DOES YOUR HAIR NEED SUNBLOCK?
How to protect your locks and scalp from damaging UV rays.
High-end SPF products and sweat-proof sunblocks are a mandatory part of any outdoor workout routine. But with exposed skin, comes exposed hair and scalp. Here, what athletes need to know to keep both healthy and in peak condition.
Maintain dyed or highlighted locks
“Your hair needs sunscreen if it is color-treated,” says Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., a dermatologist in West Islip, New York. “UV rays will make highlights more coppery and fade color just like if you had fabric in the sun. In a sense, UV rays act as a bleaching agent.”
To prevent this, mix a little SPF in your conditioner bottle, says Michelle Lee, co-founder and manager of Salon Eva Michelle in Boston. And don't rinse it out completely (so that it’s slippery but not soapy, something she recommends doing after every wash regardless of sun exposure).
Keep hair moisturized and shiny
“Long days in the sun can also dry out your hair and can make it brittle [whether it's colored or not],” says Lee. She suggests clients use Sebastian Professional Dark Oil, which offers UV protection, natural shine, and maintains body and hydration. Kerastase Soleil Huile Lactee moisturizing and protective spray by L’Oreal is another option, says Mariwalla. Spritz either of these in your hair after a dip in the ocean or pool.
Protect your scalp
“Hair itself is made up of a protein called keratin and not live skin cells. Therefore, the hair is not at risk for skin cancer,” says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. But the scalp is an area often skipped when applying SPF. “While skin cancer on the scalp is not as common as other areas, the diagnosis is often delayed; it’s not an area that can be easily seen and it is often covered with hair,” says Kanchanapoomi Levin. Furthermore, she says, melanomas on the scalp are associated with poorer outcomes in terms of survival and a disease-free state. Take a study of over 50,000 people with skin cancer: Only six percent of people had skin cancer on their scalps and necks, but they accounted for 10 percent of all melanoma death cases.
To stay safe, seek out sunscreens made specifically for the scalp. “I recommend a lighter spray formula or a mineral sunscreen powder to avoid oily residue,” says Kanchanapoomi Levin. “Make sure to apply at the roots and spread it generously over the entire scalp and ears. You want to lightly rub the product into the scalp rather than getting it into the hair.” Colorescience Sunforgettable brush-on sunscreen with SPF 50, EltaMD UV Aero, Elta MD UV Spray SPF 46, or La Roche Posay Anthelios XL SPF 50+ Nutritive Oil Comfort are all good options.
Even better, though, is a hat: “A hat offers the best protection against skin cancer on the scalp because we either do not apply enough sunscreen or it doesn’t last because we are sweating.” Companies such as Coolibar and The North Face offer fitness hats with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) 50+. “A UPF label means how much of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is absorbed by the fabric,” explains Kanchanapoomi Levin. “A UPF of 50 allows 1/50th of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation to reach the skin, which means any clothing or hat with UPF 50 allows less than two percent of UV transmission to come through.” Lastly, consider changing your part often so that one area of the scalp is not always exposed, she adds.