Scalp Sunscreen Is a Sun Protection Step You Don't Wanna Skip

To fully protect your skin from the sun, scalp sunscreen is non-negotiable.

woman at the beach with sun ray on her head
Photo: Getty Images

Even if you're super diligent about sunscreen application, it's easy to overlook certain parts of your body. If you tend to slather enough sunscreen on your face to make your dermatologist proud but are still skipping your scalp, you're certainly not alone.

Anyone who's experienced the unpleasant effects of a scalp sunburn knows that unfortunately, the area isn't immune to the sun's damaging UV rays. So if you've been forgoing scalp sunscreen out of willful ignorance, you probably want to reconsider. To find out exactly how to go about protecting your scalp — including how to find a scalp-friendly sunscreen formula — keep reading.

Why Scalp Sunblock Is Necessary

Scalp sunscreen may not seem necessary, especially if you have a full head of hair. But skin experts agree you should never overlook your scalp when applying sunscreen. "You can get sunburns and develop skin cancer even if you have a full head of hair," says Alison Z. Young, M.D., Ph.D., founder of Young Dermatology in Seattle. "The scalp is most directly exposed to the sun, and while your hair offers some level of cover with physical protection, some areas (e.g. areas with thinning or your part) are always at risk of sun damage and skin cancer development."

You should make sure to reapply the sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating as with the rest of your skin, says Dr. Young. "Sunscreen should be applied daily as we are exposed to free radicals generated by visible light and UVA, even on a cloudy day," she adds. If you're bad about reapplication, a UPF (ultraviolet protection) hat can suffice, according to Dr. Young.

How to Choose a Scalp Sunscreen

The thought of applying an oily lotion to your scalp won't sound appealing, assuming you don't like having greasy roots. Thankfully, there are plenty of powder and mist formulas, including sunscreen for the scalp created expressly for this purpose. For the best experience, try "using hair mist or mineral powder and mineral dry touch sunscreens for easy application, which won't clump with your hair," recommends Dr. Young.

If you decide to take the spray-on sunscreen route, avoid formulas containing benzophenone derivatives (i.e. the ingredients avobenzone and oxybenzone), advises Dr. Young. Last year Johnson and Johnson recalled five Neutrogena and Aveeno spray-on sunscreens after detecting contamination with benzene, a known carcinogen, in samples, she notes.

To get you started, here are some of the best spray-on and powder sunscreens for the scalp.

Best Scalp Sunscreen to Protect Your Skin

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Supergoop Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35

Supergoop Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder

As mentioned, you don't have to worry that a mineral powder sunscreen will clump and build up on your scalp. This zinc oxide formula from Supergoop won't give you greasy roots — actually it can do just the opposite. The scalp sunscreen is formulated with silica to help absorb excess oil like a dry shampoo.

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Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush On Shield SPF 50

Colorescience Sunforgettable

Powder sunscreens are perfect for scalp application and for touch-ups over makeup throughout the day. Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush On Shield SPF 50 comes in four different shades and offers broad-spectrum protection.

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Ulta Mineral Hair & Scalp Power SPF 45

Ulta Mineral Hair and Scalp Power SPF 45

This travel-friendly pick offers SPF 45 protection from the sun's rays without contributing to greasy roots. Just part your hair and dab on the powder, then disperse it using your fingers or a hairbrush.

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Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30

Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen

This scalp sunscreen is water resistant with an SPF 30 rating. It's formulated with non-nano zinc oxide and housed in a non-aerosol spray can.

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Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Sunscreen

You can absolutely go with a lotion formula sunscreen for your scalp if you prefer. A lotion might make you feel like you have extra control when prepping for the beach — with a powder it can be harder to tell exactly how much you applied before you overdo it. This mineral sunscreen from Neutrogena is oil-free and promises a lightweight, non-greasy finish.

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