Dermatologists and skincare experts consistently emphasise the importance of sunscreen, and as a result, we have become more diligent in applying it to our faces. However, the question arises: what about our scalps?
Though it may appear unusual to apply sunscreen to our scalps, it’s essential to recognise that the scalp is also skin. Therefore, it’s equally susceptible to sunburns and other UV-related damage, making it deserving of sun protection like the rest of our body.
To delve further into the severity of this issue, we sought insights from Dr. Rachael Teo, a Singaporean dermatologist from Gleneagles Hospital. Here’s what we discovered!
What makes our scalps vulnerable to sun damage?
The fact of the matter is this: any exposed area on our skin can become sunburnt.
This means that areas on our head where we may have less dense hair, the back of our necks and scalp, as well as our hairlines are all particularly prone to UV damage.
“UV rays can cause damage to the skin on our scalp the same way it damages the skin on our face, and this is especially so for those who are bald or have thinning hair,” Dr. Teo explained.
Moreover, if you tend to part your hair at a certain position everyday, the skin there is also more vulnerable due to frequent exposure to the sun.
Certain medical conditions may make the situation worse
Scalp sunburns have been found to be more common amongst people with autoimmune diseases such as lupus, and those who are taking medications such as antibiotics or blood pressure management drugs.
Regardless of whether these apply to you, though, it’s important to protect our scalps from the sun when you’re living in sunny Malaysia.
What could happen if we don’t protect our hair and scalps from the sun?
If we don’t protect our scalps on sweltering days where we’re exposed to strong sunlight for lengthy periods, we may end up with red, sore, or peeling skin.
In the long term, the situation may be more dire. “Excessive UV damage may predispose the individual to skin cancers even on the scalp,” says Dr. Teo.
It’s worth noting that skin cancers on the exposed parts of the scalp are more prevalent than one might assume. Approximately 80% of yearly skin cancers occur on the head and neck, which includes areas of the scalp that are not covered by hair, such as the hairline and part line.
Additionally, experts caution that melanoma, a form of skin cancer that shows up as a mole, tends to be more fatal than those found on other regions of the body.
“If you notice a mole that is changing in colour, size, is bleeding, or experience a new growth on your scalp, it’s advised that you see a dermatologist straight away,” Dr. Teo recommends.
As our hair covers most of our scalp, early signs of skin cancer there often go undetected. Therefore, what makes scalp skin cancers so dangerous is that they’re often overlooked, both during self-examinations and even at the dermatologist’s office.
The job of checking your scalp thoroughly is best entrusted to a spouse, partner, or hair stylist who can get a full view of that area, according to Dr. Teo.
Poorer hair quality
It’s not just your scalp you have to worry about. Your hair might not be exempted from the effects of the sun as you may expect. According to Dr. Teo, besides serious conditions like scalp cancer, “excessive UV rays can cause our hair to become dryer, more brittle, or even change its colour.”
This is because exposure to the sun for an extended period of time damages the protein structure of hair, which frequently causes breakage, loss of shine, low elasticity, and other visible changes.
So, should we apply sunscreen on our scalps?
Well, it depends.
For those who are bald, the same sunscreen that you use on your face can be used on the scalp. However, it may not be the most practical solution, according to Dr. Teo.
The humidity of Malaysia’s climate can make maintaining grease-free hair more challenging with regular lotion-based sunscreen being applied onto your scalp.
So instead, she recommends avoiding the sun from 10am – 4pm when it is the hottest, and wearing a hat, scarf, or head cover during those times. Alternatively, you could also carry an umbrella with UV protection as well.
Can I still wear sunscreen on my scalp?
If you’re not a fan of wearing hats or would just prefer an added layer of sun protection, you can still wear sunscreens that are better suited for your scalp.
You can use sunscreen foams or mousses to protect both your scalp and hair strands from UV damage effectively, without leaving a greasy residue. Opt for alcohol-based foams instead of moisturising formulas to avoid weighing down your hair. One excellent option to consider is the TirTir Off The Sun Air Mousse SPF 50+.
Sunscreen sprays are another fantastic solution for protecting the scalp area. They provide broad coverage, are light and fine enough to absorb easily, and won’t make your hair appear sticky.
We recommend the Perfect UV Sunscreen Skincare Spray from Japanese suncare brand Anessa, which is suitable for all skin types and offers enhanced UV protection when in contact with sweat or water.
For an affordable, convenient, and on-the-go solution, consider using a compact sunscreen stick like the Tony Moly Tako Pore Sebum Sun Stick. You can easily apply the non-greasy stick along your part line whenever you an added boost of sun protection.
Featured image credit: @helenalyth.se/Instagram
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