Best Ways to Protect Your Hair From Sun Damage

Hats, umbrellas, the right conditioner help protect you

We all know how important it is to apply (and reapply!) sunscreen during those hot, long summer days to prevent skin damage. But did you know the sun can also damage your hair?

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If your hair has prolonged exposure to the sun, UVA and UVB rays can damage the outside cover of the hair strand, called the cuticle, says dermatologist Wilma Bergfeld, MD

“Sun damage can come in the forms of discoloration, dry and brittle strands, broken or split ends, thinning and frizziness,” says Dr. Bergfeld. “Damaged hair has a dry look and feel, is unmanageable and won’t hold a curl or style. Damaged hair usually dries quickly, too.”

The damage goes deeper

All hair types are prone to damage, no matter the color or texture. 

Your hair is particularly vulnerable to sun damage if it’s fine or light-colored. That finer, lighter hair lacks the thickness or pigment that can protect it from the sun’s rays while darker, coarser hair usually is oilier, and its thickness, darker color and oil covering help to protect it. Your hair is also more fragile and more prone to sun damage if you have thin, flat or tightly coiled hair.

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The good news is that you can take precautions to protect your hair from the hot summer sun. 

“The sun’s rays act very much like bleach on hair,” says Dr. Bergfeld. “Bleach reacts with the melanin in hair and removes the color in an irreversible chemical reaction. Bleach also damages the hair’s cuticle and protein, which is called keratin.”

Hot flat irons or rollers, chlorinated water in swimming pools or lightening your hair can make it more vulnerable to the summer stresses of heat and sun. All of these damage your hair’s keratin. The damaged protein then allows sun and heat to penetrate the hair more easily and results in a fragile hair strand.

“If you bleach or highlight your hair, you’ve damaged the hair already,” says Dr. Bergfeld. “To add to that by swimming in a chlorinated pool, or sitting out in the sun, you’re going to have very significant hair breakage.”

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Take proper steps toward protection

What to do if you want to be outside during the summer but don’t want a headful of frizzy, dull and damaged hair? Dr. Bergfeld recommends: 

  • Wrap a scarf around your hair, wear a wide-brimmed hat or cover yourself with an umbrella. 
  • Go out early or late in the day, just as you would to protect your skin.
  • If you swim in a chlorinated pool, wear a swim cap or put your hair up in a high bun to keep your hair dry. If you get your hair wet, make sure you rinse the pool water — which contains chemicals like chlorine — out of your hair with clear water. 
  • Use an SPF product catered to shielding hair against harmful rays.

Use hair products and conditioners appropriate to your hair color and type, as well as the climate. If you have fine hair, look for a volumizing formula. Summer is a favorite season of many, but next time you’re out in the sun, don’t forget to shield your hair from the sun, too.  

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