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6 best scalp sunscreens of 2021: Sun protection for your head

From water-resistant sunscreens to powder options, here are expert-recommended scalp sunscreens you can wear all year long.
Illustration of a Woman spraying sunscreen in her scalp, two sunscreen products and a group of friends sitting on a pier
Whether you’re bald or have a lot of hair, the dermatologists we consulted say sunscreen is essential to help protect your scalp from sun damage — Here’s what they want you to know before incorporating one into your daily hair care routine.Jordan Siemens / Getty Images ; Amazon ; Target ; Supergoop

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By now, you likely know that sunscreen is an effective way to help protect your face and body from the sun’s harmful Ultraviolet A and B rays, which can cause signs of aging, sunburns and skin cancer. But one overlooked spot you might not realize also needs sun protection is your scalp, which is the “most at risk” area for sun exposure because it points directly up toward the sun, said board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. While hair offers “some level of physical protection against the sun,” parts are “always at risk” of sun damage, he noted.

To help you narrow in on worthwhile scalp SPF, we consulted doctors on how to shop for scalp sunscreen — notably, their guidance depends on how much or little hair is on your head. We also asked dermatologists to share a few of their favorite product recommendations.

Best scalp sunscreens

The best scalp sunscreen is the one that you’ll actually use and regularly reapply, said board-certified dermatologist Jason Miller, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. With that being said, MDs shared a few of their go-to recommendations, which are readily available at Shopping reader-favorite stores, including Nordstrom, Amazon and Walmart.

Sun Bum Scalp and Hair Mist Sunscreen

This “easy to apply” spray sunscreen can cover a larger surface quickly thanks to its mist applicator, highlighted Miller. Sun Bum says this broad-spectrum sunblock is dermatologist-tested and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. It also received the Target Clean seal, meaning it excludes ingredients the megastore wants to avoid, like oxybenzone. The Sun Bum Scalp and Hair Mist garnered a 4.3-star average rating from 80 reviews at Sun Bum.

Supergoop! Poof Part Powder Sunscreen

If you prefer powder formulations, Miller suggested this “effective” sunscreen that allows you to easily apply product to smaller exposed areas of the scalp without rubbing lotion into the hair. This Supergoop! mineral sunscreen utilizes zinc oxide to help protect the skin from UV damage. The brand suggests spraying it about two inches away from your scalp and blending with a hairbrush or your fingertips. It earned a 4-star average rating from 85 reviews at Supergoop!.

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry Touch Sunscreen

Miller noted Neutrogena’s Sheer Zinc sunblock spreads easily on the skin without leaving behind “a thick pasty film.” This hypoallergenic mineral lotion is gentle enough for those with sensitive skin and was previously featured in our guide to the best sunscreens for kids. It earned a 4-star average rating from nearly 90 reviews at Walmart.

ISDIN Mineral Brush Sunscreen

Board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung, MD, called ISDIN’s powder sunscreen “a silky, fine powder.” “It won't clump in your hair and can absorb some oil in your scalp, leaving a matte, smooth finish,” she said. ISDIN’s powder sunscreen utilizes mineral ingredients — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide — to help protect the skin from UV damage.

EltaMD UV Aero Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen

EltaMD’s “sheer” spray sunscreen earned a recommendation from Cheung because it dries clear when rubbed into the skin. She also appreciates that it combines zinc oxide with octinoxate for broad-spectrum protection. The brand says this sunblock is oil-free and fragrance-free, making it useful for those with oily skin or sensitivity to smell. This water-resistant sunscreen earned a 4.6-star average rating from 1,630 reviews on Amazon.

Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield Sunscreen

If sunscreens typically look chalky on your skin, consider this tinted powder formula from Colorscience, which earned a spot in our guide to the best sunblock for darker skin tones. Board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, appreciates that it offers broad-spectrum coverage and can help protect against infrared and high-energy visible light. It’s available in four shades and can be dusted over your part or head as well as touch-up your face makeup. This tinted powder sunscreen received a 4.7-star average rating from more than 730 reviews at Colorscience.

How to shop for sunscreen

Scalp sunscreens are readily available at drugstores, department stores and mega retailers, but which formula is the right fit for your needs? MDs share insight on three sunscreen formulations: spray, powder and lotions.

Which type of sunscreen is best?

Spray sunscreens were in the news earlier this summer because five sunblocks manufactured by Johnson & Johnson were recalled for containing “low levels” of benzene, a carcinogen that can be absorbed into the skin. Despite the recall, medical doctors like Garshick still advise wearing sunscreen — spray or otherwise. Zeichner called spray sunscreens “great” for anyone with hair, but noted the application is key: “You need to make sure it makes its way to the scalp and does not get stuck in the hair.”

Powder sunscreens are “great” for dusting over a bald head or touching up a part, said Garshick. And unlike their cream or liquid counterparts, powder sunblocks absorb easily, plus they don’t leave your hair looking or feeling greasy, nor do they leave behind a sticky residue, she said.

Lotions are another win if you’re bald because you can easily spread them across your head, said Zeichner. Hair makes application tricky — lotions can become goopy on your strands and you only need to focus on applying to your hairline and part.

Benefits and limitations of scalp sunscreen

We asked doctors about the pros and cons of scalp sunscreen, including how your hair (or lack thereof) can impact how you shop.

Baldness

Being bald means you lose “the natural protection” hair provides and it is especially important to apply sunscreen to your head, said Miller. Luckily for you, being bald makes it easier to protect your scalp because you can quickly apply lotion sunscreen on your head, noted Zeichner.

On the other hand, if you’re bald and want to use powder sunscreen, you’ll need to also rock a wide-brimmed hat to reap the most sun protection benefits, advised Garshick. Generally, powder sunblocks are “great” for hard-to-reach areas like the scalp, however, “they are unlikely to provide the same amount of coverage as a liquid or cream sunscreen, so it is important to be extra cautious to not only rely on a powder sunscreen,” she said.

Thin hair

If you have thin hair, you might find it a bit more challenging to protect your scalp with sunscreen alone as “there is not adequate blockage of UV light, but at the same time it may be impossible to apply sunscreen to the scalp through the hair,” Zeichner said. For people with thin hair, “there's no better protection than wearing a hat.” Just be sure your hat doesn’t have holes in it or you risk unnecessary sun exposure. And be sure to apply sunscreen to areas the hat doesn’t cover like your ears, added Miller. You might be interested in sun hats with built-in UPF coverage that are made with sun-blocking fabrics — Shopping readers have previously gravitated toward UPF hat brands like Coolibar, Eric Jarvitz and Eddie Bauer.

Everyone else

You can use whatever formula you like, but you may prefer powder sunscreens because they don’t leave behind pesky residue, stickiness and absorb easily.

How to apply scalp sunscreen

Medical experts also shared a few tips on how to correctly apply scalp sunscreen, whether you opt for a spray or otherwise.

  • Firstly, you’ll need to apply the right amount of sunscreen to achieve the coverage indicated on the label, noted Garshick. A general rule of thumb she likes to follow is one teaspoon for the entire head, including the face, neck and scalp. Depending on how much of your scalp is exposed, the amount you apply may vary slightly, she added.
  • Part the hair and spray toward the scalp, then rub in, repeating this step in inch-wide segments until the scalp is covered, said Zeichner.
  • Sunscreen in the scalp should be reapplied every 2 hours or immediately after heavy sweating or swimming, just like the rest of your body, he said.

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