Just when I thought I'd seen the light, joined the sun safety band wagon, and have all my years of sun soaking be forgiven, it only took one trip to very-sunny Portugal to realize… my scalp needs sunscreen BAD.
Up until my recent discovery of scalp exfoliation and scalp massages (shout out more volume and cleaner roots) I've neglected the delicate scalp skin that makes up my mane. So when I stepped out with freshly washed hair with a UV index of 9 my scalp sunburned quick.
Now, with a flaking scalp that looks a lot like dandruff and pain anytime I want to ponytail, I'm scouring the internet to both treat and prevent a scalp sunburn from ever happening again.
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Prevent a Scalp Sunburn
Although your hair helps protect you from a scalp sunburn, having any part of your scalp skin exposed to UV rays will induce that sinking feeling of I think I'm getting a sunburn. Full coverage like hats and scarves are your number one defense against a sunburned scalp, but otherwise, these preventative steps are pretty great too.
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As we've all gotten a bit better with sun care, so have formulations. You can find SPF specifically made for scalps and for ends of your hair. Yes, unless your ends are covered, hair can get a sunburn too (think dry, brittle, and crispy strands).
While I could slowly feel my scalp getting more tender, all I could think about was the small strip of hair that was desperately missing the same protection I gave the rest of my skin. Some amazing ones that aren't too greasy for roots are:
Gone are the days of plain old goopy, white cast sunscreens. Now, these perfect-for-touch up formulations are easy to carry on the go and provide sun protection directly onto your scalp. If you have oily hair, powder SPFs are also great as they'll provide a physical barrier to the sun while not adding unnecessary oils.
One thing to note with powder sunscreens is that they're amazing for touch ups, but shouldn't be your main line of defense against the sun. I'll agree that something is better than nothing and I wish I had even had a powder applied to my burning scalp, but be sure to apply ample amounts as their protective strength is lower than traditional creams.
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Don't Wash Your Hair
Make your vacation that much easier: don't wash your hair. Scalp sebum–the natural oil created on your scalp–is your friend and it's there to protect your scalp from burning! My recent scalp sunburn was caused by over-washing and stripping my scalp of this precious oil.
Long story short, I forgot dry shampoo so I washed my hair two days in a row (the flight made my hair just a little too oily for a hair down day) and when I went outside with already-too-clean hair there was no oil to protect it.
This is also why hairdressers stress that you come in with dirty hair if you're getting a bleach root touch up–those oils save you from a burning and itchy scalp!
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Wear a Protective Hairstyle
If you don't want to wear a hat or scarf AND you forgot to buy scalp sunscreen, wearing your hair up will do a lot to prevent a sunburned scalp. Just brush back the top of your hair into a ponytail, bun, or half-up-half-down, ensuring there's no part or scalp skin exposed.
This will physically protect and shade your scalp from seeing the sun and you don't have to get into hats if that's not your thang.
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Treat a Scalp SunburnSo, you didn't follow any preventative measures and now we're both dealing with tender scalps, dry strands, and praying it doesn't start flaking. These following treatments have been my saviour for many scalp sunburns of yesteryear and I'm even reporting live with a castor oil scalp mask now.
Castor Oil Mask
Is there anything castor oil can't do? The answer is probably no. Everyone at Sitting Pretty already loves it for how it's helped moisturize and help our hair grow, but castor oil's soothing effects on burnt skin might be my new favourite benefit.
Give yourself a scalp massage with castor oil by warming up a large dollop in your hand and massaging into your most burnt areas. I found lightly pouring directly onto my scalp where it was burnt the most helped too!
If you find castor oil a bit too thick or you don't have it on hand, these other oils are also great at deeply moisturizing tender skin:
- Coconut oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Olive oil
- Apricot oil
- Jojoba oil
Cold Green Tea Rinse
Green tea is another great hero ingredient for skin that's seeking relief from a burn. Green tea contains natural anti-inflammatory properties along with antioxidants that can fast track healing and general soothing relief. The caffeine and antioxidants increase blood flow and oxygen to the area which helps turn cells over faster which is why it's used in plenty of hair growth hacks too.
This cold rinse is a great option to work in between oil masks and massages. To do it, simply brew a pot of organic green tea (1-2 bags is enough). Let it brew for 10 minutes, remove the bags, and let it cool in the fridge until fully cold.
Then after a shower with a gentle shampoo and conditioner, run the green tea rinse through your hair focusing on your scalp. No need to rinse out; let hair dry as usual!
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Well, of course. A sunburn remedy as old as time, aloe vera gel is still an amazing option for scalp sunburns too. It's anti-inflammatory, helps retain important moisture, and feels sooo cool on hot sunburnt skin.
If you have access to an aloe vera plant, I suggest cutting a leaf and applying it directly to your hairline for direct access to all that goodness. You can also get hair serums and sprays with aloe vera in them like Ceremonia's Oil Mist Con Aloe Vera that has other oils like chia seed to help soothe and add shine to hair all over.
But all in all, any aloe vera gel is great as long as it isn't full of fragrance, green dyes, or other unnecessary ingredients that may inhibit healing or comfort.
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