How to Prevent Sun Damage to your Scalp


Whether you are getting ready to head somewhere hot, or enjoying some sunny days at home, and that can include bright winter mornings, it’s always useful to think about the effect of the sun on our scalps, perhaps a particular concern if you have balding or thinning patches across your scalp.

Have you considered how best to look after your scalp to keep it nice and healthy when you are outdoors?

It may sound obvious but any skin on our body that is exposed to too much ultra-violet (UV) rays will burn, and our scalp is no different.

It is easy to forget about the exposure of our scalp to the sun if we have hair on our head and we believe that this offers protection.

Even with heads of hair that are thick and luscious we still have partings and crown swirls that expose the scalp to the sun.

We explain how to protect our scalps and what to do if we experience over-exposure.

Why is it so important to protect our scalps?

The Skin Cancer Foundation gives a helpful explanation on the importance of UV radiation which is also emitted from tanning beds. There are two types of UV light which can contribute to a risk for skin cancer and over-exposure – UVA has a longer wavelength and associated with skin ageing. UVB has a shorter wavelength and associated with skin burning. UV exposure that leads to sunburn can play a role in developing melanoma.

Sunburn has also been known to cause oedema by increasing the vascular permeability of the blood vessels in the upper dermis.

So how best to protect our scalps?

The easiest way to protect our scalps from over exposure to the sun is simply to wear a hat, or take time out under a parasol in the shade through the day when we are in a sunny climate or on holiday. Look out for sun protective clothing – not all clothing or hats are effective, fabrics and colours impact on how these protect you. Did you know darker colours offer better protection than light?

Interestingly, hair density, thickness, and colour can have an impact on how effective your scalp is protected against sun exposure.

If wearing a hat is not going to be practical at all times, then consider using a sunscreen on the scalp. This might be a little bit more messy than wearing a hat, but there are sunscreens on offer that are more of a liquid base than an oil, which will be less intrusive when applying it through the scalp. Look out for broad spectrum sunscreens which protect you against UVA and UVB rays. Take careful notice of the hair parting area of the scalp.

For outdoor swimming, it is also useful to look out for ‘reef safe’ sunscreens such as some mineral based ones – these typically avoid chemicals such as oxybenzone that are harmful to the sea.

Can sunburn on your head cause hair loss?

Protecting the scalp is important because a sunburn scalp can actually trigger a form of temporary hair thinning known as telogen effluvium. This is a condition where we shed more hair than we would do, normally which can result in an upsetting experience of temporary hair thinning.

Sunburn can damage the protective oils and may trigger hair follicles to switch from the growth phase to the shedding phase and this can increase hair loss.

How do you treat sunburn on your head?

For these reasons, it is essential to avoid sun damage to your scalp as far as possible. However, if you do burn your scalp, what can you do about it?

Here are some simple ideas to help relieve discomfort and help to treat the sunburn on your scalp:

  1. Firstly do what you can to treat the area. Cool the affected area.
  2. When shampooing your hair make sure you are using a sulphate free gentle shampoo because the sulphate scan aggravate the damaged scalp.
  3. Make sure the water is tepid when rinsing out the shampoo and conditioner, as hot water can push more heat back into the scalp.
  4. Use a cool compress by soaking a hair wrap in cold water and pulling around the head to take the heat out of your scalp.
  5. Consider an appropriate cream – if severe and in pain obviously seek medical assistance for treatment and prescriptions. Otherwise a lotion such as 95% natural aloe vera can provide relief and help healing. It is easier to apply when your hair is damp.
  6. Where possible, let your hair dry naturally, as the heat from your hairdryer can enflame already not irritated skin.
  7. Then consider how you are treating and styling your hair. Reduce the use of products such as mousses, gels and hairsprays as these can often irritate inflamed skin.
  8. Stop using heated rolls such as ironing tongs as they can burn your scalp, worsening the condition.
  9. When your skin flakes for the scalp, don’t be tempted to pick at it! Consider a gentle exfoliator when showering when there is flaking. And try not to pull your hair into a ponytail etc while the scalp is healing.
  10. Finally, keep hydrated, sunburn dehydrates you so drink extra water, and consider adding electrolytes.

So the most important steps to remember to prevent sun damage to your scalp are – Cover, Hydrate, Sunscreen, Cool, Heal

And if you finding it difficult to relieve the scalp or if you find that your hair density does not recover, book in for an initial online consultation to discuss with one of our trichologists. We are experts in hair loss and scalp health and our 1-to-1 online consultations will help you to develop the most effective treatment plan for your sunburn and other scalp conditions.

Want to speak to someone before you book? Email us and we will arrange a telephone call at a time convenient.

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