Human hair is very susceptible to damage from long-term sun exposure. If your hair is dry, fine, dyed, or previously damaged by chemical treatments, it is more likely to be negatively affected by sun exposure than healthy hair. The damage is more intense when the hair is repeatedly soaked in salt water and dried in the sun.
The melanin pigment located in the cortex acts as a sunscreen that protects the hair by capturing and disabling UV-induced free radicals. However, after long periods of sun exposure, the melanin granules are eventually bleached and degraded.
How Does the Sun Damage Your Hair?
The main unwanted effects of prolonged sun exposure on your hair include dryness, weakened structure, and color fading.
Dryness: Harmful sun rays destroy the protective coating of natural oils, making the hair look dull, dry, and porous. Sun-induced damage is particularly evident on the surface layer, which receives the highest intensity of harmful UV radiation. Damaged cuticles lose their ability to keep moisture inside the hair which results in excessive dryness.
The weakened hair’s protein structure: Lifted cuticles lead to increased porosity, splitting, and brittleness. A damaged cuticle cannot protect the inner part of the hair shaft from external damage. Sun radiation penetrates the cortex, causing weakened protein bonds and reduced hair elasticity. The outcome is increased likelihood of hair breakage.
Color fading: Healthy hair cuticles reflect light and prevent UV rays from penetrating the pigment-containing inner cortex. A damaged cuticle cannot block UV rays from breaking down pigments in the hair cortex. That is how sun rays can cause color fading and give your hair a bleached appearance.
Sun exposure reduces the color vibrancy of dyed hair as well as virgin hair. Gray hair is even more susceptible to damage when exposed to sunlight because it lacks the protective pigment melanin.
How to Avoid Sun Damage to your Hair
- Avoid exposing your hair to intense UV light. The sunlight is the strongest between 11 AM and 3 PM. When you’re going to spend the day outside, shield your hair and scalp from the sun by wearing a sun hat or a scarf. A quality sun hat creates shade to provide UV protection, but it still allows the hair and scalp pores to breathe.
- When you spend a lot of time in the sun, wear protective styles such as braids to reduce the exposure of your hair to UV rays.
- After each swim, use fresh water to remove the salt or chlorine from your hair.
- Use sulfate-free color-safe shampoo and conditioner.
- When styling your locks, use the lowest heat settings to avoid further damage.
- To restore the moisture levels and keep your hair more resilient to sun damage, apply a deep-conditioning treatment at least once a week.
- Use natural oils such as coconut, castor, or olive oil to provide gentle protection to your locks during periods in the sun. You can also purchase sun protection spray for hair made from solar protective oils with SPF 18.
- Avoid coloring your hair just before going on a summer holiday because this will make your hair more susceptible to sun damage and will shorten the time before the next color appointment.
Sunscreens for Hair
UV-absorbing filters or sunscreens are included in hair care products to counteract the harmful effects of the sun’s rays on hair structure and to protect color pigments from fading.
To shield hair from sun damage, many companies offer complete product lines with sunscreens in their formulation. Their shampoos, rinse-off conditioners, masks, leave-in conditioners, and hairsprays contain UVA/UVB filters to provide a high level of sun protection.
To get the full protection from a sunblock, use a wide-toothed comb to distribute the product evenly throughout your hair. You also need to re-apply the sunscreen to your hair regularly throughout the day.
Leave-in conditioning products with UV filters give your hair good sun protection and help it retain moisture. Paul Mitchell Color Protect Locking Spray is advertised to protect your locks from damage, prevent color fading, and enhance shine when you are out in the sun.
If you are going to swim, it is advisable to use water-resistant sunscreen that remains effective during swimming or sweating.
Your scalp is quite sensitive to sun rays. Lack of protection from excessive sun exposure can cause dryness and sunburns. Make sure to apply a sunscreen spray to the sun-exposed areas of your scalp to prevent sunburns.
After-Sun Hair Care
Special after-sun shampoos are designed to wash the hair after long sun exposure. These shampoos help to counteract the drying effects of the sun, replenish lost moisture, and wash out salt and sunscreen residue from your hair.
Some of the most popular brands include Redken Color Extend After Sun Shampoo, Kerastase Soleil Bain Apres Soleil After Sun Shampoo, and Bed Head Tigi Totally Beachin’ After Sun Shampoo.
After-Sun Hair Sprays
After Sun Sprays are formulated to provide moisture, condition hair, and soothe your scalp after a long day in the sun. These sprays temporarily repair split ends, protect against breakage, and make your hair soft, shiny, and manageable.
After-Sun Hair Mask
These rejuvenating hair masks moisturize and repair sun-exposed hair, fight against free radical’ damage, and help restore weakened and dull hair.
Postpone Your Color Appointment
To refresh your hair color after summer holidays, apply a hair gloss/glaze treatment. This treatment will impart shine and restore the tone of your original color until the next regular coloring service.