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Yes, you need to put sunscreen on your scalp — a dermatologist explains why

Don't forget to protect this area before enjoying the sun.
Kara Birnbaum / 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?

“Approximately 95 percent 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 percent 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 Dr. Young. "Patients should undergo annual skin cancer screenings and make sure their dermatologist checks their scalp and behind their ears.”

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. “Apply it generously to areas where your hair tends to be thinner, like your part,” notes Dr. 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.”

Sunscreens for your scalp

Sun Bum Scalp & Hair Mist SPF 30

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

This SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen is said to be formulated with over 70 percent 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

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.

Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Powder Sunscreen Brush

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.

Coppertone Pure & Simple Sunscreen Spray

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.

Colorescience Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50

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.

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

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.

Alba Botanica Hawaiian Sunscreen SPF 50

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.

Supergoop Play Body Mousse SPF 50

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.

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