Welcome to Sun Blocked, Refinery29’s global call-to-action to wake up to the serious dangers of tanning. No lectures or shaming, we promise. Instead, our goal is to arm you with the facts you need to protect your skin to the best of your ability, because there’s no such thing as safe sun.
There's no missing it once it's happened: You did your due diligence and covered your body in sunscreen, but neglected a lone strip of skin at the crown of your head — and the proof is in the angry shade of pink it's turned. (Another observation: Your strands somehow feel more fried than usual?)
If you've lived through the jarring experience of a sun-singed scalp, or just wondered about hair and scalp SPF, you've come to the right place. "Hair helps maintain body temperature during colder months and blocks UV rays," explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology and the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "When the hair is parted, or in cases where the hair is thinning, the scalp may be directly exposed to the sun; the scalp is at particular risk since it points upwards directly to the sun and often goes unprotected."
Now, we get that it might feel like Big Sunscreen is out here trying to sell you on another product. But while the scalp-specific SPF category is actively growing, we have it on record that any sunscreen lotion will work, as long as you don't mind a little grease at the roots. "You can use the same sunscreens for your face as you can for your scalp," Dr. Zeichner says. "Apply sunscreen starting with the center of your face and rubbing it up and outwards into the hairline to ensure no missed area. Then, take a drop on your finger and run it down your part line." Voilà — no scorched scalps here.
Avoiding a nasty sunburn is one thing, but if you have color-treated hair, UV rays can also compromise your investment. "Besides increasing the risk of skin cancer, rays from the sun can bleach dyed hair," Dr. Zeichner says. "That's why sitting in the shade, wearing a hat, or using an umbrella is important." To get you started on your hairscreen journey, we've rounded up six of the best formulas to try this summer and beyond. (Psst, some of them even double as dry shampoo.)
Coola's scalp and hair SPF mist is specifically formulated to combat color fade, thanks to a cocktail of chemical UV blockers, while also hydrating and strengthening hair with gotu kola extract and monoi oil.
Our favorite sun-loving chimp is back at it again with a sunscreen scalp spray you'll want to reapply — it smells that good. (One reviewer went as far as to say that the stuff "has me in a chokehold.") Plus, aquatic botanicals like sea kelp and algae offer lightweight moisture to refresh salty strands after an ocean dip.
Leave it to Supergoop! to leave no stone unturned when it comes to staying safe in the sun. (This is the same brand behind Handscreen and Lip Shade.) This 100% mineral scalp sunscreen is powered by zinc oxide to physically block UV rays, and will even sop up excess oil at your roots. (A lone critique: It leaves a slight residue on dark hair.)
If you want to keep things simple and use the same SPF on your face and scalp, Dr. Zeichner name-checks this Eucerin formula. "This sunscreen is extra light and rubs in fully, even when applied near the hair," he says. "Besides broad-spectrum UV protection, it contains a blend of antioxidants that neutralizes free radicals and protects the skin against blue light."
"Sticks and sprays are also a great option for the part line," Dr. Zeichner says. "You just need to make sure to rub in the product to ensure it makes it to the skin and doesn't just sit on the hair." My personal fave is Neutrogena's budget-friendly sheer mist (I buy it in packs of three) that boasts an impressive SPF 70.
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