Save Your Sunburned Scalp From Itchy Torture

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How To Soothe A Sunburned ScalpSolskin

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Ever thought you thoroughly applied sunscreen to your whole body, only to find out a few hours later that your scalp is red, angry, and burnt to a crisp? Yeah, we’ve been there too. Unfortunately, a sunburned scalp is bound to happen every once in a while, but that doesn’t mean you need to suffer through the pain once it happens.

There are plenty of ways to ease the pain at home (more on that below), but it's important to keep in mind that if symptoms don't subside within seven to 10 days after the burn, it may be time to see a dermatologist to prescribe topical steroids or antibiotics, according to Corey L. Hartman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL.

Meet the experts: Corey L. Hartman,MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL. Jody Alpert Levine, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and director of dermatology at Plastic Surgery & Dermatology of NYC. Bridgette Hill is a certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis.

And if you’ve ever needed an excuse to finally start experimenting with all the adorable summer hats that have been filling your feed, this is the perfect time to do so. Your outfit—and your sensitive skin—will look and feel so much better.

Below, we’ve asked two dermatologists and a trichologist for their best tips on ways to treat, soothe, and prevent a sunburned scalp. Fun in the sun just got a lot safer.

Symptoms of a scalp sunburn

So you were out in the sun for a while and suspect you might have a scalp sunburn. Here are a few key symptoms to help you know for sure:

  • Redness

  • Peeling

  • Discomfort

  • Blistering

  • Sensitivity

  • Itching

  • Headache

  • Blistering

Aside from the burn, headaches can also stem from dehydration from being out in the sun for too long and can last up to 24 hours, says Jody Alpert Levine, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and director of dermatology at Plastic Surgery & Dermatology of NYC. Meanwhile, something like peeling can last up to a week. But if a burn is severe enough that it causes blistering, you should seek medical attention, says Dr. Levine.

Additionally, if you have a history of getting scalp sunburns, she recommends seeing your dermatologist once a year to make sure you don't have any skin cancer developing. "The scalp burn is the immediate problem, but the longterm problem is the sun damage that's caused to the skin," she says.

How to treat a sunburned scalp:

While there's no quick fix for getting rid of a scalp sunburn after it happens, there are definitely some things you can do to ease the discomfort.

1. Use cool water to shower

Dealing with a sunburned scalp can be rough at times, for sure. Not only do you have to continue to wash and care for your hair, but you have to do it all with an inflamed base, too. “Be sure to turn down the temperature of the shower and use cool or lukewarm water, as hot water only worsens the inflammation,” explains Dr. Hartman. “Stay away from styles that involve heat from flatirons and blow dryers, and use cold compresses to ease the discomfort.”

2. Apply a cold compress

Whether it’s an an ice pack or a refrigerated towel, applying anything cooling to the sunburn will help. “I suggest immediately applying cold-pressed essential oils like mint, eucalyptus, echinacea, or an aloe vera gel directly to the scalp,” explains Bridgette Hill, a certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis.

3. Avoid further irritation

Skip shampooing for 24 hours post-scalp burn and opt for shampoos that are soothing to the scalp. “Avoid sulfates and dimethicone, which can increase irritation and trap heat, worsening damage,” explains Dr. Hartman. If you’d rather avoid shampoo altogether, you can use a soothing scalp rinse like witch hazel or rose water, and make sure you keep conditioners and styling products off the scalp until redness and discomfort subside, suggests Hill.

Although you should try to avoid heat styling, Hill recommends using the Dyson Supersonic hairdryer gentle air attachment with the cool setting when hair styling is unavoidable while the scalp is healing.

4. Use products with aloe

Once the sun damage has taken place, Dr. Hartman recommends trying the Oars & Alps After Sun Cooling Spray. “This innovative product contains aloe vera, niacinamide, and kukui oil, which is native to Hawaii and has been used by the locals for centuries,” explains Dr. Hartman. “This spray helps cool, soothe, and repair sun damaged skin in a non-greasy base.”

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Hill recommends using the Grow Gorgeous Sensitive Ceramide Rich Hair and Scalp Mask on a sunburned scalp. “This overnight serum reduces the appearance of redness and soothes with moisture,” she says. “I like that it is fragrance-free and is oat lipid-based, which helps to heal the skin’s barrier function.” Additionally, Hill loves the Design Essentials Peppermint & Aloe Soothing Scalp Tonic, which combines the soothing, calming benefits of aloe with the cooling sensation of peppermint, and can be used as a leave-in or as a pre-shampoo scalp treatment.

5. Wear sunscreen

Want to avoid the above-mentioned sunburned scalp treatment altogether? Prevention is key. “If your hair is thin, be sure to apply a broad-spectrum SPF that works well for the way that you style your hair,” explains Dr. Hartman. “Consider a spray sunscreen as a base or as an adjunct, and don’t forget to apply extra to the part or any areas that have experienced thinning. Of course, a wide-brimmed hat is always the best way to protect the head and neck, so find a style that works for you and rock it!”

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While you should always be wearing sunscreen on your entire body during any type of sun exposure, Dr. Hartman suggests also taking a supplement with polypodium leucotomos in it, like Heliocare Skin Care Dietary Supplement or ISDIN Sunisdin Daily Antioxidant Supplement. “The ISDIN Sunisdin supplement has over 100 clinical trials to support its efficacy and has been shown to decrease the effect of prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light by preventing cellular damage while stimulating the production of new skin proteins through its antioxidant activity,” explains Dr. Hartman.

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When heading to the beach, pool, or anywhere under the sun, make sure you have products that can be applied to your scalp for sunburn prevention. The Supergoop! Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35 PA+++ is one of Hill’s favorites. “I love the ease of application (like a dry shampoo), allowing for ease of use for optimal coverage and aesthetically adds texture to a beach bun or braid,” she says.

Dr. Hartman recommends COOLA Scalp & Hair Mist Organic Sunscreen SPF 30 because it’s a vegan formulation that won’t affect the texture of your hair or interfere with your style, and also helps to fight frizz.

6. Take over-the-counter pain medication

This ultimately depends on how bad your burn is, but if you're having discomfort from inflammation in the area, then NSAIDs (non-steroid ant-inflammatory drugs) can be helpful, says Dr. Levine. This can also be a good option if you have have a bad headache. She recommends taking a Tylenol or Ibuprofen as needed, noting that most symptoms will subside in about an hour. "It's not going to help the skin heal—it's simply for [managing] symptoms," she says.

7. Apply a hydrocortisone cream

Dr. Levine is a big fan of 1 percent hydrocortisone creams for sunburns and with good reason. According to Mayo Clinic, it can reduce redness, itching, and swelling. Simply head to your local pharmacy to explore some over-the-counter options. For an extra soothing sensation, Dr. Levine also suggests combining it with aloe or finding a cream that is pre-made with both ingredients.

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