We all know sun protection is a must for your skin. But did you know you also need sunscreen for hair? UV light can damage even the healthiest hair — and dyed or chemically treated hair can be especially vulnerable to drying and breakage from the sun.
We spoke to naturopathic doctor Dr. Tess Marshall, ND, Nutrafol’s Director of Product Science & Innovations, about the basics of SPF for hair.
“UV rays can be particularly damaging to the scalp in the same ways we know [they are] damaging to the skin,” Dr. Marshall says. “UV radiation can lead to a rise in oxidative stress, which can shorten the hair growth cycle and destroy key immune cells that surround the follicle.”
This means that the side effects of UV damage on your hair include not only aesthetic and textural issues, but also skin damage on the scalp. In fact, part of hair’s evolutionary purpose is to protect us from sun damage, Dr. Marshall says. That’s why sunscreen for hair is even more important for people who are experiencing hair loss.
How does SPF for hair work?
Ideally, you should look for a hair sunscreen that “can be used dually on the scalp and hair shaft,” Dr. Marshall says.
What about hair sunscreen for dyed hair?
Dyed hair is even more susceptible to sun damage, Dr. Marshall confirms — especially if it’s blonde. The sun can cause serious damage to bleached hair as it’s already dry. “In addition to sun, chlorine and salt water can also lighten the hair,” Dr. Marshall says. So unfortunately, summertime is a perfect storm for your hair color.
Can sun damage in the hair be reversed?
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to reverse sun damage in the hair. If the sun lightens your hair, it’s not possible to naturally reverse this, Dr. Marshall says. This is because hair color is governed by melanin.
“Think of melanin in the skin – we are able to get tan in the summer and pale in the winter due to the changes in melanin,” Dr. Marshall says. Hair, on the other hand, is not alive — “so the melanin in hair strands cannot regenerate.”
The best cure is to try to avoid sun damage with hats or SPF for hair (which we’ll get to in a minute). But a deep-conditioning mask with antioxidants can help ameliorate some of the dryness, Dr. Marshall says.
“Botanicals like green tea, berry extracts, grapeseeds, and curcumin have been found to counter the effects of UV radiation,” she said.
One good product Dr. Marshall recommends for this is True Botanicals Nourish Conditioner ($34). Leave it on for 10 plus minutes before the shower. Then rinse it out and wash your hair as usual. But the best idea is to pair your treatment mask with UV protection sprays and mists.
Which ingredients should I seek out in a good hair sunscreen?
It’s all about plant-based oils and antioxidants, Dr. Marshall says. Organic, non-GMO ingredients are important, while parabens and sulfates should be avoided.
How often should I reapply hair SPF or scalp sunscreen throughout the day?
You should douse your tresses and scalp in sunscreen every few hours when you’re in the sun. If you’re at the beach, there’s an added bonus: hair SPF products will give you a tousled look, Dr. Marshall says. Also be sure to re-apply after you wet your hair.
If you’re not ready to embrace the tousled look, Dr. Marshall says, guarding the scalp with a hat is also a great option.