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Sunburn on Scalp: How to Soothe and Prevent It

BY Felicia Ler

Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended as medical advice. For any medical concerns, always contact your doctor.

Summer is synonymous with three things: sun, sand, and surf. But if you aren’t careful, summer can also stand for sunburn on scalp — ouch!

That’s because the scalp is probably one of the top forgotten areas when it comes to sun protection. While your hair may protect most of your scalp from harmful ultraviolet (UV) light, there are parts of it that remain unprotected, namely the hairline and part line. Also, those dealing with hair loss are even more vulnerable to the dangers of scalp sunburn.

If you’re currently struggling with sunburn on the scalp, this guide’s for you. Ahead, you’ll learn how to spot the warning signs of a burned scalp, top tips for soothing it, and how to prevent it from rearing its ugly head again.

How to Tell if You’re Dealing With Sunburn on Scalp

It’s easy to determine whether or not your scalp is sunburned. Just as you would notice sunburned skin on other areas of your body, a sunburned scalp typically features:

  • A warm and/or itchy sensation
  • Redness
  • Tenderness
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Blisters

In more serious cases, you may also experience headaches, nausea, and fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately.

5 Ways to Soothe a Sunburn on Scalp

It goes without saying that a red scalp doesn’t need any more sun exposure. What it really needs is some tender loving care (TLC) for a full recovery. Here are five ways to help relieve sunburn on the scalp, from home remedies to soothing hair products. (Hello, Function of Beauty!)

1. Cool Down the Affected Area

The first step to soothing your sunburned scalp is to cool it down. Take a shower and let the cool water gently rain down on the affected area. Avoid freezing cold water and hot water, as either one may be too harsh. Once you’ve stepped out of the shower, continue soothing your scalp burn with a cold compress as often as you need to.

2. Gently Exfoliate the Scalp

Because the flakes on your scalp aren’t due to dandruff, a dandruff shampoo won’t do much good here. Instead, you’ll need a shampoo that can exfoliate the peeling, sunburnt skin.

For instance, with Function of Beauty’s shampoo, you can add the “soothe scalp” hair goal to your next shipment. What’s more, our haircare range is free of scalp-irritating ingredients like sulfates and parabens (just check out our “No” list). Simply put, it’s the TLC your scalp needs in a bottle.

3. Moisturize With Topical Products

Once you’ve cleared out the scalp debris, it’s time to stay on top of your hydration game. In other words, apply a lightweight, moisturizing lotion on the sunburned areas (read: the hairline and part line). But, which scalp-soothing topical products should you use?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 0.5-1% hydrocortisone cream is usually available over the counter (OTC) for tackling sunburn on the scalp. However, you shouldn’t use it for more than a week without consulting a board-certified dermatologist first.

Alternatively, you can use 100% pure aloe vera gel to soothe and cool your sunburn. This natural moisturizer is also lightweight and oil-free, which means lower odds of greasy-looking tresses. Plus, you can use it however often your dry scalp needs moisture.

4. Resist Picking Flaky Skin

It can be incredibly tempting to peel off the flaky bits of skin or pop blisters on a sunburned scalp. But doing so will only worsen the state of your sunburnt skin. Trust us, you don’t want to take one step forward, two steps back in your healing journey. Resist picking at your scalp — no matter how much you want to.

5. Skip the Hot Tools (For Now)

Right now, your scorched head needs a break from hot styling tools like blow dryers and curling irons. That’s because the hot air from these tools won’t do your scalp any favors. Instead, they are more likely to aggravate the sunburnt skin and prolong your recovery.

While you wait for your scalp to recover, air-dry your hair in the meantime. To speed up the hair-drying process, you can towel-dry your hair first. Take extra care not to tug on your strands to avoid irritating your already tender scalp.

How to Avoid Sunburn on Scalp in the First Place

Rather than go through the agony of a sun-wrecked scalp again, take steps to avoid the harmful UV rays, which can heighten the chances of skin cancer. Here’s how to enjoy summer sans sunburn on scalp.

Apply SPF 30 (or Higher)

Wait, what, scalp sunscreen is actually a thing? Yes, very much so.

But you should know that using regular sunblock on your head is probably not a good idea. Just picture your roots in an overly white, greasy mess — the horror! Instead, look toward sunscreens that are specifically designed for your scalp. They usually take the form of light-as-air mists, sprays, and powders to minimize flat hair and oily roots.

For the ultimate UV protection, choose a broad-spectrum sunblock that protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. You’ll also want to make sure it’s at least SPF 30.

Use Sun-Protective Headwear

If you aren’t keen on SPF near your roots, the next best thing you can do to prevent sunburn on scalp is to don sun-protective headwear — think floppy hats and wide-brimmed bucket hats. Not only do these accessories make a fashion statement, but they also act as a physical defense against UV rays. And if you pair them with sunscreen, you definitely don’t have to worry about a burnt scalp.

To get the most out of your headwear, check if it comes with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) label. The Skin Cancer Foundation explains that UPF shows “how much UV radiation (both UVB and UVA) a fabric allows to reach your skin.” 

A good rule of thumb is UPF 30 to 50+ for adequate sun protection. In which case, check out this list of UPF hats for warm, sunny days.

Nix Sunburn on Scalp for Good This Summer

As you can see, summer need not be wasted on scalp sunburn. With the proper prevention measures in place (cue the scalp sunscreen), you don’t even have to worry about sun damage on your head.

If your scalp has already had too much UV ray exposure, the above list of soothing treatments can help restore it to its former glory. Start with cooling down your scalp and abiding by healthy haircare practices, like not peeling sunburnt skin or using hot styling tools.

Last but not least, try moisturizing haircare products as part of your haircare routine to dial down the dryness and flakes.