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    Looking after your scalp in the sun

    On this page
    1. Why is scalp care important?
    2. Sun protection for hair and scalp
    3. How to treat sunburn on scalp
    4. Hair and sun damage
    5. How to protect hair from sun damage
    6. Burning scalp and hair loss
    7. Sun exposure and skin cancer
    8. Skin cancer on bald head
    9. Get help with hair loss from Online Doctor
    10. Conclusion

    Reviewed by our clinical team

    As we get older, it’s perfectly normal for our hair to thin. For some people – men in particular – hair loss begins at a younger age, and results in baldness across the top of the head. This is known as male pattern baldness, and it’s thought to affect about 50% of all men over the age of 50.

    Losing your hair in this way is nothing to worry about from a health perspective, but it can certainly cause confidence issues. Another aspect of hair loss considered less often is the potential for the sun to damage the scalp.

    In this article we’ll look at how to look after your scalp in the sun if you’re experiencing hair loss.  

    Man in trilby hat in the sunshine

    Why is scalp care important?

    Your scalp plays a role in keeping hair healthy. Scalp care is essential for healthy hair to grow. Studies have shown that premature hair loss could be caused by poor scalp health. Conditions like dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis can damage hair.

    You can take care of your scalp by:

    • Washing your hair regularly
    • Using gentle hair care products
    • Making sure to fully wash out shampoo and conditioner
    • Avoiding tight hair styles
    • Gently brushing your hair
    • Avoiding heat styling product
    • Eat a healthy diet 

    Sun protection for hair and scalp

    If you’re bald or you have significantly thinning hair, it’s really important to make sure you protect your head on sunny days.

    Over the course of the day, the skin on your scalp is going to be exposed to direct sunlight more than any other part of your body. Because you can’t see the top of your head – and because you’re less likely to touch it throughout the day – you may not realise that it’s getting burned until it’s too late.

    The sun can affect your scalp in a few ways, it can cause: 

    • harmless "age spots" which look a bit like large brown freckles
    • sun or liver spots (known as "actinic keratoses"). Unfortunately
    • skin cancer

    Which is why it's important to protect it. 

    To avoid sunburn on your head, remember the following:

    • Avoid direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm)
    • When you’re in direct sunlight, wear a hat – preferably one with a wide brim that shades your face and neck. 
    • Put plenty of sunscreen onto any areas of skin that will be exposed to sun – if you plan on taking your hat off, make sure you’ve put sunscreen across all bald areas, as well as your ears, forehead, and neck
    • Reapply sunscreen regularly, especially if you’re going in the water and wetting your head

    The NHS recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and a star rating of at least four. This will ensure that you’re protected from both UVA and UVB rays.

    The standard amount of sunscreen to use if you’re covering your face, neck, and arms is two teaspoons – however you might need more if you’re bald and applying it all over the top of your head.

    How to treat sunburn on scalp

    Sunburn on the scalp should be treated in the same way as sunburn on any other area of the body.

    1. The first thing to do is get out of the sun.
    2. Then, gently cool the skin on your scalp by sponging it with water.
    3. After this you can pat the skin dry and apply some after sun or a moisturiser containing aloe vera.
    4. If you’re experiencing any discomfort or pain, try taking paracetamol or ibuprofen.

    And remember: try to stay out of the sun until the redness has faded.

    How to treat sunburn on scalp

    Hair and sun damage

    When you’re out in the sun it’s a good idea to take care of your hair. The hair on our head can be damaged by intense sunlight – and it’s particularly vulnerable if it’s finer and lighter in colour.

    Sun-damaged hair might be:

    • Discoloured
    • Frizzy
    • Thin
    • Dry
    • Brittle
    • Broken or have split ends  

    How to protect hair from sun damage

    Follow our simple tips to avoid damaging your hair in the sun. You could try: 

    • Avoiding direct sunlight in the hottest part of the day
    • Going out early or later in the day
    • Wearing a hat
    • Wrapping your hair in a scarf
    • Using an umbrella
    • Using hair products with SPF
    • Wearing your hair up 

    Burning scalp and hair loss

    Sunburn on your scalp won’t cause hair loss. As the skin peels you may lose some hairs, but these should grow back. You might find your scalp is itchy - try not to scratch your sunburn. 

    Hair loss can be caused by other scalp conditions like psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis.

    Sun exposure and skin cancer

    Getting sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer. Too much sun exposure, especially UV radiation, can damage the DNA of skin cells, causing skin cancer. This is why it’s important to protect yourself and your scalp during the summer and sunny days. It’s also why avoiding sunburns is a good idea too.  

    Skin cancer on bald head

    People who are bald or who have shaved heads are more likely to develop certain types of skin cancer, which is why it’s so important to take good care of your scalp.

    This is especially the case if your hair loss is fairly recent, or if you’ve only recently decided to shave your head. There may be a period where you have to adjust to taking care of your scalp, simply because it’s a new habit!

    The most common types of skin cancer on the scalp are:

    • basal cell carcinoma (BCC) 
    • squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

    These cancers don't look like the dark or brown spots we all know to look out for; they tend to look like a sore that's not healing or keeps crusting over. They are often confused with an insect bite or cut or graze. If you have a sore on your head that's simply "not healing", please get this checked out.

    If you notice any new moles, or changes to existing ones, ask your doctor if this could be a melanoma, particularly if the colour or shape is irregular.

    Get help with hair loss from Online Doctor

    If you’re a man experiencing male pattern baldness, and you’d like to try treatment, take a look at our online service.

    If suitable, we can prescribe: 


    Looking after your scalp is also a great way to take care of your hair. Although sun exposure can’t cause hair loss, if you’re experiencing hair loss it’s even more important to protect your hair while in the sun. Simple things like wearing a hat, using SPF and finding shade can all help save your scalp from sunburn.  


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