Thanks to aesthetic packaging and luxe ingredients, we actually look forward to incorporating sunscreen into our daily skincare routine, but one area we often overlook is our scalps. You should be slathering on SPF every day from head to toe, according to Dr. Wolinsky, who adds that skin cancer, particularly nonmelanoma skin cancers, can occur on the scalp due to repeated UV rays over years of sun exposure.
“The surgical treatment of these skin cancers is more difficult than in other areas of the body and is also higher risk than in other locations,” explains Dr. Wolinsky. Unfortunately, while your hair provides some protection, it won’t save your scalp from harmful UV rays, and the sun can be just as damaging to your strands as it is to your skin.
And, look, as much as we love the trucker hat trend, they’re not always appropriate to wear 24/7, which means it’s vital to find a scalp sunscreen with a formula that works best for your lifestyle, skin sensitivities, and hair type. We conducted hours of research on the best scalp sunscreens, evaluating formulas on type, active SPF ingredients, and SPF level. We also took into consideration how each product benefits scalp and hair health, because these products can be a two-for-one, providing UV protection as well as hair and scalp health.
Sun Bum Scalp and Hair Mist
As one of the few products specifically targeted to protect your scalp and hair, Dr. Wolinsky recommends this pick from Sun Bum for its lightweight formula and easy application. The 30 SPF broad spectrum sunscreen is super effective at protecting burns along your part line, but don’t be surprised if you also notice your hair looks healthier, too, after spritzing on the vegan formula.
Antioxidant-rich ingredients, like sunflower seed oil, are an added benefit to this scalp sunscreen, as it contains Vitamin E which can help strengthen your hair and increase shine. However, we’re just as pleased about what the formula leaves out, like hair-drying sulfates and octinoxate and oxybenzone—two potentially harmful chemicals for your health and the environment.1
While some reviewers say the product leaves their strands a little greasy, we’ll take a slicked-back style over a sunburn any day.
Price at time of publish: $17
Type: Spray | Size: 2 oz | SPF: 30 | Active Ingredients: Avobenzone 3%, Homosalate 10%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 4% | Cruelty Free: Yes
Neutrogena Beach Defense Sunscreen Spray
Picking up sunscreen at the drugstore isn’t an unfamiliar activity, but choosing the right one can mean the difference between a burned, greasy scalp and total protection. Through our research, we found that the Neutrogena sunscreen is one of the best sprays for avoiding tacky residue and oily strands.
Don’t take our word for it—the no-frills product racked up over 5,000 5-star Amazon reviews singing the praises of its reliable and non-comedogenic formula that gets the job done by saving skin from painful sunburns.
We’re glad it’s one of the more affordable picks on this list because customers also say it’s not the most resistant to sweat and water, causing them to reapply frequently.
Price at time of publish: $9
Type: Spray | Size: 6.5oz | SPF: 70 | Active Ingredients: Homosalate 15% | Cruelty Free: No
Colorscience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50
Look, we love a Gomez or a Garner-recommended beauty product, but regarding sunscreen, we trust no one’s judgment more than the Skin Cancer Foundation. The organization brands its seal of approval on this sunscreen, and so do we, thanks to its barely detectable finish, water-resistant formula, and four shades ranging from fair to deep.
Most importantly, the sunscreen provides 50 broad spectrum coverage from UVB and UVA damage. The former is responsible for the sunburn you see on top of your skin, where UVA rays penetrate deeper to cause free radical damage that leads to dark spots and hyperpigmentation.2
To reap these benefits and get the product to dispense correctly (some reviewers note it can be tricky), we suggest giving it a few very hard taps against a solid surface and rubbing your finger over the brush to check for proof of powder before applying it to your scalp.
Price at time of publish: $69
Type: Powder | Size: 0.21 oz | SPF: 50 | Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide 22.5%; Zinc Oxide 22.5% | Cruelty Free: Yes
Supergoop! Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35
If you ask the internet (and our editors), Supergoop!’s products are so good they deserve a special spot on your shelf, and this pick deserves one in your hair. It doesn’t hurt that it also comes highly recommended by Dr. Wolinksy, who tells us in addition to having a non-greasy formula, it also contains a high percentage of zinc— a great physical UV ray blocker.
As a bonus, this multi-purpose product feels weightless as it works to stop sun damage and doubles as a dry shampoo to sop up extra oil. But, keep in mind that it doesn’t do it on the sly— some reviewers with darker hair colors noticed it left behind a slight residue.
Price at time of publish: $34
Type: Powder | Size: 0.71 oz | Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 24.7% | SPF: 35 | Cruelty Free: Yes
Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+
Like with your lip balm or deodorant, a sunscreen stick is an easier way to directly apply protection where you need it most, such as bald spots or part lines. Furthermore, they’re usually less messy than sprays or powders—particularly the Shiseido sunscreen stick, which glides on easily. Seriously— the only reason you’ll remember it’s there is when you return inside with no sunburn in sight.
It’s hard to argue with over 1,000 5-star reviews on Sephora raving about its resistance to sun, sweat, and water. Also, the sunscreen disengages from the typical smell reminiscent of summer camp and instead has a more grown-up and light citrusy aroma, similar to a luxe spa.
That said, fragrances can sometimes cause irritation, so maybe skip this pick if you have extremely sensitive skin.
Price at time of publish: $30
Type: Stick | Size: 0.7 oz | Active Ingredients: Avobenzone 2.5%, Homosalate 10.0%, Octisalate 5.0%, Octocrylene 10.0 | SPF: 50 | Cruelty Free: No
Best for the Hair
COOLA Scalp & Hair Mist Organic Sunscreen SPF 30
Dr. Orit Markowitz, a board-certified dermatologist, previously recommended this spray sunscreen as an alternative to the sometimes messy formulas and white casts powder options can leave behind.
This one, however, allows you to quickly hop into the frame of a beach selfie, because the hassle-free application dries down fast without feeling sticky. And, while we can’t guarantee it’ll give you the shiny strands of a Hadid sister, its formula contains key vitamin-rich humectants like monoi oil and panthenol to get you one step closer.
Word to the wise, though, fine or thin hair users should spritz some dry shampoo before applying it: The product can leave some scalps oily.
Price at time of publish: $28
Type: Spray | Size: 2 oz | Active Ingredients: Avobenzone 2.5%, Homosalate 6.0%, Octisalate 5.0%, Octocrylene 7.0% | SPF: 30 | Cruelty Free: Yes
Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Translucent Sunscreen Powder Brush SPF 30
Where chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays, mineral formulas use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to dissolve UV rays before they ever touch your skin.3 Both are effective at protecting against sun damage, but since physical sunscreen ingredients can be less inflammatory than those found in chemical formulas, you may opt for this choice if you have sensitive skin.
Providing UVA and UVB coverage, we’re fond of Hawaiian Tropic’s lightweight feel, and those with acne-prone skin will benefit from its non-comedogenic formula. Plus, where many mineral formulas leave behind a white cast, this one’s translucent finish is nearly undetectable.
Once you understand the knack for dispensing the formula from its container (tap it against a hard surface several times), the pocket-sized tool is also great for reapplying on the go.
Price at time of publish: $19
Type: Powder | Size: 0.15oz | Active Ingredients: Zinc oxide 24.5% | SPF: 30 | Cruelty Free: Yes
Best for Sensitive Skin
Jane Iredale Powder-Me SPF 30 Dry Sunscreen
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Lian Mack previously keyed us into this product as an option that’s not only a great addition to your #selfie but also feels better in your hair than a sticky cream or spray. The pretty packaging drew our eyes, but it’s the broad spectrum coverage that caught the Skin Cancer Foundation’s attention, earning it their seal of approval.
While everyone can take advantage of the vegan formula’s moisturizing ingredients such as pomegranate fruit and eastern pine bark extract, those who have sensitive skin will appreciate the potential irritants it leaves out, like fragrances and sulfates.
Choose from four shades, including the barely-there translucent one that disguises itself in your strands. It may, however, be more noticeable on your clothing as the product has some fallout when applying it.
Price at time of publish: $55
Type: Powder | Size: 0.18oz | Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide 17% | SPF: 30 | Cruelty Free: Yes
Rahua Aloe Vera Hair Gel
Whether you stayed at an outdoor concert one song too long or just forgot to reapply, sometimes sunburns are inevitable, but further irritation is avoidable. This gel from one of our favorite clean beauty brands provides our hair with a tall glass of water and rejuvenates parched strands without causing our scalp further irritation.
While it doesn’t contain any SPF—as the product’s intended purpose isn’t to protect you from the sun—the gel uses plant-based ingredients to soothe the scalp and aid in healing hair damage. Aloe vera, omega-rich rahua oil, cucumber, and green chlorophyll work synergistically to style and revitalize hair for smooth, non-aggravating results.
Price at time of publish: $32
Type: Gel | Size: 4oz | Key Ingredients: Aloe vera, sugar cane, rahua oil | SPF: 0 | Cruelty Free: Yes
Our best overall pick is the Sun Bum Scalp and Hair Mist, which contains a 30 SPF and is free from octinoxate and oxybenzone. We also love how this mist doubles as a styling product, giving your tresses a natural looking sheen. For a more affordable pick, consider the Neutrogena Beach Defense Spray Sunscreen, a top-rated pick that boasts a 70 SPF and absorbs into scalp and hair easily.
What to Look for in a Scalp Sunscreen
Just like with our skin, King tells us sunscreen contains the same set of sun filters that are either physical (aka mineral), chemical, or a combination of both. “The only two FDA-approved physical sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide,” explains King. She adds that all other sunscreen products use chemical ones, “which includes avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octanoate,” she says.
You can also opt for a hybrid sunscreen, suggests King, that contains a combination of physical and chemical sun filters. But, whatever one you choose, we always recommend doing a patch test before applying any new product.
You’ve generally got three choices for sunscreen application: Spray, powder, and stick. King recommends using a stick, we like the Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick which goes on colorless and smoothly to target a bald spot or for a more exact application.
Although spray sunscreens are a little less precise, using one with a targeted nozzle, such as the Sun Bum Scalp and Hair Mist, helps ensure you’ve covered every area.
Powders can be messier than the other two options, says King, and they, “may not get the protection you want as sunscreens work best on a uniform surface.” However, you’re less likely to experience an oily or sticky scalp, and some, like the Supergoop! Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder even works as a dry shampoo. Just look for one with over 30 SPF, like the Jane Iredale Powder-Me SPF Dry Sunscreen, and be conscious of reapplication.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that sunscreen contain at least 30 SPF. Although, we should note that no matter how high the number, you should always be mindful of reapplying—the AAD advises layering sunscreen on every two hours.
Should you use SPF on your scalp every day?
The short answer: Yes—you should plan on slathering or spraying on sunscreen if you know your scalp will be in the sun at any point. “If your hair is thinning and the scalp is exposed, I would consider the daily use of sunscreen,” adds Dr. Wolinsky.
How can you check your scalp for sun damage?
“Any new spot, mole, or non-healing wound should be monitored by a dermatologist,” says Dr. Wolinsky, who adds that hairdressers are very helpful in detecting concerning lesions. Your hairdresser should always refer to a dermatologist if they take notice of these kinds of spots.
How else can you protect your scalp from sunburns?
Particularly if you have thin hair, Dr. Wolinsky says, in addition to using sunscreen, wearing a hat is your best bet for protecting your scalp from sun damage. Look for one with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of at least 50—we have a few favorites.