Updated on February 16, 2024
It’s that time of year again: the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and your scalp is on fire. Yes, winter means one thing for many people: scalp sunburns.
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t even think about your scalp when you’re putting sunscreen on.
But did you know that your scalp can get sunburned just like the rest of your skin? In fact, it often burns even more easily because it’s thinner and has fewer melanin cells to protect it.
So how do you prevent scalp sunburns? And if you do get a sunburned scalp, what can you do to make it feel better? Read on to find out!
What Is a Scalp Sunburn?
A scalp sunburn is a painful condition caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Symptoms include redness, tenderness, and a warm or itchy sensation on the scalp skin. Although hair loss may occur while the skin is peeling, the hair should regrow once the skin has healed.
Other symptoms may include flaking and scaling of the scalp, as well as a burning sensation.
In some cases, the top of the head may become covered in yellow or white patches, particularly between hair parts. If an infection is present, there may also be pus-filled bumps that are tender to the touch.
Who Is Most at Risk for Their Scalp To Get Sunburned?
People who are most vulnerable to getting scalp sunburn are those who have thinning or very fine hair, as well as those with naturally fair or white hair.
Of course, anyone spending prolonged periods outdoors without a hair covering or protecting their scalp is at risk. So keeping your scalp covered by wearing a wide-brimmed hat or applying sunscreen to the scalp is highly recommended.
Regardless of hair texture and color, a scalp burn increases the risk of developing skin cancer over the long term - especially if unprotected scalp sun exposure is repeated over time. But it's easy to protect yourself and minimize that risk and prevent sunburn by using sun protection.
What does a scalp sunburn feel like?
A scalp sunburn may not be as noticeable from the outside, but the pain of the burn on your head is impossible to ignore.
Scalp burns can be a real pain and can often go unnoticed until the irritation presents itself. It's important to be aware of the early signs and symptoms of a scalp sunburn, as the effects can worsen quickly. Often, the burns have a tingling feeling, similar to that experienced on other parts of the skin on the rest of your body.
In addition, symptoms may include redness or dryness of your scalp and/or flaking due to irritation from UV rays.
Common symptoms include redness, feeling warm or hot to the touch, tenderness or pain, itching, and small blisters filled with fluid. If left untreated, a sunburned scalp can lead to itchy flakes like dandruff and peeling skin.
What's the Best Way to Soothe and Treat a Sunburned Scalp?
There are a number of ways to deal with a burned, tender scalp. The best way to help relieve a sunburned scalp is to cool it down and keep it hydrated.
Start by taking a shower, but bathe your scalp with cool water instead of hot. Applying cold compresses to the affected area is an effective way to treat scalp sunburn.
Use cool compresses several times per day to help relieve the pain and inflammation. When you press it against your scalp, the cool or lukewarm water provides soothing relief as well as hydration to the skin, which will help your skin heal and shed the dead skin cells.
Avoid using hot water, as this can further irritate your skin. It's also important to use gentle products like moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, leave-in conditioners or hydrating hair masks that are specifically designed for sunburned skin.
Avoid many hair products that contain alcohol, as this can sting and dry out the scalp and hair.
For further pain relief, you can apply an over-the-counter topical cream or gel like aloe vera gel until the burn has healed. Aloe vera's combination of hydration and anti-inflammatory properties makes it one of the best options for treating a sunburn and to speed up healing.
You can also take ibuprofen for further pain relief, but make sure to follow the recommended dosage instructions on the packaging.
For instant and long-lasting relief from the stinging itch that comes when the scalp is healing, use Dermeleve® anti-itch scalp serum.
Dermeleve® has been clinically proven to soothe itch and sting almost immediately, as opposed to the days or even weeks required of hydrocortisone cream or other corticosteroids. And unlike hydrocortisone, Dermeleve® is safe for frequent, long-term use without dangerous side effects.
Dermeleve® has recently introduced a new scalp serum, specifically formulated for treating scalp itch. This is the perfect treatment to help sooth the itch of a scalp sunburn.
Finally, make sure to continue moisturizing your scalp. This will help reduce, prevent and treat flakiness and dryness of your skin.
How long does a sunburnt scalp last?
A sunburnt scalp can last anywhere from three to seven days. Symptoms usually develop within the first 24 hours and include redness, pain, heat, and flaking of the skin. To soothe your sunburnt scalp, you should cool it down with a shower or cold water rinse. Avoid shampooing for 24 hours post-burn and use shampoos that are gentle on the scalp such as those without sulfates or dimethicone.
Additionally, over-the-counter strength moisturizing products can help prevent flakiness as inflamed skin is sensitive to harsh chemicals.
If your scalp is still painful after several days of treatment, contact a doctor or dermatologist for advice and further treatment recommendations to decrease the time to heal.
Can scalp sunburn cause hair loss?
No, sunburn on your scalp does not usually cause baldness. While it can lead to some hair loss due to the skin peeling off, the hairs will typically regrow.
However, if you already have thinning hair or are balding, it is important to take extra care in protecting your scalp as the sun can still cause damage and disrupt healthy hair growth.
Applying regular sunscreen to your scalp is a great way to protect it from sunburns and other sun damage.
Long Term Effects of Scalp sunburn
A sunburn on the scalp can cause many long-term effects. The most common are dryness and itching, leading to flaking and irritation that can last for weeks or even months after the burn has healed. In some cases, severe cases can also lead to scarring and discoloration of the affected area, which may be hard to treat or cover up.
Foods that Help Heal Sunburns
Sunburns can be painful and uncomfortable, especially when they affect the top of the head. However, many people may be surprised to know that eating certain foods may be one of the better ways of dealing with a sunburned scalp.
Foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C and zinc are all excellent choices for helping heal a sunburned scalp. Salmon, blueberries, spinach and avocados provide many of these essential nutrients that may aid in the healing process. Additionally, drinking plenty of water keeps the skin hydrated to reduce inflammation.
Incorporating these healthy foods into your diet as part of a sunburned scalp treatment is an easy way to help with the healing process.
Prevention is Better than Cure
The best way to prevent scalp sunburn is to protect your scalp from the sun by wearing a sun-protective hat or using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. This will help to keep the direct sunlight off of your head and prevent a sunburned scalp. Additionally, avoiding direct sunlight during peak hours is also recommended.
If you are already suffering from a sunburned scalp, then it’s important to take quick action to reduce inflammation and promote faster healing. Use products that are formulated with soothing ingredients. Avoid any shampoos or hair products with alcohol in them and using cooling agents like aloe vera can help soothe the area. Use cold compresses. Applied twice daily to the sensitive scalp, they can provide a ton of relief.
Using an emollient like Dermeleve® scalp serum is also a great way to provide instant and long-lasting relief.
Remember, prevention is always better than a cure when it comes to dermatology! Make sure you take the necessary precautions when spending time outdoors in order to keep yourself safe from harmful UV rays and avoid dealing with painful sunburns on your scalp in the future!
So, whether you're sporting a stylish hat or lathering on sunscreen, taking care of your scalp is essential. And if you do find yourself dealing with a sunburned scalp, remember to cool it down, hydrate it well, and treat it gently. Your scalp will thank you, and you'll be back to enjoying the sunshine in no time. Stay sun-safe and scalp-smart out there!
Visit Dermeleve®’s website to learn more!
Q: How can I prevent sunburn on my scalp?
A: You can prevent sunburn on your scalp by applying sunscreen, wearing a hat, and seeking shade when spending time outdoors.
Q: What are the symptoms of a sunburned scalp?
A: Symptoms of a sunburned scalp may include redness, tenderness, peeling skin, and sometimes blisters.
Q: How do I treat a scalp sunburn?
A: To treat a scalp sunburn, you can soothe it by applying cool water, hydrating your scalp, using over-the-counter pain relievers, and avoiding further sun exposure.
Q: Should I see a doctor for a severe sunburn on my scalp?
A: If you have a severe sunburn on your scalp with symptoms like extreme pain, blistering, or fever, it's advisable to see a doctor for medical advice and treatment.
Q: Can I use sunscreen on my scalp?
A: Yes, you can apply sunscreen specifically designed for the scalp to protect it from harmful UV radiation.
Q: How should I style my hair to protect my scalp from sunburn?
A: Wearing a hat or using products with UV protection can help shield your scalp from the sun and prevent sunburn.
Q: What are some tips for soothing a sunburned scalp?
A: You can soothe a sunburned scalp by applying cool compresses, hydrating your scalp, avoiding harsh hair products, and letting your hair air dry.