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When was the last time you put sunscreen on your scalp?
As a senior director at a major digital advertising company, Amy Junger inherited a lot of good traits from her mother including her love of baking and sports. But there’s one thing that’s been passed on to Amy that she’s not too fond of — two small bald spots on both sides of her head.
“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.”
“Approximately 95% of people neglect to apply sunscreen to their scalps,” shares Dr. Alexis Young, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. “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," said Dr. Young. "Patients should undergo annual skin cancer screenings and make sure their dermatologist checks their scalp and behind their ears.”
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 include 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.”
Best sunscreens for your scalp
This SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen is 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.
This sunscreen provides 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.
With its unique pump, this SPF 30 sunscreen spray delivers a lightweight mist that will protect your scalp without weighing your hair down. Sun Bum's tropical-smelling coconut scent also makes application enjoyable.
This naturally sourced zinc oxide-based mineral spray includes nourishing botanical extracts, UVA and UVB protection and is water-resistant up to 80 minutes. Its hypoallergenic formula is created with tea leaf, giant kelp and sacred lotus extracts and is free of PABA, parabens, phthalates, dyes, alcohol, fragrances and sulfates.
This oil-free powder has an all-mineral formula that provides protection against UVA/UVB, pollution, blue (HEV) light and infrared radiation for up to 80 minutes without leaving any sticky residue. The portable brush also makes it easy to apply while you're on the move.
La Roche-Posay's 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 prevents free radical damage caused by the sun. The cream blends in easily and won’t leave behind a white residue on your scalp.
This EltaMD sunscreen's 360-degree fine mist application allows you to see where you’ve applied the sunscreen on your scalp and dries down to a clear finish, leaving zero residue.
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.
This SPF 50 sheer mist won’t leave behind any visible residue on your scalp or hair and sprays in all directions, allowing for optimal coverage. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and contains xylitol to strengthen the skin’s barrier on your scalp.
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.
For more stories like this, check out:
- Protect your skin this summer with these dermatologist-approved sunscreens
- This K-beauty sunscreen sold out in a week — and now I get the hype
- Is a mineral sunscreen right for you? We asked dermatologists what to look for