When you think about protection from the sun’s rays you think of your skin. Your skin is very important, and deserves thorough daily sunscreen application.
There is another part of your body that is exposed to the sun every day, and yet you probably don’t even think about protecting it… your hair.
Can the Sun Damage Your Hair?
You may not think much about protecting your hair from sun damage because it’s not living and therefore, can’t get sunburned or develop life-threatening diseases like cancer. Also, if your hair becomes damaged you can just cut it off. New healthy hair will grow in its place.
Can your hair be damaged by the sun? Do you need sunscreen for your hair?
Yes, your hair can be damaged by the sun. Hair contains natural oils that make it shiny and easier to style. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun damages those natural oils (also called lipids) causing the hair to be dull, dry, frizzy, and prone to static electricity and breakage.
Hair also has proteins and disulfide bonds which help to keep it strong. Those bonds exist to protect the hair shaft from breaking when you brush or comb it. UV damage can disrupt the proteins and disulfide bonds, which then makes the hair weak and brittle.
Your body knows that you need protection from the sun so it produces melanin. Melanin is the pigment you have in your skin that causes it to darken when you tan. It’s also melanin that is responsible for melasma (dark spots, sun spots, hyperpigmentation).
Your hair also contains melanin. Very black hair has more melanin than blond hair. This means that light hair is more susceptible to UV damage than dark hair. That doesn’t mean that dark hair can’t be damaged, it can. It just takes longer exposure time for that to happen. This also means that the sun’s rays will cause all hair colors to lighten. If you color your hair, it’s in your best interest to keep it protected from the sun so that expensive color doesn’t fade.
How to Protect Your Hair:
There are ways to protect your hair (and scalp) from the damaging effects of the sun. You could stay inside (boo), stay in the shade (boo again), wear hats, and/or put UV protecting products on your hair.
We use hair care products in a couple of different ways: in the shower or bath for shampooing and conditioning, or spray-on products like hairspray and heat protectant.
Shampoos & Conditioners:
For a sunscreen to do its job it has to adhere to the surface of the hair for a long period of time. Shampoos and conditioners are applied for a short period of time and then washed away. It is likely any photo-protection that existed would be washed away as well.
When you rinse out shampoo and conditioner, it washes over your body. If those products contained SPF, you might believe (falsely) that you have just applied sunscreen to your entire body. If it washes out of your hair it washes off your body.
For a spray sunscreen to be effective, it would have to evenly coat every square inch of hair. Since we don’t have beehive hairdos anymore, most people don’t use that much hairspray. A spray sunscreen will be more effective at protecting your scalp. Unlike your hair, your scalp is susceptible to sunburn and carcinomas like the rest of the skin on your body.
SPF and Hair Care Products:
If you are looking for the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating on your favorite hair care products, you won’t find it. That’s because the US FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) prohibits SPF ratings on any hair care products in the United States. It is permitted, however, to state a product will provide UV protection. It just won’t say how much.
There are several manufacturers out there that have UV protection in their products. It will likely state it right on the front of the product but it’s important to read the list of ingredients. Some products will say they are UV protecting but they don’t contain any sunscreens. They will probably have all kinds of great conditioning agents in them that are great for keeping your hair hydrated, but they won’t block any UV rays.
Below is a list of FDA acceptable active ingredients in products that are labeled as sunscreens.
- Aminobenzoic acid
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Octyl methoxycinnamate/Octyl salicylate
- Padimate O
- Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid
- Titanium dioxide
- Trolamine salicylate
- Zinc oxide
Look for these ingredients in your hair care products. Also, be aware that some ingredients have more than one name. For example, octyl methoxycinnamate is also known as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate or octinoxate. If you would like to see a complete list of FDA approved sunscreens with all of their glorious chemical names, then go here.
Hair Care Products with Sunscreens:
- Coola Organic Scalp & Hair Mist SPF 30. This one states an SPF because it is for the scalp.
- Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Heat & UV Protective Primer
- Clarins Sunscreen Care Oil Spray SPF 30. This one also states an SPF because it is for the skin but can be used on your hair.
- TRESemme Climate Control Spray
- Shiseido Refreshing Sun Protection Spray.
- Fekkai Pre-Soleil Hair Radiance and Protection Mist.
Other Ways to Protect Your Hair:
The ultimate protection for your scalp and hair is to stay in the shade away from reflective surfaces like sand, water, and cement but what fun is that? The second-best option is to wear a hat. There are a lot of fun hats out there and you can find one to go with pretty much any outfit. Coolibar has some great hats that are all rated UPF 50 (Ultraviolet Protection Factor).
If you don’t want to wear a hat then you can always apply sunscreen directly to your scalp. This is where the spray sunscreens come in handy. Trader Joe’s has an inexpensive spray sunscreen that was highly-rated by Consumer Reports. Dr. Cynthia Bailey offers a mineral spray sunscreen with micro-sized zinc particles so it’s not so white.
It’s a good idea to use sunscreen for your hair, whatever that looks like. Although there isn’t a product out there that will effectively provide UV protection for your hair, there is always hope. Advancements happen every day. So, until that day arrives protect your strands with a spray like any of the ones listed above, wear a hat, and seek shade when you can.