The only surefire method for avoiding a scalp sunburn? Stay indoors. That’s not exactly the most fun option for the summer, though, so if you’re planning on enjoying yourself in direct sunlight anytime soon, you have two real options: hats and SPF. I’ll leave the headwear advice to our style crew, but I’ve got plenty of advice on proper SPF for your dome. If you have a bald head, you’ve got it a little easier in this regard—all you have to do is slather on some head sunscreen. But for those among us with some hair—maybe it’s thinning or just buzzed short—that’s a trickier situation. You are in dire need of a sun-blocking scalp solution, but one that won’t cake in your hair.
Let’s back up: It’s imperative to prevent your scalp from burning and peeling. For one, it’s a real headache having a fried scalp, not to mention the week’s aftermath of peeling cornflake-sized moltings from your head, oftentimes with the hairs still stuck inside them. Secondly, while a scalp burn won’t necessarily damage your hair follicles in the long term or exacerbate hair loss, if you do go bald one day, you’re in for a much less smooth and presentable scalp. And lastly, nobody wants skin cancer.
Here are the best summer scalp products to add to your arsenal this summer—particularly if you have thinning or short hair. And remember the rules of SPF: Always use SPF 30 or higher (or SPF 50+ for especially fair skin). Reapply every two hours, as well as after swimming or sweating.
1. Sunscreen Powder
Powder sunscreens are grossly under-appreciated. They are mineral-based sunscreens, utilizing zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to deflect UV rays and prevent them from even entering the skin. (Mineral SPFs are a big plus for anyone trying to avoid chemical sunscreens.) They’re a terrific option for people who need to apply sunscreen down hair parts, on top of cowlicks and bald spots, or in between thinning strands or just short centimeter-long hairs that stand upright and leave some skin exposed. Powders are also ideal for sensitive skin, which is basically all scalps. And they wear light, so you won’t feel too weighed down or clogged up.
To apply it properly, keep the cap on the product, turn it upside down, and tap down to release the powder into the brush. When you see that an ample amount has been dispensed, brush that amount into your scalp. Now, do it a second time—two passes over each spot. If you go for a dip or start sweating a lot, it will be hard to reapply the powder near any wet hair, of course. So you either need to let your hair and head dry entirely (under an umbrella), or consider the additional options in this list. (Or just keep the hat on for the rest of the day.) Powder sunscreens also make a terrific foundational layer (and topmost setting layer) for makeup or concealer.
2. Sunscreen Mist
A scalp-targeting mist has a long snout extending from its bottle, which helps you get between your hairs and target the scalp itself with any SPF product. This is a simple solution for anyone who doesn’t want to apply a big sweeping coat of spray overtop the hair, but who needs scalp protection nevertheless. That makes mists ideal for longer, fine or thinning hair, or for spot-checks (like along the hair part).
The Best SPF Mist for Scalps
3. Sunscreen Spray
A face-friendly SPF spray is a perfectly fine option for the scalp, in particular for anyone with fades or buzz cuts. It will coat the hairs with a little bit of sunscreen, so you might get some extra shine up top. The main note here is to make sure you aren’t using a spray that’s designated for the body. As long as it’s been formulated for the face, it probably lacks comedogenic (pore clogging) or fragrant ingredients that could irritate the delicate skin above your shoulders.
The Best SPF Spray for Scalps
4. Sunscreen Sticks
SPF sticks are terrific for rolling across large bald spots, broad parts, low fades, and any hairline recession. They’re even decent lip protectors, too, if you don’t otherwise have SPF lip balm at the ready. Just be sure to rub in the product after it’s applied, and stick with an invisible option if you’re targeting the scalp, so as to not paint your hairs. Tinted options are fantastic for the face itself, and are a great daily facial SPF option for anyone who wants to even out their complexion.
The Best SPF Stick for Scalps
5. Post-Sun Recovery Treatment
Even if you keep your scalp properly protected all day, it still takes a beating from constant UV exposure, sweat, and the sun’s heat. (Not to mention, even the best SPF can’t thwart 100% of UV rays.) So once you’re back indoors, it’s prime time to introduce a scalp mask or recovery treatment—ideally one with aloe and other soothing ingredients like chamomile. And if your scalp is straight-up burnt, then find some aloe gel, slather it on, and let it peel and heal before targeting it with a mask.
The Best Recovery Treatment for Scalps