Lately, more and more brands are coming out with hair care products that contain sunscreen. It’s easy to see why. Just like skin, hair is damaged by UV rays, which destroy its inner structure, and so needs to be protected. But is sunscreen in hair care products really effective or is just bogus?
The science behind it
Scientific studies show that, when applied properly, sunscreen on hair works. Scientists have completely covered a sample of hair in sunscreen and then proceeded to expose it to UV rays and compared it to hair where sunscreen was not used. The results show that sunscreen helps to protect hair from damage. But the conditions of this experiment are hard to reproduce at home and the way us, the consumers, use sunscreen on our hair is not really beneficial.
First problem: difficulty in covering every hair strand
When you apply sunscreen on your body, you need to slather on a thick and uniform layer for it to be effective. The same applies to hair. For sunscreen to actually protect hair you’d need to apply a thick film on it without missing any spots and that, due to the nature of hair which is made of so many strands, is not easy at all. But even if you managed to do that, would you actually go outside with your head covered in sunscreen and your hair all greasy without brushing it, styling it or anything like that? Cos that would be problem number 3. But let’s cover number 2 first.
Second problem: sunscreen in rinsed out products doesn’t remain on hair after washing
Sunscreen in shampoos and conditioners, which are products that need to be rinsed off, don’t work. That’s because most sunscreens are water soluble so when you wash the shampoo or conditioner out of your hair, you remove the sunscreen ingredients too. Some of them may still stay on hair, but there is no way of knowing how much. What we know is that’s it’s nowhere near enough to offer adequate protection from the sun. Some sunscreens have been modified chemically to make them more resistant to water, but even those formulas aren’t very effective because only a small amount of sunscreen remains on the hair anyway. And again, that’s not enough to protect hair from UV rays.
Third problem: styling hair removes sunscreen
We already know that sunscreen in rinse off products gets removed from hair after washing it and little to none remains on hair. So in theory, leave-in products that contain sunscreen work a bit better, provided you apply a thick layer that covers each and every single strand. However, styling hair in any way, brushing it, combing it, using tools like blow dryer, flat and curling irons, all remove the sunscreen from hair, leaving it unprotected.
Fourth problem: SPF in hair care products is hard to determine
If you have come across hair products that contain sunscreen you have probably noticed that, unlike sunscreens for the skin, they don’t have a SPF number. Because the FDA doesn’t think it’s safe to rely on hair care products with sunscreen to protect hair from the sun, putting a SFP number on the label would be illegal. But without a number, we don’t know for how long the sunscreen remains on hair, protecting it and how frequently we need to reapply. And even if you knew, would you reapply a big amount of sunscreen to your hair, making it greasy and hard to style, every few hours?
The bottom line
Hair care products with sunscreen don’t work. There is no way of knowing their SPF number, applying an even coat is hard, and in any case, the sunscreen is easily removed by water, combing or styling tools. If you soaked your hair into the sunscreen you use for your body and reapplied every couple of hours, then your hair will get adequate sun protection. But that will also make your hair a right and greasy mess. So, stop wasting money on sunscreen for hair and wear a hat instead. That’s the only way to protect your hair from the sun.