Ever thought you thoroughly applied sunscreen to your whole body, only to find out a few hours later that your scalp is red, angry, and burnt to a crisp? Yeah, we’ve been there too. Unfortunately, a sunburned scalp is bound to happen every once in a while, but that doesn’t mean you need to suffer through the pain once it happens.
There are plenty of ways to ease the pain at home, but it’s important to keep in mind that if the irritation and burning don’t subside within seven to 10 days after the burn, or if you notice blisters that lead to open sores or yellow crusting, it may be time to see a dermatologist to prescribe topical steroids or antibiotics, according to Dr. Corey L. Hartman, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.
And if you’ve ever needed an excuse to finally start experimenting with all the adorable summer hats that have been filling your feed, this is the perfect time to do so. Your outfit—and your super sensitive scalp skin—will look and feel so much better.
Below, we’ve asked a dermatologist and a trichologist for their best tips on ways to treat, soothe, and prevent a sunburned scalp. Fun in the sun just got a lot safer.
How to treat a sunburned scalp.
Dealing with a sunburned scalp can be rough times, for sure. Not only do you have to continue to wash and care for your hair, but you have to do it all with an inflamed base, too. “Be sure to turn down the temperature of the shower and use cool or lukewarm water, as hot water only worsens the inflammation,” explains Dr. Hartman. “Stay away from styles that involve heat from flatirons and blow dryers, and use cold compresses to ease the discomfort.”
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Whether it’s a cold compress, an ice pack, or a refrigerated towel, applying anything cooling to the sunburn will help. “I suggest immediately applying cold-pressed essential oils like mint, eucalyptus, echinacea, or an aloe vera gel directly to the scalp,” explains Bridgette Hill, a certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis.
Skip shampooing for 24 hours post-scalp burn and opt for shampoos that are soothing to the scalp. “Avoid sulfates and dimethicone, which can increase irritation and trap heat, worsening damage,” explains Dr. Hartman. If you’d rather avoid shampoo altogether, you can use a soothing scalp rinse like witch hazel or rose water, and make sure you keep conditioners and styling products off the scalp until redness and discomfort subside, suggests Hill.
Although you should try to avoid heat styling, Hill recommends using the Dyson Supersonic hairdryer gentle air attachment with the cool setting when hair styling is unavoidable while the scalp is healing.
Once the sun damage has taken place, Dr. Hartman recommends trying the Oars & Alps After Sun Cooling Spray. “This innovative product contains aloe vera, niacinamide, and kukui oil, which is native to Hawaii and has been used by the locals for centuries,” explains Dr. Hartman. “This spray helps to cool, soothe, and repair sun damaged skin in a non-greasy base.”
Hill recommends using the Grow Gorgeous Sensitive Ceramide Rich Hair and Scalp Mask on a sunburned scalp. “This overnight serum reduces the appearance of redness and soothes with moisture,” she says. “I like that it is fragrance-free and is oat lipid-based, which helps to heal the skin’s barrier function.” Additionally, Hill loves the Design Essentials Peppermint & Aloe Soothing Scalp Tonic, which combines the soothing, calming benefits of aloe with the cooling sensation of peppermint, and can be used as a leave-in or as a pre-shampoo scalp treatment.
How to prevent a sunburned scalp.
Want to avoid the above-mentioned sunburned scalp treatment altogether? Prevention is key. “If your hair is thin, be sure to apply a broad-spectrum SPF that works well for the way that you style your hair,” explains Dr. Hartman. “Consider a spray sunscreen as a base or as an adjunct, and don’t forget to apply extra to the part or any areas that have experienced thinning. Of course, a wide-brimmed hat is always the best way to protect the head and neck, so find a style that works for you and rock it!”
While you should always be wearing sunscreen on your entire body during any type of sun exposure, Dr. Hartman suggests also taking a supplement with polypodium leucotomos in it, like Heliocare Skin Care Dietary Supplement or ISDIN Sunisdin Daily Antioxidant Supplement. “The ISDIN Sunisdin supplement has over 100 clinical trials to support its efficacy and has been shown to decrease the effect of prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light by preventing cellular damage while stimulating the production of new skin proteins through its antioxidant activity,” explains Dr. Hartman.
When heading to the beach, pool, or anywhere under the sun, make sure you have products that can be applied to your scalp for sunburn prevention. The Supergoop! Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35 PA+++ is one of Hill’s favorites. “I love the ease of application (like a dry shampoo), allowing for ease of use for optimal coverage and aesthetically adds texture to a beach bun or braid,” she says.
Dr. Hartman recommends COOLA Scalp & Hair Mist Organic Sunscreen SPF 30 because it’s a vegan formulation that won’t affect the texture of your hair or interfere with your style, and also helps to fight frizz.
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