IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Believe it or not, your scalp needs sunscreen too! Derms share why, plus products to shop

Don't forget to protect this area before enjoying the sun.
Vivian Le / TODAY

When was the last time you put sunscreen on your scalp? While it may not be the sunny season just yet, it's still an important beauty practice.

For some, skipping this part of their sun care routine can result in skin cancer, as it did for a senior director at a major digital advertising company, Amy Junger. Not applying sun protection to two small bald spots led to sunburns when exposed to the harsh sun rays. “The skin on my scalp burns easily,” she admits. “And it’s a painful burn that peels and looks horrible, like dandruff.”

Junger has had multiple skin cancers removed on her shoulders, back and nose, yet still doesn’t apply sunscreen on her scalp. “I know I should, and my dermatologist tells me at every six-month checkup that I should, but I haven’t found any product that has wowed me enough to use regularly.”

Why does your scalp need sunscreen? | How to put sunscreen on your scalp | Sunscreens for your scalp | How we chose | Meet the experts

Shop TODAY Snapshot

Best sunscreens for your scalp

Why does your scalp need sunscreen?

“Approximately 95% of people neglect to apply sunscreen to their scalps,” shares Dr. Alexis Young, a dermatologist with Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. “The scalp is either an afterthought or patients think sunscreen is too messy to apply in that area. But 5% of melanomas, along with other skin cancers, occur on the scalp, oftentimes hidden by our hair. And when diagnosed, many are at an aggressive stage.”

Since the scalp, ears and face receive the most long-term sun exposure throughout the day, it's crucial to keep these areas in check to lower your risk of skin cancer. "What’s upsetting to me is when a patient tells me that I’m the first dermatologist to check his/her scalp, and this happens not infrequently," says Young. "Patients should undergo annual skin cancer screenings and make sure their dermatologist checks their scalp and behind their ears.”

"Sunscreen on your scalp can be extra necessary on your part or parts of your scalp where there is thinner hair or balding," explains Dr. Jeannette Graf, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

"Specifically the scalp can be extra susceptible to sun damage because it is the highest point on our bodies and directly facing upward towards the sun," shares Graf.

How to put sunscreen on your scalp

Beyond regular visits with a dermatologist, you should also incorporate some protection in your hair routine before leaving the house. You should use a scalp sunscreen that contains a minimum of SPF 30 and includes some type of physical blocker like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

“Once you’ve selected the right mode of SPF for your scalp (spray or brush on sunscreen powder is the easiest but lotion can also be applied), focus equally on the hair part exposed and the hairline,” recommends Dr. Alan J. Bauman, MD, the CEO, founder and medical director of Bauman Medical Hair Transplant & Hair Loss Treatment Center.

“Apply it generously to areas where your hair tends to be thinner, like your part,” notes Young. “It’s a matter of personal preference whether you opt for a spray, powder or mousse application, but keep in mind oil-free versions will help prevent breakouts on the scalp and water-resistant products won’t run into your eyes.”

"For powder sunscreen, whether applied with a pump or brush, hold the tube adjacent to your skin and use your fingertips to spread the powder on the exposed scalp, holding the bottle adjacent to the scalp," explains Bauman. "Whatever form you use, treat your scalp akin to your skin and reapply often."

Sunscreens for your scalp

Coppertone Pure & Simple Sunscreen Spray

What we like
  • Good for sensitive skin
  • Absorbs easily
Something to note
  • May be greasy

Size: 5.0 fl oz. | Notable ingredients: Zinc oxide

This naturally sourced zinc oxide-based mineral spray includes nourishing botanical extracts, UVA and UVB protection and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, the brand says. Its hypoallergenic formula is created with tea leaf, giant kelp and sacred lotus extracts and is said to be free of PABA, parabens, phthalates, dyes, alcohol, fragrances and sulfates.

Alba Botanica Hawaiian Sunscreen SPF 50

What we like
  • Pleasant smell
  • Easy to apply
  • Great quality
Something to note
  • May be hard to spray

Size: 5.0 fl oz | Notable ingredients: Aloe vera, safflower oil, avocado oil

Alba Botanica’s lightweight, quick-dry, air-powered sunscreen mist can be applied at any angle and won’t make hair greasy. Its clear broad-spectrum formula also features moisturizing coconut and shea butter and an SPF of 50.

Sun Bum Scalp & Hair Mist SPF 30

What we like
  • Helps protect scalp
  • Pleasant smell
  • Good for fair skin
Something to note
  • May leave residue

Size: 3.2 fl oz | Notable ingredients: Sunflower seed oil

With its unique pump, this SPF 30 sunscreen spray is said to deliver a lightweight mist that will protect your scalp without weighing your hair down. The tropical-smelling coconut scent should also make the application more enjoyable.

Coola Scalp & Hair Mist Organic Sunscreen SPF 30

What we like
  • Nice smell
  • Helps protect your hair
Something to note
  • May make hair greasy

Size: 2.0 fl oz | Notable ingredients: Octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate

"This is a good option because it has a pump specifically designed to target areas on the scalp like the part and also protects hair color from fading," Graf says.

"This is a great sunscreen for my scalp! I have hormonal hair thinning and don’t always want to wear a hat. This goes on very evenly and gives all day protection. It doesn’t leave my hair feeling sticky, stiff, or greasy," raved one five-star reviewer on Ulta's website.

Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Powder Sunscreen Brush

What we like
  • Tropical scent
  • Lightweight
Something to note
  • May leave white cast

Size: 0.15 fl oz | Notable ingredients: Zinc oxide

Another powder option, this brush-on sunscreen from Hawaiian Tropic can be applied everywhere from your scalp to your face. The mineral-based formula is said to go on translucent and absorb excess oils for a matte finish.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Milk Sunscreen for Face & Body SPF 100

What we like
  • Easily absorbs into skin
  • Very hydrating
Something to note
  • May be greasy

Size: 3.0 fl oz | Notable ingredients: Glycerin, vitamin E, vitamin B5

La Roche-Posay says its broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen has an SPF of 100, is water-resistant for 80 minutes and is oxybenzone and octinoxate-free. The formula also contains hydrating vitamin B5 and anti-aging antioxidants such as senna alata, a tropical leaf extract that is said to prevent free radical damage caused by the sun. The brand also says that the cream blends in easily and won’t leave behind a white residue on your scalp.

Coola Scalp & Hair Mist Organic Sunscreen SPF 30

What we like
  • Nice smell
  • Goes on evenly
Something to note
  • May dry out hair

Size: 2.0 fl oz | Notable ingredients: Octocrylene, Monoi oil and gotu kola extract

This SPF-30 broad-spectrum sunscreen is said to be formulated with over 70% certified organic ingredients, including monoi oil to help nourish the scalp. It also has an ocean scent, is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and is lightweight. so it won’t leave your hair looking greasy, the brand says.

Supergoop Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35

What we like
  • Blends easily into scalp
  • Gives hair added volume
Something to note
  • Pricey

Size: 0.71 fl oz | Notable ingredients: Zinc oxide

This sunscreen is designed to provide broad-spectrum SPF in a non-greasy, virtually undetectable powder form that feels similar to a dry shampoo, but has the added benefit of UV protection.

Supergoop Play Body Mousse SPF 50

What we like
  • Easy to apply
  • Very moisturizing
Something to note
  • Mixed reviews on the texture 

Size: 7.1 fl oz | Notable ingredients: Blue sea kale, coconut oil, olive fruit extract

Foams tend to be easier to apply to the scalp — this one is lightweight, water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, contains an SPF of 50 and includes anti-agers like blue sea kale and moisturizers such as shea butter.

Colorescience Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50

What we like
  • Easy to apply
  • Fits easily in purse
Something to note
  • Brush may clog easily

Shades: Four | Notable ingredients: Iron oxide, hyaluronic acid

This oil-free powder has an all-mineral formula that protects against UVA/UVB, pollution, blue (HEV) light and infrared radiation for up to 80 minutes without leaving any sticky residue, according to the brand. The portable brush also makes it easy to apply while you're on the move.

How we chose the best scalp sunscreens

The Shop TODAY team rounded up the best sunscreens for your scalp by enlisting the recommendations and research of three board-certified dermatologists. We also conducted general market research by filtering our searches for top-rated products and combed through hundreds of verified shopper reviews.

Meet the experts