Yes, you really do need to wear it.
Raise your hand if you’ve been taught to slather sunscreen on your face and body every single day whether the sun is shining or not. Exactly. It’s pretty much a no-brainer at this point. That’s because we all know that SPF goes a long way towards protecting you from the sun’s harmful rays, keeping signs of aging at bay, and helping to prevent skin cancer.
Something that might not be quite so second nature: applying sunscreen to your scalp. But protecting the top of your noggin should always be a major consideration. Your head is closest to the sun, and it’s going to feel the effects of that fiery orb in the sky way before any other part of your body. So, essentially your scalp is the most vulnerable to UV rays and subsequently sunburn. Plus a scary but undeniable fact: Roughly 13 percent of skin cancer occurs on the scalp. Not to mention melanomas—the most serious type of skin cancer—on the scalp have a much higher chance of spreading to the brain.
In other words, it’s time to start paying a lot more attention to your scalp. Here are a few expert-backed tips to keep your head healthy and happy.
Consider Your Coif
Believe it or not, colors, cuts and hairstyles have an impact. Dark, long, thick hair is more protective from a practical standpoint, but also from a risk factor perspective, explains dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, MD, founder and medical director of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine. One reason why: It offers way more coverage. But that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from scalp screen. If your tresses are red or blonde on the other hand, you are more susceptible to sun damage and skin cancer according to Dr. Hartman, so taking the necessary protective precautions is key.
While buzz cuts and shorter hairstyles are generally a breeze to deal with, especially during those super-hot summer months, these specific styles also “leave more areas of exposed scalp and are therefore less protective and potentially more likely to lead to sun damage and the development of skin cancer,” adds Dr. Hartman. If a part is a mainstay in your mane (you wear your hair in the same style with the same part in the same location day after day), then you too want to consider applying sunscreen right along that line when out in intense, prolonged sun exposure advises Dr. Hartman.
Truth be told, it’s not just your skin that you should be worried about. “Prolonged sun exposure can cause hair to be dry and brittle not to mention cause alterations in hair color,” explains Dr. Hartman. That means you’ll want to make sure you are keeping hair adequately hydrated (think deep conditioners and hair masks) and protected—there are plenty of products on the market that aim to guard hair from the harsh effect of the sun.
Shield With Accessories
Sunscreen isn’t the only way to shore up your head protection. Hats and scarves are a super stylish way to, well, coverup too. Dr. Hartman recommends those with UV light protection woven into the fabric. Lucky for you, you can score a myriad of great accessories with the click of your mouse (Thanks Amazon!) including the beach-worthy Furtalk Women’s Beach Sun Straw Hat UV UPF50 Travel Foldable Brim Summer UV Hat ($25); Trailhead’s Women’s Running Hat with UV Protection UPF 50 Hat, ($22), which is great for summer sports; Coolibar UPF 50 + Women’s Bel Aire Zip Off Sun Visor, ($45), travel-friendly and blocks 98% of radiation, and Fonyve Silk Feeling Scarf Medium Square Satin Head Scarf, ($10) which comes in a ray of bright, sunny hues.
Layer on Sunscreen
The rules don’t really change when it comes to selecting an actual SPF for your scalp. Make sure you’re using a “broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30-50,” advises Dr. Hartman, who says he diagnoses and excises skin cancers on the scalp of his patients all of the time. “Chemical filters may be preferable in the hair and scalp over mineral/physical options due to the white cast that mineral sunscreens can leave behind.”
After ticking off those boxes, it’s all about choosing the one that works best for you. Still, Dr. Hartman recommends spray sunscreens and lighter lotion formulations, noting that they “work well to protect the scalp without interfering with hairstyling.” A few to try that are easy to apply and won’t mess with your tresses:
Coola Organic Scalp and Hair Mist, $26
Not only does this organic pick offer UV protection in a waterproof formula, but it’s infused with nourishing monoi oil, which conditions dry and damaged strands while improving hair’s overall luster.
Banana Boat Hair & Scalp Defense Reef Friendly Sunscreen Spray, $7
Broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. Check. Water-resistant formula. Check. Reef friendly. Checkity check. This Fast drying, ultra-lightweight spray gets the job done and doesn’t dry out your mane.
Sun Bum Scalp and Hair Mist SPF 30, $15
A combo of chemical blockers—avobenzone, octisalate, homosalate—stand up to harsh UV rays in this waterproof pick. Plus the light coconut aroma instantly transports us to some tropical beach vacation.
Supergoop! Poof Part Powder SPF 45, $35
This translucent, powder is perfect for side and middle part wearers, offering broad-spectrum protection in a reef-friendly, non-greasy spray formula. It also nourishes your scalp with antioxidant-rich Vitamin C.
Cremo Clear Sunscreen for Face, Hairline & Scalp, $10
This clear serum soaks in super quick and doesn’t disturb your ‘do. Plus this UVA/UVB broad-spectrum SPF 30 formula is waterproof so you can sweat or swim without worry.