How to Protect Your Hair from the Sun

Girl walking in the park on a sunny day
Image credit by Nenetus at DigitalPhotosNet

Human hair is very susceptible to damage that occurs with 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 long periods of sun exposure than healthy hair. Sun damage can be especially 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 immobilizing UV-induced free radicals. However, after long periods of sun exposure, the melanin granules are bleached and degraded.

How Does the Sun Damage Your Hair?

Girl walking with her dog in a park

The main unwanted effects of prolonged sun exposure on your hair include dryness, weakened protein structure, and color fading.

Dryness: Harmful sun rays destroy the protective coating of natural oils, making the hair dull, dry, and rough. Sun-induced damage is most intense on the cuticle layer, which receives the highest intensity of harmful solar radiation. A damaged cuticle loses its ability to keep moisture in.

The weakening of the hair’s protein structure: Lifted cuticles lead to increased porosity, splitting of the ends, and brittleness. A damaged cuticle cannot protect the inner part of the hair shaft from the penetration of harmful sun rays. Sun radiation penetrates the cortex, causing loss of moisture and reduced hair elasticity. The outcome is weakened protein bonds and increased likelihood of hair breakage.

Color fading: A smooth hair cuticle reflects light and prevents UV rays from penetrating the pigment-containing inner cortex. A damaged cuticle cannot block UV rays from breaking down pigments in the hair cortex, giving the hair a bleached appearance.

Solar exposure reduces the color vibrancy of dyed hair as well as virgin hair. Gray hair is even more susceptive to damage when exposed to sunlight because it lacks the protective pigment melanin.

How to Avoid Sun Damage to Hair

  1. 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.
  2. When you spend a lot of time outside in the sun, wear protective styles such as braids to reduce the exposure of your hair to UV rays.
  3. After each swim, use fresh water to remove the salt or chlorine from your hair.
  4. Use SLS-free, color-safe shampoo and conditioner.
  5. When styling your locks, use as little heat as possible to avoid further damage.
  6. To restore the moisture and keep your hair more resilient to sun damage, apply a moisture-rich, deep-conditioning treatment at least once a week.
  7. Use natural oils such as coconut, castor, or olive oil to provide natural and gentle protection for your locks during shorter periods in the sun. You can also purchase sun protection spray for hair made from solar protective oils with SPF 18.
  8. 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 between color sessions.

Sunscreens for Hair

Girl using the hat to protect the hair in the sun

UV-absorbing filters or sunscreens are included in hair care products formulated to counteract the harmful effects of the sun’s rays on hair structure and to protect hair pigments from fading.

To shield your locks from sun damage, many companies offer complete product lines with sunscreens in their formulation, including shampoos, rinse-off conditioners, masks, leave-in conditioners, and hairsprays. These products contain UVA/UVB filters and 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 regularly throughout the day.

To give your hair the best sun protection and help it retain moisture, use leave-in conditioning products with UV filters. Paul Mitchell Color Protect Locking Spray is advertised to protect your locks, prevent color fading, and enhance shine when you are out in the sun.

If you are going to swim, it is a good idea to use water-resistant sunscreen that remains effective during swimming or sweating. 

Scalp Sunscreens

Your scalp is quite sensitive when exposed to the sun. 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

After-Sun Shampoos

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 products 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.

Medical Disclaimer

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