn.”

Think of your scalp like skin as it’s still exposed to the sun. Dr. Mina notes that “hair provides some protection from UV radiation,” but the more exposure it gets, the hair thins and recedes depending on the style. Dr. Larson also shares that when your scalp is uncovered, and is in the path of direct sunlight, it has the potential to “accumulate severe sun damage if unprotected.”

What to look for in sunscreen for the scalp

Paul recommends using a sunscreen spray for the scalp. “They are easy to apply to these areas, unlike lotions or creams which may be sticky and cause greasiness of the hair in the vicinity.” 

Stick with an SPF 30+ sunscreen that covers both UVA and UVB wavelengths (broad spectrum). Dr. Mina also notes that any sunscreen lotion or cream can also “make your hair weighed down and greasy.”

Paul and Dr. Alster also suggest sunscreen powders, as they are easy to apply on the scalp “without affecting the hair’s appearance.”

How to apply sunscreen to your scalp

When you’re out in the sun, depending on the form of sunscreen, you can apply it either on your hands or directly on your scalp. “Applying sunscreen to hair is the best way to protect your scalp skin,” Dr. Mina says. ”If you are balding or have areas on the scalp without hair, be sure to apply sunscreen here as well as the rest of your skin that’s exposed.” 

Dr. Alster recommends applying sunscreen by holding the spray nozzle 4-6 inches away from the scalp. Spray directly onto the scalp and gently use your fingers to rub the sunscreen in, to ensure even coverage, and then let it absorb. Dr. Alster also notes to find a sunscreen that’s lightweight and non-greasy. She also shares that you can create sections in your hair to expose the scalp by “parting your hair in multiple areas, which ensures better coverage.”

Which sunscreens are best for the scalp?

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