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8 products to protect your hair from harmful UV rays

Soaking up the sun can have a detrimental effect on your locks.
Woman tosing her hair outdoors
Carol Yepes / Getty Images

The time has officially come for long days spent at the beach and, more specifically, in the sun. Most people immediately worry about protecting their skin and stock up on sunscreen during the summer, but there's another part of the body that is often overlooked: your hair!

We've seen more scalp sunscreens on the market recently, but what happens to your precious locks when you spend a lot of time underneath the sun's beaming UV rays? We asked two trichologists — specialists in hair and scalp care treatments — about what happens to hair when exposed to extended UV radiation, what to do to minimize damage and how to reverse the sun's negative effects.

How does UV radiation affect your hair?

Eva Proudman, chair of the Institute of Trichologists, and Jennifer McCowan, owner and founder of Hope Hair Recovery, echoed similar sentiments about the damage that UV radiation can do to your hair.

”It weakens the hair fibers so that it makes your hair quite brittle, dry and uncolored,” McCowan said on a phone call with Shop TODAY. “Sort of like if you were to leave furniture out in front of a window and the sun beats down on it. It breaks down the fibers. It breaks down the colors. [UV radiation] does the exact same thing to your hair.”

UV radiation also impacts the overall strength of your hair, giving it both a rough texture and lackluster appearance, Proudman explained in an email.

One of the long-term effects of UV radiation on hair is a loss of keratin, according to Proudman. Keratin is a major component of hair, so the loss of it can cause hair fibers to become thinner and weaker, resulting in more regular snapping and breaking, she told us.

Your long-term scalp health is also affected by regular exposure to UV radiation, McCowan said. “With enough burning, you can actually damage the [hair] follicles, so that’s why it’s important to keep your hair covered from the sun,” she said. “Your hair will always grow back and that fiber will replace itself, but the damage done to the scalp from a burn can be irreparable and it can cause things like skin cancer and create a very sensitive scalp.”

How can you minimize the effects of UV radiation exposure on your hair?

While the easiest way to minimize UV radiation exposure on your hair is to wear a hat, there are also many products out there that can be used to protect your hair from harmful rays.

Proudman’s pro tip: Minimize your hair’s exposure to sea and pool water. Elements like chlorine and salt water leave your locks vulnerable to summer stressors like sun exposure, which could alter your hair proteins as a result. If your hair does get wet, make sure to wash it clean as soon as possible.

McCowan’s pro tip: Look for hair products with built-in SPF. “I recommend that for all of my patients. It protects the scalp [and] it protects the hair,” she said.

Aveda Nutriplenish Multi-Use Hair Oil

Proudman recommends this hair oil from Aveda that contains five essential oils: sunflower seed, avocado, jojoba, safflower and coconut. It can be used in multiple ways for your summer beauty routine, ranging from pre-shampoos to overnight and leave-in treatments.

Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil

Proudman also recommends this invisible oil from Bumble and Bumble. Aside from the UV filter it provides, the oil also touts several additional benefits like softening and shining hair, detangling and protecting against breakage.

Rene Furterer Solaire Protective Summer Oil

McCowan is a huge fan of this protective summer oil from Rene Furterer's Solaire line. Made with sesame oil to act as a natural UV filter and castor oil to add shine, this product was also designed to help prevent salt and chlorine from lingering on your hair, according to the brand's website.

Rene Furterer Solaire Intense Nourishing Repair Mask

McCowan recommends following up the summer protective hair oil with this nourishing repair mask from the Solaire line. You can use the mask after showering to provide hair with additional protection. In a satisfaction study for the product, 96% of participants said they felt their hair was deeply repaired and renewed while feeling softer and less dry after using the mask.

How can you reserve the effects of UV exposure on your hair?

If you're already experiencing the effects of UV radiation on your hair, don't fret! Depending on how much damage there is, the effects can be reversed with the right products.

"Using a good conditioner to both hydrate and moisturize your hair will help, [as will] keeping it out of the sun and making sure you don’t add too much chemical processing or direct heat until your hair has had a chance to recover," Proudman told us. She recommends looking out for products with ingredients like coconut oil, glycerine and avocado oil because they are good for adding moisture and hydration to the hair.

"It is always best to protect and avoid damage, but if you are not able to, then looking after the hair with a good hair care regime is essential," she said.

Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair! Super Moisture Conditioner

Try this sulfate-, silicone- and paraben-free conditioner to give your hair the moisture it needs after being exposed to UV radiation. It is designed to strengthen damaged hair and prevent future breakage with ingredients like argan oil, coconut oil and shea butter.

Moroccanoil Hydrating Conditioner

Made with argan oil, vitamins A and E and red algae, this hydrating conditioner is designed to nourish all hair types. It boasts a 4.9-star rating on the brand's website and reviewers can't get enough. "So thankful for this product. It’s brought my hair back to life," one reviewer wrote.

Rene Furterer Absolue Keratine Repairing Beauty Cream

McCowan recommends the Absolue line from Rene Furterer if you're trying to reverse the effects of UV radiation on hair. "Hands down, my favorite go-to line for damaged hair," she said.

Once you've conditioned your hair with a hydrating conditioner, lock in additional hydration and moisture with this leave-in cream. 92% of participants in a consumer test said they felt their hair was repaired after one month of use.

Kerastase Crème UV Sublime Hair Cream

Aside from nourishing hair, this cream touts benefits like controlling frizz, preventing breakage and providing sun protection. It's a great option whether you're trying to minimize the effect of UV radiation or repair your hair after the fact!

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