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How to Treat a Sunburn on Your Scalp

Picture this: You're at the beach. The salty breeze is blowing through your hair, and the sun is shining on your face. You applied sunscreen throughout the day like a boss, except for one missed spot: the scalp. Ouch! Here's how to treat a sunburn on your scalp. Plus: Advice from the pros so you avoid making the mistake twice.

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We've all been trained to slather sunscreen on our face and body, yet we overlook our hair and scalp. But it's important to think of your scalp, because, hey, it's skin too. And easing a scalp burn can be more difficult than you think. Here's how to treat a sunburn on your scalp.

Don't Let It Get To Your Head
It's important to find a way to protect your scalp from the sun's harsh rays. There are several options available, such as covering your scalp with a hat, trying a new hairstyle, and using sunscreen products. Wear a cute hat that won't cramp your summer style by shopping some of our favorite floppy hats. Pulling your hair into a ponytail or updo can protect the scalp as long as there is no clear part. This will prevent the scalp from being burned, but it won't protect against damage to the hair. The sun will create dry, brittle, and frizzy strands not to mention breakage. Dr. Robert Dorin, NYC hair specialist and restoration expert, recommends applying a sunblock of SPF 50 or sprays that contain UV protection to the hair. We suggest Aveda's Sun Protective Hair Veil. It's a water-resistant mist that forms a screen to protect hair from sun damage.

Recognizing a Sunburned Scalp
Much like a sunburn on any other part of your body, the first sign of a sunburn is redness. In just 2 to 6 hours after sun exposure, the scalp might itch, sting, or flake. With severe burns, fever or chills may also occur.

Risky Business
There are more risks with sunburned scalps than just angry red skin. Sunburns can increase risks of skin cancer. Other risks include skin growths, suppression of the immune system, premature aging, and hair loss. You can prevent all these scenarios by wearing UV-protectant products on your skin, face, and hair when in direct sun exposure.

So Your Scalp Is Red
While avoiding a sunburned scalp is always your best option, Dorin knows how to treat a sunburn. He recommends using a gentler shampoo that is sulfate-free with cool water, followed by a natural conditioner that contains 18-MEA and not dimethicone. Avoid using your hair dryer or heating tools until the scalp has healed and blot, don't rub, with a soft towel. You can also apply aloe vera to soothe and moisturize the burnt areas and take ibuprofen to ease pain. Several brands offer after-sun hair products that can restore moisture and strengthen damaged locks.

It doesn't matter whether you prefer a hat, a new style, or protectant sprays, the important thing is to protect your scalp—and the rest of your skin—from getting sunburned this summer.

Shannon Bauer

Shannon Bauer is a fashion and beauty writer and editorial intern at She just graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor's degree in Creative Apparel Design and is still learning how to be an "adult". Shannon is a mascara hoarder and lipstick enthusiast.

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