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What Can You Do About a Sunburned Scalp?

Discover how to deal with a sunburned scalp, from the signs that your scalp is sunburned to peeling skin and blisters. Find out more here to protect your head.

When you've spent too long out in the sun without enough protection, you might end up with a sunburned scalp. Sunburned scalps are uncomfortable and can come with a lot of different potential symptoms, ranging from dried-out hair to even blistering in extreme cases.

When your scalp is sunburned, some people might say you just have to wait for any damage to heal over time. But there are some firm steps you can take to soothe any discomfort and help your skin and hair heal healthily, including moisturizing and eating well.

Let's start by finding out if sunburn can damage your hair and what the symptoms of sunburn are.

Can Sunburn on Your Head Damage Your Hair?

Yes, scalp sunburn can damage hair. Sun exposure can cause the hair to become brittle, dry and discolored. The sun can also weaken the hair's roots, causing it to break and thin out. It's worth noting that sunburn doesn't cause permanent hair loss, and damage should be easily fixed over time. It's important to wear sun-protective hats or take other protective measures when exposed to sunlight to keep your hair healthy and protected. Using a leave-in sunscreen or oil for the scalp during periods of sun exposure may provide extra protection from damage caused by the sun.

What Are the Symptoms of a Sunburned Scalp?

Sunburn can be painful and frustrating. It's important to recognize the symptoms that indicate you have a sunburned scalp, so you can take the proper steps to treat it. Classic symptoms of sunburned scalps include:

  • Dryness

  • Tenderness

  • Reddening of the scalp

  • Blistering

Here's what you need to know about the main symptoms of a sunburned scalp and how to treat them:

The Problem: Dryness

Dry scalps can impact your hair in a number of ways. Hair on our heads offers some level of protection against UV rays from the sun, although it's often inadequate. So when your scalp gets exposed to long periods of direct sunlight, it can easily become dry and start cracking or flaking due to dehydration.

The Solution: Moisturize Regularly

Peeling sunburn on your scalp can be itchy, but it's important to try not to irritate the skin further through scratching. Instead, regularly moisturize your scalp. Avoid using products containing fragrances or other chemicals that might aggravate your head even more. Sticking to moisturizers that don't contain abrasive chemicals is best to avoid more pain for irritated scalps. Products like the conditioner in Nioxin's Scalp Relief System Kit use the benefits of aloe vera to provide soothing relief. Apply these as instructed until the skin has completely healed.

The Problem: Tenderness

When your scalp is sunburned, you may initially experience discomfort like tenderness from light brushing or scratching your head. This is because when your skin is burned, it'll tend to be much more sensitive than usual. You might also notice your head starting to swell after direct UV exposure.

Solution 1: Take A Cool Shower

A cool shower will help provide instant relief from the burning sensation of a sunburn on your scalp. The cool water will reduce inflammation and give some temporary comfort. Avoid particularly hot or cold showers, as this can irritate the skin.

Solution 2: Apply An Icepack

If you need extra cooling for immediate relief, apply an ice pack to your sunburn for 15-20 minutes once or twice daily. Be sure to wrap the icepack in a towel first to avoid coming into direct contact with cold temperatures on already-irritated skin.

The Problem: Reddening Of The Scalp

Your natural pigment guard tends to weaken over time due to continual sun exposure, which results in discoloration. This creates patchy areas that appear more red or pink than usual. This reddening can also be caused by inflammation.

Solution 1: Allow Time

In all but the most severe cases of sunburn, reddening should disappear over time. Following previous steps, like moisturizing and taking cool showers, can help relieve pain and speed up healing time.

Solution 2: Drink Plenty of Water and Eat Healthily

Healing a sunburn requires hydration, so make sure you hit your daily water intake and eat plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables. These contain anti-inflammatory properties that can speed up healing time naturally from within. Just be sure not to overindulge in foods high in oils, as these might clog pores and make matters worse!

The Problem: Blistering

If you are exposed for too long without protection, then there's a risk that burns can occur and present themselves through blisters. This type of sun damage could cause permanent pigmentation problems if not treated correctly immediately.

Solution 1: Treat Your Blisters

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has suggested several ways to help treat blistering from scalp burns, including:

  • Avoid breaking the blister to encourage faster healing and avoid infection.

  • Use gauze to lightly bandage the area and prevent infection.

  • If a blister does break or the skin peels, remove any dried fragments of dead skin and use an antiseptic ointment or hydrocortisone cream.

Solution 2: Seek Medical Advice

The CDC also recommends seeking medical attention if any of the following symptoms accompany blisters and sunburned skin:

  • Severe sunburns covering more than 15% of the body

  • Dehydration

  • High fever (>101°F)

  • Extreme pain that persists for longer than 48 hours

How Long Does Scalp Sunburn Last?

The duration of sunburn can vary depending on the severity of the burn and individual skin type. Allow enough healing time before you stop taking extra precautions. You'll be able to tell when enough time has passed once any symptoms of sunburn have resolved. 

Avoid Making Sunburned Skin Worse

Use suitable clothing to get proper sun protection. Wear wide-brimmed hats outdoors to avoid further irritation on your scalp. Try to minimize direct sun exposure whenever possible by seeking shade during peak hours when the sun is strongest. It's important to be particularly careful during the summer months. Hot summer days mean our scalps sweat more than usual, which can make your sunburn more uncomfortable and itchy. If you're worried about your hair or scalp health, look at our full selection of hair care tips to discover more about everything from hair products to receding hairlines. Start achieving your dream head of hair today.


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