Sunscreen for the hair – Why you need it and what you can use | Ask Doctor Anne


Yes, I will talk about some products and the ingredients that protect your hair from the sun and its UV-rays in this blogpost, but it will not be my main focus – you will understand why and what else there is you can do in a bit.


René Furterer Solaire Hair Protection
Different ways to protect your hair from the sun


But before we get into the details of sun protection for hair, let’s talk a little bit about why it is actually important to protect your strands – many people are surprised by that. After all hair is dead already, so cancer prevention is probably not the issue. Nor is wrinkles – but that doesn’t mean that hair can’t get damaged and even “prematurely age”.



How does UV light from the sun affect the hair

UV rays are damaging, this is not news, but what exactly is it that they attack in the hair? Two things: Your protein and your melanin.
Let’s start with melanin. Just like in the skin, your melanin is responsible for the color and darkness of your hair. You might not know that melanin has different subtypes, eumelanin, which is more black-brown, and pheomelanin, which is more yellow-red. There is also neuromelanin, but as this as the name would suggest is inside the brain, it doesn’t really play a role in today’s topic. The amount of each melanin type (along with melanocyte density and other factors) determines your individual skin and hair color.
UV rays destroy melanin, which is why your hair gets lightened by the sun – hair without any melanin appears bleached. This is true as well for artificial color, but that not only is destroyed, making all the money you spend at the salon wasted, no, this artificial color can also change, leaving you with brassy streaks rather than platinum highlights.

Now if that isn’t getting you to protect your hair…

Now let’s take a look at the protein – the hairs main protein is keratin. This keratin gets damaged by the free radicals that develop with UV exposure and in turn your hair gets brittle, breaks easier and the porosity increases, meaning your hair loses moisture and will get an uneven surface, resulting in less shine.
This happens even quicker if you have naturally (or artificially) light hair – or if you already had your melanin burned off by the sun – melanin acts as a shield for your keratin, so the less melanin you have the less your hair is protected. (More info: Olaplex -How does it work?)

Overall your hair will look less vibrant, less glossy and will be more prone to frizz and split ends – valid reason to think about UV protection I’d say.
At least if you are on a hike or a beach holiday – hair is less likely to get damaged big time on a day to day basis, unless you spend a great deal of time outdoors or live in a very sunny country.


The best way to protect your hair

The good thing is if you are serious about protecting your face from the sun, you are probably already protecting your hair as well, as the best way to protect your hair is, similar to everything else, sun smart behavior.

Seek shade, avoid the hours around noon when the sun is strongest and – wear a hat! A hat is really a three-in-one protection thing, as it protects your hair, face and décolleté, which is why you should probably go for a wide brimmed hat. The bigger the better – as an added bonus it will prevent other people from coming too close, no sweaty individuals invading your comfort zone!

Not all fabric does offer the same protection though, but if you do a quick search for “sun hat SPF 50” for example on Amazon, you get a variety of different options – some more fashionable than others. But even if you opt for a scarf or something else – everything that offers shade is added protection.

Another way to minimize the amount of hair exposed to the sun is putting it up in braids or a bun – just be aware that you are probably exposing parts of your neck that way and don’t forget to apply sunscreen there! And while we are at it: your part is also exposed, and your scalp is similar to skin, so either a hat or sunscreen are needed!

My husband for example, whose hair is kept extremely short, uses the same product for face, scalp and hair.
Because while there are dedicated hair products, you can use regular sunscreen as well. The caveat is that the SPF printed on the bottle can not be transferred to how much protection it offers to the hair, it is much more difficult to determine. (More info: Chemical, physical, mineral – Different sunscreen filters)


Why is sunscreen for the hair so tricky to evaluate?

If you know how the SPF is determined, you probably already suspected that it can’t just be transferred to hair. For the evaluation you measure the time until there is erythema on skin after application – hair does not get erythema. The second problem is each hair strand needs to be completely covered in product to be able to reach the protection factor – that is even more difficult than applying enough sunscreen to the face. (More info: How much sunscreen do you need for the face?)
You might also find KPF advertised on some products, called Keratin Protection Factor, but this is – to my knowledge – not an established term like SPF, but a brand’s creation to describe how much protection their product offers.
But before you despair: Just because we can’t put a number on it, that doesn’t mean it won’t work. There are a few filters that have shown to protect your hair, so I think it is a good idea to use them in addition to your hat and sun smart behavior – I love swimming when at the beach, and I don’t wear a hat for that, so every little bit helps!

These filters are:

  • Octylmethoxycinnamate or Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate: often used in oil containing sprays
  • Cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride: apparently very good at binding to the hair so is great either in shampoos or leave-in products if you plan to swim
  • Benzophenone-3, Benzophenone-4: which is water-soluble, so probably not the best option for the pool
  • Quaternium-95 and Propanediol: again apparently good at binding to the hair and staying on while swimming


Sunscreen products for the hair I use

To be honest, I personally mainly rely on sun smart behavior, namely a huge hat when I go to the beach. The only actual product I own, and I mainly bought it because there was a promotion for Rene Furterer hair products when I was in the pharmacy in France, is the Rene Furterer Solaire Sun Ritual Protective Summer Oil.
Rene Furterer is the brand that invented the Keratin Protection Factor, this one apparently has one of 50, and it contains Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate and Quaternium-95 alongside things like Sesame Seed oil and Castor Oil, so it is pretty noticeable when I spray it into my rather fine hair.
The way I use it when I am at the beach or off for some scuba diving is that I put my hair in a braid and then spray the braid – I am not a fan of the wet look or larger amounts of hair oil, but if my hair is going to be wet anyway, I don’t mind. As you can see I have not used much yet – very little beaches in my life so far this year, so I can’t comment on its effectiveness, but I can tell you it has a nice coconut-ty scent that reminds me of holidays and I am hoping the oils will prevent my hair from getting too dry and tangled from the ocean once I get to swim again.


Why sunscreen for the hair is a thing and the best ways to protect your locks.
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