Sunscreen for your face and body is a “no-brainer,” but what about actually using it on the top of your head? Dr. Christine Shaver explains why it is important to remember your scalp when it comes to sun protection.
Why is it important to wear SPF on the scalp?
Dr. Shaver: The scalp’s skin needs to be protected just like the skin on the rest of your face and body, and hair is not always adequate in protecting it from the sun’s harmful rays. The less hair someone has on their scalp, the more likely UV rays will reach the skin and cause harmful damage leading to skin cancer and the signs of aging, such as uneven color and texture that will make a person look older than they actually are.
How likely is your scalp going to get sunburned compared to the rest of your body?
Dr. Shaver: The scalp may be more sensitive to the damaging rays of the sun compared to other parts of the body for two reasons: 1) the scalp is more perpendicular to the rays of the sun during normal upright activities and 2) the scalp may have been protected from the sun through dense hair, wigs, and other continuous head coverings and thus is paler and more susceptible to UV exposure and burns.
What are the chances of you getting skin cancer on your scalp compared to getting it on the rest of your body?
Dr. Shaver: Most skin cancers diagnosed at dermatology offices are on the head and neck. Furthermore, many skin cancers on the scalp are not easily seen because hair needs to be carefully moved aside to examine the skin of the scalp effectively. Since hair often hides the ability of many people to clearly see their scalp and monitor for new moles or scabbing areas, sometimes skin cancers that appear on the scalp can go unnoticed for an extended period. This means changing lesions may be diagnosed later when they are more advanced and possibly more dangerous and difficult to treat. You should use the help of your dermatologist to carefully examine and monitor for any changing spots on your scalp since it can be quite difficult to do on your own.
What are your tips for applying sunscreen to the scalp?
Dr. Shaver: Regular sunscreens in cream form can be quite messy to use on the scalp. Luckily, there are other forms of scalp sunscreens available that be applied easily and effectively. Many of my patients like powder sunscreens which can be dusted on and do not make the hair texture oily or wet; however, they are generally not as effective as other forms. Another popular alternative is scalp sprays, and these are quite effective as long as the spray reaches the scalp and there is an even application. While ideally the whole scalp should be covered, the most important areas to focus on are those with the least amount of hair coverage, for example, the hairline, along the part, or the crown (back of the head).
Just like other sunscreens, scalp sunscreens that contain minerals such as zinc and titanium offer more protection against the sun than invisible sunscreens. So, if the white look of titanium dioxide is not a cosmetic problem, this form would be ideal. If someone does not want to apply sunscreen, or forgets to apply it, then wear a wide-brimmed hat. Of course, you can always do both! Finally, sunscreens will wear off, so they should be re-applied every 2-3 hours and more frequently if swimming.
Updated: 2023-08-18 | Published: 2023-05-22