Everybody knows the importance of protecting the skin from the sun, but did you know that the rays emitting from our great big star can affect our hair, too? Indeed, those burn-inducing UVA and UVB rays can zap our hair of nutrients and melanin, leaving it looking moisture-starved and faded. In order to maintain your healthy luscious locks, you’re going to want to give it the sun protection it deserves. Here’s all the info you need for the job.
How the Sun Affects the Hair and Scalp
Let’s face it: As much as it gives us life (and vitamin D), the sun can be really harsh on us physically. Prolonged exposure and regular burning leave us susceptible to developing melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. In the same way, the sun damages the skin and, in other unique ways, it can damage the hair and scalp.
- It Compromises Hair Health – The biggest issue with the sun and hair is that it’s extremely damaging. Specifically, the sun’s rays affect the covering of the hair strand called the cuticle. For most people, too much time in the sun elicits fizziness, thinning, dryness, brittleness, and split ends, so hair not only looks unhealthy but also becomes more susceptible to prolonged damage. Those with fine light-colored and flat coiled hair are more at risk for developing sun damage to the cuticle of the hair, but all hair types can be affected in one way or another by the sun.
- It Highlights Balding – If you’re balding, you will be surprised to find how much sunburn can highlight pattern baldness and hair thinning since there’s no layer of hair to act as a natural sun barrier. Wearing a hat or a helmet will leave behind prominent tan lines that may make you self-conscious until they fade.
- It Can Lighten Your Hair – If you’re like many of us, you may have paid a ton of money to have your hair colored to the perfect shade, only to have it become lighter or discolored because of the sun. This is because sunlight bleaches and breaks down the melanin in the hair, giving it a lighter color. The reason why your skin gets darker and your hair gets lighter in the sun is because the skin responds to sun by producing more melanin, while the hair doesn’t have that ability because it’s made of dead cells.
- It Can Leave You Sunburned – The scalp is extremely susceptible to sunburn since it’s often placed directly in the line of exposure to the sun. And, yes, even people with thick heads of hair can sometimes get sunburned. The danger here is that any instance of sunburn increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer by damaging the genetic material in the skin cells.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Hair from the Sun
So now that we know all the specific ways that the sun can cause hair-related problems, it’s time to talk about protection. Just like your skin, your hair and scalp can be safeguarded from the harsh UVA and UVB rays that are responsible for the above concerns.
- If Possible, Grow It Out – Add scalp damage to the long list of reasons to treat baldness and hair thinning! While growing out hair seems counterintuitive—if you don’t have hair, it can’t get damaged by the sun—it’s the best option here because hair protects your scalp from some sun damage. Sunburn of the scalp is far more dangerous than damage to the hair since it can cause permanent genetic disruption that can lead to skin cancer.
- Wear Hair Sunscreen – Yep, it’s true. There’s such a thing as SPF for your hair. There are many brilliant sun protective hair care products on the market, most of them formulated with 30-plus SPF to shield the strands of your hair from exposure to UVA and UVB rays. All you have to do is give your hair a quick spritz before heading outside, and it will protect your hair in the same way your regular sunscreen protects your skin. If you’re bald or balding, it should go without saying, but make sure you slather your scalp with sunscreen to ensure that the sensitive scalp and surrounding skin doesn’t burn.
- Use Sun Protective Hair Care – Switching up your shampoo and conditioner is another smart option for shielding your locks from the harshness of the sun. Be sure to use high-quality clinical hair care products that help hair grow and restore vital nutrients after you’ve spent a long day soaking up some vitamin D.
- Wear Hats and Scarves on Your Head – As you pack for a day out at the pool or beach, don’t forget your sun hat. We recommend choosing a special hat with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of 50 with a wide brim to ensure that your chosen hat fully protects your scalp from the sun. This is generally good practice in general, as it helps shade the face, neck, and décolletage as well.
- Get the Occasional Deep Treatment – Head to the salon in the fall for a deep scalp treatment to help reinvigorate the health and livelihood of the scalp, hair follicles, and hair strands. A deep, salon-grade cleanser and mask will soften and reinvigorate hair that has been damaged by the sun, salt, chlorine, and other harsh environmental factors that tend to be heightened in the summertime.
Make It a Part of Your Routine
When it comes to hair and scalp protection, our most important piece of advice is this: Treat scalp protection like you would treat skin protection. In other words, make sure to take your time strategically choosing the right protection products and reapplying regularly. As long as you prioritize UV hair protection in the same way you prioritize skin protection, you’ll enjoy strong healthy hair even if you spend the whole summer lazing at the beach.
Shane McCarthy is the Content Director for Capillus, the world’s first, clinically-proven, FDA-cleared laser cap to treat hair loss. Shane works to share informative and engaging content based off of the struggles and prevention of adult hair loss and thinning. In his free time, he enjoys spending time out on the water wakeboarding and fishing.