Protecting Your Scalp from Damaging UV Rays


Our scalp is covered by hair. As we age, however, our tresses thin, exposing more skin to damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most of us are sticklers when it comes to adding SPF to our faces before heading into the sunshine, but end up neglecting our scalps. Protecting your scalp is just as important as protecting your face.

As we get older, our skin needs help retaining moisture and nutrients so it can continue producing vibrant hair for the rest of our lives. Plus, protecting your scalp from damaging UV rays is vital for the well-being of your body.

Understanding UV Rays and Their Impact

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is generated by the sun and artificial sources, including tanning beds and welding torches. Since most of us are not welding, sunshine and tanning beds are the primary sources of UV rays we need to worry about.

Radiation comes in many frequencies, from high-energy (gamma rays and X-rays) to low-energy (radio waves). UV rays fall somewhere in the center of this spectrum. UV rays are classified by how much energy they produce. UV rays mostly affect your skin, because even the highest energy rays do not have sufficient power to penetrate very far into your body.

The three groups of UV rays are: 

  • UVA rays — 95% of the rays that reach the earth are long-wave UVA. They are used in tanning beds and can penetrate your skin’s second layer. UVA rays are linked to wrinkles and other skin damage and are thought to precipitate skin cancer.
  • UVB rays — 5% of the ultraviolet rays that reach the ground are short-wave UVB rays. These rays directly damage your skin’s DNA, leading to most skin cancer forms. If your scalp is in the sun for as little as 15 minutes and gets burned, you can blame UVB rays.
  • UVC rays — UVC rays carry more energy than the other ultraviolet rays. Thankfully, the earth’s ozone stops them from reaching the ground, saving your scalp from damage. However, bacteria-killing sanitizing bulbs and arc welding torches can also generate UVC rays.

Scalp Damage Caused By UV Rays and Hair's Limited Protection

Everyone’s scalp can be affected by UV rays. Light-skinned people are more likely to receive UV damage; however, it can impact people of any skin color. The brown pigment that produces a tan is called melanin and protects your skin up to a point. Despite this, UV rays can elevate your risk of skin cancer even without creating a sunburn.

Squamous cell and basal cell are the most common forms of skin cancer and have been linked to UV rays and sun exposure. The more serious melanoma is also related to sun exposure, but not as strongly.

Having hair provides some protection from the sun, but not enough to safeguard your scalp from sun damage. The crown of your scalp and hair part are typical places where sun damage can happen, especially for aging hair that may be thinning. Thicker, darker hair provides some sun protection factor (SPF), ranging from 5 to 17, but this is less than the SPF 30 recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

As you age, your body already goes through changes that affect your scalp and hair biology. Your follicles shrink and produce finer hair with little to no pigmentation. Some follicles stop producing strands, leading to thinning hair. The sebaceous glands attached to your follicles produce less of the nourishing oil called sebum, which causes your scalp to dry out. Sun exposure and UV damage only amplify this problem.

Ways to Protect Your Scalp from UV Damage and Hair Loss

Despite the energy difference, no UV rays are safe. UVA and UVB rays can both damage your scalp and lead to skin cancer. The best plan to defend your scalp from damaging UV rays is to practice sun safety, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Cover your head — Your primary lines of defense against the sun are accessories like umbrellas, scarves, and hats. A dark hat with a brim, made of canvas or other tightly-woven fabric, is the best choice to save your scalp from the sun. Steer clear of straw hats that tend to have holes that can let in UV rays.
  • Stay made in the shade — If a hat or other head covering will mess up your do, find a shade to protect your scalp. This is especially important between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest. It is important to note that UV rays can bounce off water, sand, and even grass, leading to increased exposure. So find shade without these elements nearby.
  • Avoid tanning beds and booths — The amount of UV radiation your scalp absorbs depends on how long and how many times you are under the lamp. Both the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP) have deemed sunlamps and other UV-emitting tanning devices as carcinogenic. The best way to defend your scalp (and the rest of your body) from this form of UV exposure is to avoid tanning beds altogether.
  • Smooth on the sunscreen — If you fail to find shade or an umbrella, use sunscreen to safeguard your scalp. Look for water-resistant or oil-free formulas to keep it from running into your eyes. Or choose stick sunscreens, which can make scalp application easy and avoid giving you chalky hair. Another option is powdered sunscreen, which draws in sweat without making your hair greasy.

Maintain Scalp Health with Better Not Younger

Taking steps to shield your scalp from damaging UV rays is crucial, not only for your health but also for your hair's health. Avoiding tanning beds, limiting sun exposure, and wearing sunscreen are great ways to save your skin. To keep it healthy all year round, make sure to use products developed for aging scalps.

Better Not Younger’s Superpower Fortifying Hair & Scalp Serum stimulates and nourishes your scalp and strengthens your follicles to give you lush hair. New Dawn Activated Charcoal Scalp Cleanser deep cleans and nurtures your scalp with birch extract and B vitamins.

Find these products, along with our entire hair care line, on our Shop page. Watch for upcoming products that contain UV protection.