I'll be real with you: Up until veryyy recently, I didn't care about my hair. I'm more of a skincare and makeup gal, so styling, treating, and protecting my hair has never really been on my agenda. That said, when I made the impulse decision to dye my dark-brown hair a super-pretty shade of honey blonde this summer, my motherly instincts kicked in. I worry about my hair constantly (like, is it getting enough moisture? Does it need a break from my flat iron? Should it be covered by a hat at all times?!) and my carefree ways have officially become a thing of the past.
So when I was slathering sunscreen all over my body at the beach last week, I felt a genuine wave of panic when I realized I didn't have anything to protect my hair. What would happen to my dye job? Does hair sunscreen even exist? Needless to say, I spent the better half of my beach day hiding under an umbrella, Googling what to do with my hair. Spoiler alert: I discovered hair and scalp sunscreens are very much a thing—and they can make the difference between excellent and, uh, very not excellent hair.
What Is Hair Sunscreen?
I mean, it's pretty self-explanatory, but for the people in the back: Hair sunscreens are SPF-based products that protect your strands and scalp from UV rays, which, believe it or not, can be just as dangerous to your head as to the rest of your body.
If your scalp is exposed in direct sunlight, for example, you're opening the door for sun damage (read: severe burning and even melanoma). "The scariest thing about getting sunburned on your scalp is that it's not an area you can see easily, so it might be difficult to catch developing moles or potential melanoma," says trichologist Dominic Burg, chief scientist at Evolis Professional, adding that scalp burns are so common, he often sees them on patients in the middle of winter.
Obviously, your hair strands have zero risk of developing cancer, since they're already dead, but they're still not BFFs with the sun. "Sun exposure can actually strip your hair color and destroy your hair-pigment molecules, purely through the radiation damage caused by UV rays," says Burg. And, if that didn't suck enough, those UV rays can make even the most moisturized of strands dry, brittle, and dull. So, uh, yeah, you really do need hair sunscreen if you're planning to venture outside...ever.
Do They Actually Do Anything?
Though every formula is different, most reputable hair sunscreens are considered an effective, safe way to shield your scalp and hair from UV rays. "Generally, SPF hair protectors contain similar ingredients to what you'd use on your skin," says Burg. "They contain specific molecules that either reflect UV light or absorb it, preventing it from reaching your hair and skin and damaging it." But unlike the creams and lotions you use on your body, hair sunscreens come in spray and powder formulas that absorb into your hair and scalp super easily. Kinda sounds like an easy win, right?
Yeah, But Do They Feel Gross?
For the sake of ~research~, I played around with two hair sunscreens to get an idea of how they feel. First up was Supergoop's Poof 100% Mineral Part and Scalp Powder SPF 45, a super-fine powder that feels a bit like dry shampoo. Know that this formula is powdery, and it looks pure white when you dump it on your head, but once you gently massage it in with your fingertips, it's totally unnoticeable (unless you make the mistake of wearing a black t-shirt while you're applying it, like I did). I wore this formula for an entire day outside (adding a bit more every couple of hours or so) and it was so comfortably nonexistent that I forgot it was on. And, thanks to the oil-absorbing silica in the formula, my hair felt genuinely cleaner, not greasier.
To really experience the full range of hair sunscreen, I then tried the Coola Organic Scalp and Hair Mist SPF 30—a lightweight mist spiked with monoi oil, gotu kola extract, and pro-vitamin B5, all of which work together to hydrate and soothe your hair and scalp. Even though I wasn't crazy about the scent (it came off a little medicinal to me), I liked how silky it made my hair feel when I sprayed it on.
A lotttt of product comes out in one spritz, so you really only need a couple sprays to cover your head. It does leave your hair feeling a little wet (but definitely not sticky) for the 5-10 minutes it takes to fully dry, but that honestly worked great with the slicked-back bun I usually wear to work.
If I had to choose between the two, I would probably go with a spray formula. Powders might be too messy for on-the-go application (but they'd be a total no-brainer for a pool or beach day, especially when you want more protection), while spray formulas seem easier for quick touchups and all-day wear. Try 'em for yourself, though, and feel free to @ me.
The Final Word on Hair Sunscreens
Honestly, I expected to find out that hair sunscreens are a big ol' marketing ploy, but after talking to Burg and testing them out, I feel guilty for not wearing one every day. Considering how easy they are to apply, and how they literally don't mess with your hair at all, it feels silly that I'm not actively preventing hair damage and scalp cancer. And really, there's no excuse not to treat your hair and scalp with the same attention you give the rest of your body, right? Right. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.