Most Of Your Skin Aging Will Happen In This One Area & It’s Often Overlooked

Upgrade your sun protection, pronto.

by Natasha Marsh
Originally Published: 
scalp SPF
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In order to avoid things like sun spots, skin cancer, and premature aging, sun protection practices should be embedded into your daily routine. Any dermatologist will tell you that they are crucial to protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet A and B rays, whether you are going outside or not. But are you aware that scalp SPF is also a must (and often overlooked)? “All horizontal body surfaces (perpendicular to the rays of the sun) receive a particularly strong dose of sun exposure, and scalps are a very common site of sunburn, sun damage, and sun-related skin cancers,” says Dr. Hadley King, NYC-based dermatologist.

The scalp is just as susceptible to the sun's rays as any other area of the body, and unfortunately, because this area is often neglected, sunburns can be even worse or go undetected — making them more susceptible to skin conditions down the line. So which sunscreen works best to protect the scalp? Does it matter if it’s a chemical or physical blocker? Are there any ingredients to look out for? And how often should SPF be applied to the scalp? For expert insight, TZR reached out to five board-certified dermatologists for the full breakdown.

Ahead, they are dishing on the importance of scalp SPF care and their favorite sunscreens to match.

Edward Berthelot / Contributor

How Does The Sun Affect The Scalp?

Yes, your hair can provide coverage to protect your scalp, especially if it’s thick, but other parts of your exposed scalp (like the hairline and part) are at an increased risk for sun exposure, and therefore damage. If you have thin hair, that skin is even more vulnerable. “Individuals with fine hair or baldness on the scalp are especially prone to sunburns, sun damage, pre-cancers and skin cancer,” Dr. Hope Mitchell, board-certified dermatologist, tells TZR.

Unfortunately, sun exposure can also damage the hair’s cuticle (the outer layer), leading to brittle and dry strands. Essentially, UV damage on the scalp can lead to inflammation that could ultimately disrupt the hair cycle (the pattern for hair growth and regeneration). If the hair cycle becomes interrupted, the growth phase could be shortened and your hair might appear more sparse. Not to mention, hair that doesn’t grow optimally could also lose its natural curl pattern, appear dryer, or have trouble holding color.

How To Select The Right SPF For Your Scalp

Although the experts warn against lotion SPF (due to the expected residue), in theory, you could use the same sunscreen on your body on your scalp. But, in general, there are spray or mousse sunscreen options, (which have the easiest application) and sunscreen powders, (which work to soak up grease and won’t cause unwanted buildup), that are generally bettered suited for your scalp. Powders are a popular option, although according to Dr. Karan Lal, board-certified dermatologist, they “absorb some oils and moisture from your scalp which is an added bonus, but they are also subject to come off more easily, making them less effective.” Most mousse formulas contain chemical sunscreen ingredients (which don’t leave a white cast), while many powders contain mineral options like zinc and/or titanium dioxide.

Dr. King recommends powder or spray formulas for anyone with plenty of hair on their head as they can reach your scalp fairly easily in between your hairs (some gentle massaging can help). With any SPF you’re using near your hair, pay attention to the formula as some alcohols can be drying for your hair. The expert goes on to say that if you can wash your hair (and the added SPF) after wearing it for an extended period of time, this can help protect the health of your hair.

Between the options, Dr. Suneel Chilukuri, cosmetic and dermatologic surgeon of Refresh Dermatology Houston, recommends looking for a sunscreen that has physical agents like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to not only protect against ultraviolet light, but visible light (which penetrates deeper into the skin to cause damage), as well.

Regardless of which option you choose, Dr. Marisa Garshick, ​​board-certified dermatologist of MDCS Dermatology, encourages using SPF 30 or higher with broad spectrum coverage to adequately protect the scalp against UVA and UVB rays. “It is important to remember that the amount of SPF protection relies on how much product is applied so, if using a powder or spray, it is important to apply enough of the powder or spray to get the amount of protection labeled,” she adds.

The experts all stress the importance of applying a sufficient amount to achieve the advertised SPF, reapplying every two hours, and pairing it with a wide-brimmed hat for extra coverage and benefits. “Remember that like any sunscreen, you should apply it at least 15 minutes before exposure and reapply every two hours if possible,” Dr. Chilukuri tells TZR.

How To Apply SPF To Your Scalp

Once you’ve selected the right mode of SPF for your scalp (spray, mouse, or powder), a good rule of thumb for application is to, “Focus on the hair part exposed, as well as the hairline and then continue parting the hairline to cover the scalp,” says Natalie Aguilar, dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician. If you’re using a spray sunscreen, Dr. Mitchell encourages you to spray the product eight inches away from the scalp, evenly targeting the areas with less hair. Next, rub the product into the scalp and wait 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure.

For powder sunscreen, whether applied with a pump or brush, the expert suggests holding the tube adjacent to your skin and using your fingertips to spread the powder on the exposed scalp, holding the bottle adjacent to the scalp. Whatever you use, don’t forget to reapply!

Ready to incorporate scalp sunscreen into your sun care routine? Check out a few of the experts’ favorites below.

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