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How to Protect Your Hair and Scalp From the Sun, Plus the Products That Make It Easy

Trichologists share the best type of sunscreen to apply to your scalp

By now, we know how important it is to protect our skin from those harmful UV rays emitted from the sun. Hopefully, you’re lathering on your sunscreen everyday, from rubbing in your favorite SPF moisturizer to spraying on a body sunscreen before heading out of the house. But you’re probably not thinking about your hair when it comes to UV protection — and you definitely should be. From color fading to dryness to dullness, the sun can wreak havoc on our strands. Here, trichologists break down exactly why our hair needs protection from the sun, along with the best UV hair products and hair and scalp sunscreens. PS: The answer isn’t the sport spray you have sitting in your beach bag!

Why does our hair need UV protection?

You may be thinking, does my hair really need sun protection? To put it simply, “the answer is YES YES YES,” says Kerry E. Yates, trichologist and founder of Colour Creative. In fact, your strands are probably begging for it for that extra layer of protection. “The hair is highly susceptible to damage caused by the sun’s rays.”

And while summer may bring along pretty, natural highlights after laying out in the sun (and perhaps spritzing in a hair lightener), it can also completely dry out hair that may already be parched in the first place. “UV rays from the sun can damage the hair’s cuticle, resulting in dry and brittle hair, color fading and loss of shine,” affirms trichologist and hair growth expert Shab Caspara. “The sheer fact that the sun has the ability to fade your hair color is an indication of how it can break-down color molecules on the hair’s surface, as well as weaken the protective cuticle layer of hair and expose the melanin contained beneath it.”

mature woman on the beach smiling in the sun

What sun exposure can do to hair

As mentioned above, UV rays can wreak havoc on strands in many ways. Here, experts share more info on all of the wear and tear time in the sun can cause to our tresses.

1. Sun exposure fades hair color

Whether you have color-treated hair or are rocking your hair’s natural hue, the sun doesn’t discriminate when it comes to hair color and altering its hue. “The sun can break down the hair’s natural melanin, causing an overall appearance of a lighter color,” explains Yates. “This is super obvious on the ends of the hair vs. the roots.”

2. Sun exposure dries out hair

We all know that feeling after you’ve swam in chlorine or spent a long day at the beach and your hair looks and feels like straw — it’s unpleasant, to say the least. This is what your hair can feel like after being exposed to the sun for long periods of time with no UV protection of hair sunscreen.

Why does this happen, you may be wondering? “Exposure can strip the hair of natural oils, leaving it dry and brittle. The lack of a natural oil barrier can cause the cuticles to lift, making the hair feel rough and leading to further damage with the added friction from styling tools like brushes and combs,” says Yates. In other words, the sun essentially zaps that natural moisture straight out of your hair.

Related: Why Your Hair Is So Dry: Pro Stylists Reveal the Sneaky Culprits + How to Fix It Fast

3. Sun exposure makes hair brittle and prone to breakage

Suffer from split ends and breakage from perhaps too much heat styling, using the wrong products or wearing tight ponytails or buns? You will especially want to apply UV protection to locks. The sun can further damage those split ends and lead to more breakage, due to a loss of elasticity in the strands. “Sun exposure can negatively impact the hair’s natural bonds, which in turn can impact overall hair strength/elasticity, leading to breakage and frayed ends,” says Yates.

Related: How to Prevent Split Ends According to Celebrity Hairstylists — 9 Ways to Guarantee Hair Looks Healthy, Thick and Shiny

4. Sun exposure causes scalp inflammation

You can’t have healthy hair without a healthy scalp, as many hair pros say. That’s why it’s best to think of your scalp as the base or foundation of your makeup; without proper prep or some TLC, your makeup won’t turn out right. And the same goes for our hair. If we don’t take care of our scalp, our hair can be impacted.

Plus, our scalp can burn just like the rest of our body, which can be itchy and painful, and lead to flaking. “Like your skin, the scalp can burn when exposed to the sun’s rays.  Scalp burns can lead to inflammation, which can negatively impact follicle health,” affirms Yates. “This is important as optimal follicle health ensures your hair stays full and gorgeous. Poor follicle health leads to baldness!”

Related: Treating Scalp Inflammation Can Reverse Hair Loss — Experts Share the Easy + Soothing Remedies

The different types of UV hair products and hair sunscreens

sunscreen products
Iana Kunitsa/Getty

Now that you know why your hair needs protection from the sun, it’s time to find the right product to keep it protected. Thankfully, there are some great options to choose from. “There are various sprays and creams designed for the hair that are formulated with proper sunscreen ingredients,” says Yates.

As far as hair sunscreen, chemical formulas will likely be your best bet: “Unfortunately, mineral-based sunscreens honestly do not feel great (in the hair); Therefore, most formulas are designed with chemical sunscreens like Avobenze, Octisalate, Homosalate and Octocrylene,” explains Yates.

When it comes to creams or leave-in conditioners, many are formulated with “ingredients known to help ward off the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, but they do not contain a specific protection factor,” warns Yates. “Most hair brands contain a blend of antioxidants, moisturizers and heat protectants. Some antioxidants to look for include vitamin A, C and E and polyphenols. Aloe vera is a great overall product for optimal hair health.”

Caspara prefers a more natural approach saying, “I prefer natural UV filters for hair products because they are safer, especially since you spray them close to your face and breathe them in throughout the day. Natural ingredients like sunflower seed extract, aloe vera and jojoba oil can protect hair from UV rays.”

Related: 6 Best Hair Oils That Treat Thinning Hair, Restore Shine, Fight Frizz + More

The best UV hair products and hair sunscreens

Coola Scalp & Hair Sunscreen & Color Protection Mist with SPF 30

Coola Scalp & Hair Sunscreen & Color Protection Mist with SPF 30

This one is recommended by Yates, who claims it’s her “go-to” product for protecting hair from the sun. Simply mist it onto hair and the scalp before sun exposure, and re-apply every two hours while in the sun. Bonus: It’s made with skin- and hair-soothing gotu kola extract along with monoi oil for extra moisture.

Oribe Invisible Defense Universal Protection Hair Spray

Oribe Invisible Defense Universal Protection Hair Spray

Yates also recommends this spray from Oribe to shield strands. Not only does it have “multifunction UV absorber” technology, it also contains collagen for extra softness and moisture.

It's a 10 Miracle Leave In Product
It’s a 10

It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In

This leave-in has a cult following, and for good reason! Not only does it moisturize and soften hair beautifully, it also contains UV-protecting natural ingredients. “The It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-in (as well as many other products from the brand) contains UV protecting sunflower seed extract and aloe vera, as well as green tea extract which is a powerful antioxidant that can protect hair from UV-induced free radical damage,” says Caspara. “It’s easy to spray onto wet hair ahead of styling or air drying, or sprayed in dry for added protection.”

NatureLab. Tokyo Perfect Repair Leave-In Conditioner & Detangler
NatureLab. Tokyo/Ulta

NatureLab. Tokyo Perfect Repair Leave-In Conditioner & Detangler

For an option that costs less than $20, and does wonders for protecting your hair from the sun, look to this option from NatureLab. Tokyo. It’s made with camellia and argan oil for moisture and prickly pear oil, which is full of antioxidants that help prevent damage from the sun and other environmental stressors.

Moroccanoil Protect & Prevent Spray

Moroccanoil Protect & Prevent Spray

To specifically protect hair color from fading due to sun exposure, try this spray. It’s antioxidant-rich argan oil seals hair’s cuticle and protects it from UV rays. Simply spritz throughout damp hair and style as usual.

See more hair care tips and tricks:

Hair Dusting Keeps Strands Looking Youthful and Healthy! Plus You Can Do the Haircut Technique at Home

Hyaluronic Acid Makes Hair Healthy, Shiny and Youthful — Here’s How to Use It

Hairstylists’ Easy Secrets to a Salon-Worthy Blowout at Home

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