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Derm Diaries: Do I Need SPF for My Scalp in the Fall?

Cool weather may not mean less need for UV protection.
August 31, 2022

Applying SPF as the last part of your skin care routine is probably a no-brainer for most at this point — we drill in the point every time we discuss
morning skin regimens. We also consistently stress the fact that scalp care is skin care, so if logic follows, wouldn’t that also mean that we should be putting SPF on our scalps?

It’s a question you may have found yourself asking this past summer if you’ve indulged in a trendy buzz cut or shaved your head, exposing your scalp to more sun than ever before. The good news is, you don't have to play the guessing game. Dr. Erin Gilbert, NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and L’Oréal Paris consultant, weighed in on this subject to break down what you need to know about SPF for the scalp, including how to use it and what to look for in your scalp sunscreen.

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Does the Scalp Need SPF?

Like with many things in beauty, the answer is yes — your scalp needs SPF, but the need is subjective. Sunscreen protection for the scalp, as Gilbert explains, depends on how much scalp skin you have exposed. 

“Men with male pattern balding or shaved scalps definitely need to apply an SPF of 30 or greater to their scalps every four to six hours when exposed to the sun,” she says. “Some women suffer from alopecia, either from hormonal or genetic causes, or from chemotherapy, and in these cases they should also be applying SPF. Average scalp hair density tends to provide a good amount of UV protection. That can decrease slightly when swimming, since wet hair can reveal areas of lower hair fullness.”

She also notes that it’s possible to develop skin cancer on your scalp, so your dermatologist should be performing a thorough scalp exam as part of your annual skin check

How Do You SPF Your Scalp?

There is an enormous array of sunscreens available for the scalp and hair, per Gilbert. She explains that this is a relatively new phenomenon, and “a huge advantage texturally and practically,” because it allows you to avoid applying a sticky, greasy sunscreen meant for body onto the scalp.

Editor’s tip: If you do have a bald head and have yet to invest in an SPF product specifically for the scalp, a sunscreen spray or SPF facial mist can be a great substitute. After you apply your L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Triple Power Day Lotion SPF 30 to your face, spritz your scalp and ears with a light mist sunscreen. That way, if you get any on your forehead you can just rub it in and walk confidently knowing your entire visage is protected.

What Sunscreen Is Good for Your Scalp?

“When selecting a sunscreen of any type I always opt for reef safe products,” Gilbert explains. “Mineral sunscreens — which these all are — keep you away from the chemical sunscreens (oxybenzone, avobenzone) that many people can’t tolerate if they have extremely sensitive skin like me. They’re also critical for preserving our microclimate since 90 percent of the earth is made of water, not to mention so are our bodies.” 

“My top scalp sunscreens are functional, reef safe (mineral), non-greasy and cost effective,” she  continues. “[I have a few favorites that] brush on as an easy to apply, matte powder, prevent hair part burns and protect against dandruff, are super portable and can be used on ears and anywhere else you need a little extra protection.”

Gilbert also advises that stick sunscreens tend to stay put better than loose powders (they may also be easier for reapplying while you’re on the go and can’t spill in your bag).

What Are Other Ways to Protect the Scalp from Sun Exposure?

While it may seem like a simple solution, just staying out of the sun is pretty impossible. But Gilbert says there are other ways to keep the sun’s rays from damaging your scalp when you skip sunscreen.

“Sun avoidance, a.k.a. a great hat, is always the best way to go,” she says. “Some bucket hats come with chin ties — this is an option when you need scalp protection for an ocean dip.”

Of course, in the fall and winter you won’t be swimming outdoors and will likely be wearing cozy hats to trap heat, so the need for scalp sunscreen won’t be there. Just remember to have some on hand anytime you’re heading somewhere warm where your scalp will be exposed to the sun, and check your skin often for new moles and changes — literally from head to toe. 

Next: How to Tell What Your Scalp Needs, According to a Dermatologist

Written by: Shalwah Evans, Photo Design: Crystal Simone

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