Style & Beauty

Is Hair Sunscreen Really Necessary?

We spoke to hairstylists to find out if we really need SPF on our hair or if it's just a gimmick.

We all know sunscreen is a must for protecting our skin from the sun’s harmful rays, but what about our hair?

In the last couple of years, hair care products that claim to protect your hair from the sun have been popping up everywhere. They claim to prevent sun damage on your hair ― dryness, brittleness and frizz are just a few ways the sun’s rays affect your strands ― while keeping it looking healthy and shiny. But do these products really work? And do we really need to be protecting our hair from the sun? It’s just hair, after all, a collection of dead cells.

We spoke to professional hairstylists to get some answers.

Just like the sun affects your skin, it affects your hair.

And if you protect your skin with sunscreen, it’s good practice to do the same for your hair.

Laura Dyer, a stylist at Antonio Prieto Salon in New York, explained that the sun causes the hair cuticle ― that’s the outside layer ― to open, “allowing moisture and even melanin to be removed. The result is dry, frizzy hair, and faded salon color or lightened natural color.”

To add on to that point, salon color isn’t cheap. And if you go out into the sun often or for prolonged periods of time without protecting your hair, you could end up spending more money to keep dyeing it. Moneywise, a hair protectant will be friendlier on your wallet than frequent trips to the salon.

Kirsten Klontz, a hairstylist represented by P1M Management, said, “Sun exposure breaks down the proteins in the hair, [which] causes ... breakage and split ends. UVB rays oxidize the hair and break down the proteins in the hair that keep [it] healthy.”

Not all protective products are the same.

It’s important to note the difference between products with SPF (sun protection factor) labeled on them ― for example, SPF 30, 40, 50, etc. ― and products that are advertised as UV filters or UV protective.

SPF is typically associated with sunscreens for your skin, Dyer said. However, there are a number of hair products on the market that do include broad-spectrum SPF to protect your strands, such as Clarins Sunscreen Care oil spray with SPF 30 and Banana Boat Sport’s Qwik Dri scalp spray sunscreen.

As Klontz pointed out, those products that do contain SPF can also act as a sunscreen for your scalp, an oft-overlooked area. (Scalp sunburns are not fun.) She even recommended using a regular sheer sunscreen, like Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer lightweight sunscreen spray, on your hair because it will also protect your scalp. (Just make sure you reapply regularly, especially after swimming.)

In terms of UV protection products for hair, Dyer said they “coat the hair fiber to deflect the sun’s UV rays. They minimize drying and help to avoid your hair getting dull.”

Dyer said her “current obsession” is Kérastase’s Soleil product line, which she said is formulated with a UV filter as well as coconut water for hydration and vitamin E “to protect against damage.”

And while UV protective products can protect the integrity of your actual hair, they don’t necessarily contain SPF. So if you don’t see a number listed on the label, don’t rely on these products to keep your scalp protected. As Linda de Zeeuw, a master stylist at Rob Peetoom salon in Brooklyn, New York, said, if a product is just meant to be protective but doesn’t include a listed SPF number, “you can’t really say if it’s a level 2 or 40.”

Do we really need to be using these products?

You’re not going to get cancer on your hair if you don’t wear a sun protection product on it, but if you want to protect the quality of your hair, the stylists we spoke to agreed all hair types can benefit from using some sort of product to protect your strands from the sun’s rays. Additionally, if you’re going to be outside and you want to protect your scalp, you should definitely be wearing SPF. (Hats, particularly those with wide brims, are also a great option for sun protection.)

“Hair is exposed to the same radiation as your skin. And we are so used to protecting our skin with sunscreen, but we often forget that the hair needs something, too,” de Zeeuw said. “The hair that sticks out of your head is dead materials. You cannot feel the dead part of the hair, and it doesn’t hurt when sun hits it, but it will definitely dry it out, the color can fade because of the sun radiation.

She also explained that SPF hair products are especially beneficial for people with color-treated hair.

“Chemical color pigments lift up faster in the sun than natural color pigments,” she said, adding, “Somebody with completely natural hair might not [turn] very, very blond [in the sun]. If you have dyed your hair, even dark blond, for example, it can become very light in the sun, because those color molecules are different and they can lift very easily. If you really want to maintain your hair color, especially when you’ve dyed it, it’s a good idea to protect it.”

In Klontz’s opinion, protective hair products can and should be worn all year round, though she said she would be “more mindful when the sun is more intense.”

“If you have prolonged sun exposure, if you’re out on the beach or on vacation, obviously that would be a time to be even more mindful of it,” Klontz said. “But as a general rule, it’s safe to be wearing it all the time.”

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