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What Is Scalp Sunscreen? | Our No-B.S. Take

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Growing up, you probably had someone insist that you couldn’t go out in the sun without sunscreen. But what they didn’t tell you was that your scalp needed it as much as the rest of your skin.

But what is scalp sunscreen, and do you need it? We’ll show you the answers to this (and more) in our overly-detailed guide below.

What Is Scalp Sunscreen?

Scalp sunscreen, as the name suggests, is a sunscreen designed to protect your scalp. It protects the skin on your head from skin cancers and other uncomfortable conditions like dryness. 

Although some of these conditions lead to itchy, flaky skin and even the occasional blister, they are demonstrably different from dandruff.

You probably think that if you have a good head of hair, you don’t need to worry. Surely, your hair is adequate protection from the sun, right? Not to mention, applying scalp sunscreen to a full head of hair sounds messy.

It’s true. People with baldness are indeed more vulnerable to scalp sunburns than others. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear scalp sunscreen.

Who Needs It?

Admittedly, if you have a full head of hair, you have less to do when it comes to sun protection for your scalp. But the minute you decide to part or style your hair, you expose parts of the scalp to UV rays.

That’s what scalp sunscreen is for. It’s an extra layer of protection from the sun that minimizes your chances of developing skin cancer. 

That said, it’s not just bald people who need scalp sunscreen. It’s also essential for people with thin or thinning hair, bald spots, or shaved heads. Additionally, scalp sunscreen is beneficial for anyone with a part in their hair.

Why Wear Scalp Sunscreen? 

Scalp sunscreen may still sound like a lot of extra work when you pack for a beach holiday. Is it worth buying and applying? Scalp sunscreen can prevent the following conditions:

Sunburn 

One of the best arguments for wearing scalp sunscreen is that, even with hair, the scalp is extremely prone to burningIt’s the highest part of the body. That means it burns faster than the rest of your body.

This is especially true if you aren’t taking the same precautions with it that you are with your limbs, neck, and ears. Uncomfortable as a sunburn on the top of your head sounds, it’s not the only thing you have to worry about.  

Melanomas 

There’s a lot of talk about how treatable skin cancers are. Even if you get them, they are manageable with a quick trip to the doctor. First, this oversimplifies skin cancer to a disconcerting degree, considering the skin is the largest organ in the body

Even if it didn’t, this isn’t true of scalp-based melanomas. They are demonstrably more lethal than other melanomas. Worse, because your hair covers them, you may take longer to notice them than you would an atypical new mole on your arm. 

Can You Wear a Hat Instead?

Woman wearing a hat and smiling and wondering what is scalp sunscreen

Pavel_dp/Shutterstock

So, that answers ‘What is scalp sunscreen,’ and who needs to wear it? The next natural question is can you wear a hat instead? After all, if scalp sunscreen protects your scalp from UV rays, isn’t a hat as effective, if not more so? 

And yes, you could forgo scalp sunscreen and don a hat. But it’s important to remember not all hats are created equal. The argument for wearing a summer hat is that it:

  • Offers shade
  • Covers your head 
  • Protects you from UV rays 
  • Keeps you cool 

All well and good. But it only works if the hat is porous. In other words, for a summer hat to be effective, it must be breathable, letting air pass through it. If it isn’t, it traps body heat that would otherwise escape and can raise your temperature. 

They also need a wide enough brim to keep the sun off your face and the back of your neck. Wide-brimmed women’s straw hats are an excellent example. The brim is several inches wide and extends in all directions. Additionally, the straw is lightweight.

But you see how this quickly becomes complicated. As much coverage as a favorite baseball cap offers, if you want to protect the back of your neck, you still need to slap on sunscreen. It’s starting to sound easier to keep a tube of scalp sunscreen handy, too, isn’t it? 

What to Look for in Scalp Sunscreen 

If you decide to eschew hats and go bare-headed, then scalp sunscreen is your best bet for protecting your scalp. You don’t necessarily need to buy a specialty product.

Provided it has an SPF higher than 30, there’s no reason you can’t use the same sunscreen for your scalp you use to protect the rest of your body. However, these can be greasy and impractical – especially if you have thick hair. 

If that’s the case, you probably do want to consider scalp-specific sunscreen. You still need an SPF of 30+. SPF designation aside, whether you choose applicator sticks or spray is a matter of taste.

It also depends on whether your hair is treated, dyed, or styled a particular way. So, pay attention to the descriptors on scalp sunscreen labels as well as their SPF designation and ingredients. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Photo of a woman spraying scalp sunscreen on her hair in a swimsuit at a lake's beach

Triocean/Shutterstock

Still unconvinced about what scalp suncreen is? Here are some other common questions people ask. 

Can I use regular sunscreen on my scalp?

Yes. Many people who ask ‘What is scalp sunscreen’ are surprised to learn they can use regular sunscreen to protect their head, as long as it’s an appropriate strength. Because standard sunscreen can be greasy, spray-on sunscreens or applicator sunscreen sticks work most effectively for treating your hairline and part.

Can sunscreen damage my hair?

Yes. UV rays are powerful and can damage any cell or organism with prolonged exposure. You may notice your hair lightens in the summer as a matter of course. That’s the result of spending time in the sun. More extreme UV damage includes premature greying, hair thinning, and split ends.

Is hair sunscreen necessary?

Like scalp sunscreen, hair sunscreen is necessary if you want to protect your hair from the side effects of prolonged UV exposure. But unlike skin cells, hair cells are dead, and the damage will be mostly cosmetic. That said, for healthier hair, treating it with hair sunscreen is always a good idea.

What sunscreen can I use on my scalp?

Provided it has an SPF of 30 or higher, any sunscreen can protect your scalp. The reason most people choose to use scalp sunscreen is that it’s less greasy, and in some cases, takes into consideration hair treatments like dye, henna, or styling chemicals.

How do you apply sunscreen to your scalp?

If you aren’t bald, the most effective way to apply sunscreen to your scalp is to rub it into your hairline where it meets your forehead. If you part your hair, also apply it to the part line. Remember that this can be tricky, much like doing your back. You may find it easier to co-opt a friend or family member to do the job for you.

Our Top Pick
COOLA Organic Scalp Spray & Hair Sunscreen Mist
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We may earn a commission when you click this link, at no extra cost to you.

So, What Is Scalp Sunscreen & Do You Need It?

In many ways, the answer to ‘What is scalp sunscreen’ is what it says on the tin. It’s sunscreen for your scalp that happens to consider styling products you applied to your hair before heading to the beach.

More importantly, it will protect your scalp from various sun-induced conditions. So what are you waiting for — get some today! Your scalp and your hair will thank you.