The sun can damage your hair—unless you take these steps
A hair stylist weighs in on how you can protect your mane.
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Protecting your skin from the sun is of utmost importance, and the directions are simple enough: Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen or wear tightly woven, opaque clothing. When it comes to keeping the sun’s rays from harming your hair, however, the subject is less discussed, and the guidelines are murkier. But UV rays can mess with your hair’s color, texture, and strength, just as they can cause damage to your skin.
What are we wearing?
How does the sun damage hair?
When your skin is exposed to the sun, it may tan or become red from a sunburn as well as lose moisture. Your hair may react similarly: “The sun’s rays can discolor and dry out strands, which can lead to frizz and split ends,” says Valdes. These changes can occur after just 10 minutes in the sun without protection for your hair.
The state of your hair before UV exposure, such as whether it's dyed or undyed, will affect its post-sun appearance. “If your hair has had a color service done, the sun’s effects will be more visible,” Valdes says. This is because dyeing or highlighting the hair will “lift or swell the cuticle,” making the hair prone to color fading and lightening. Dyed hair may also lose shine and those with a cooler tone to their hair may see it become brassy or yellowed. Someone with warm-toned hair, like a redhead, may see a dulling or lightening of their color. Those who receive touch-ups for gray hairs “may feel like the coverage has disappeared or feel like it didn’t take or last,” Valdes says, adding that changes in color are more likely to occur on the crown of the head or on the “fringe area” (i.e., the pieces that grow along the front hairline, like bangs).
The sun’s effect on undyed hair varies with the color, too; in general UV radiation will “expose natural underlying warmth,” Valdes says. For example, brunettes may see red or copper tones and those with light brown or blond hair may see coppery or brighter strands.
How can you prevent sun damage to hair?
Keep your hair covered
Covering your hair with a physical barrier is the most effective and simplest solution for protecting your strands from the sun. This can take the form of a hat or a head scarf, depending on your preference. Look for an option that provides UPF protection, which indicates that the fabric won’t allow the sun’s UV rays to penetrate through. A UPF rating of 50 or higher adequately protects your strands and scalp, as it does for your skin.
You can take your pick of many sun hats, but the Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap will ensure your locks are covered, thanks to its removable cape that covers the sides and back of the head. The baseball cap and cape have a UPF 50 rating and are made of lightweight, water-resistant nylon. If you plan to use the hat while being active, you can use the adjustable cinch cord to keep the cap in place for the duration of your run, boat ride, or other potentially windy endeavor.
The Buff CoolNet UV+ Insect Shield Multifunctional Headwear offers a UPF rating of 50, and it can be styled several ways to cover your scalp and hair from the sun. It comes in three colorful prints and it uses quick-drying microfiber fabric to keep you cool and dry. Also, the headpiece is treated with “Insect Shield,” which involves binding an permethrin-containing insect repellent to the clothing’s fabric to help ward off mosquitoes and other biting bugs.
Opt for UV protection treatments
In addition to covering your head—or if you just can’t stand to wear a hat during the warm weather—you can add protection into your hair care routine. The Soleil by Kérastase line is one of Valdes' top recommendations because it comprises several sun protection options, including a shampoo, conditioning mask, and styling cream.
If you want to start with a single item, try the multi-purpose Kérastase Soleil Crème UV Sublime Hair Cream. The leave-in treatment includes a UV filter that claims to absorb the sun’s rays to protect the hair, and it contains coconut water and vitamin E to hydrate and moisturize the hair and prevent breakage, respectively. Apply a pea-sized amount of formula to clean, damp hair and comb it from roots to ends before heading out into the sun.
You can also keep your strands healthy looking in general by keeping up with trims every few months to snip off dead ends and by using a moisturizing mask in place of your regular conditioner once a week. Go with the highly rated Eva NYC Therapy Session Hair Mask for one that claims to condition and protect hair with argan oil as well as hydrates and smooth breakage with plant proteins. Once a week, apply the formula “generously” to shampoo-ed hair, allow it to sit for up to five minutes, and rinse well.
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