The 10 Best Scalp Sunscreens of 2023
Sep 19, 2023
According to dermatologists, these scalp protectors are a must for your everyday routine and getaways in the sun.
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Travel + Leisure / Reese Herrington
Sun protection should always be a part of your daily routine, and you don't want to neglect your head when applying SPF. “Scalp skin also needs protection from the UV light and likely even more since it is directly receiving light from above,” advises Dr. Kseniya Kobets, a board-certified dermatologist. Plus, “only a few minutes of unprotected scalp sun exposure each day adds up over time,” adds Dr. Iris Rubin, a dermatologist and founder of Seen Skin & Haircare.
With guidance from these two dermatologists in mind, we used extensive research to find the best scalp-protecting sunscreens on the market. Our top pick is Coola’s Organic Scalp & Hair Suncreen Mist because the invisible SPF 30 spray is lightweight, non-greasy, and suitable for all hair types. But if you prefer a powder, lotion, or stick formula, read on — our comprehensive list has the best picks in every category.
Why We Love It: The lightweight, non-greasy formula works on all hair types, and we love the beachy scent.
What to Consider: Bald heads will be better protected with a lotion.
Whether you’re spending hours in the sun on a tropical vacation or just want a bit of daily protection, Coola's organic scalp and hair sunscreen spray is a great option. The SPF 30 mist provides non-greasy sun protection while helping prevent UV-related color fade. A blend of plant-based antioxidants work to strengthen damaged hair without weighing it down, while monoi oil nourishes the scalp and hair. The lightweight product won’t leave oily residue either, so you can feel good about spritzing it no matter the occasion.
With 80 minutes of water resistance, this little spray is an essential companion for your next pool or beach day — and, fittingly, it has a dreamy salted sage scent. It comes in a TSA-friendly 2-ounce bottle, so you can toss it in your carry-on for any adventure. To use, spritz the product onto exposed areas of your scalp 15 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapply as needed.
Price at time of publish: $26
The Details: 2 ounces | Mist | 30 SPF
Why We Love It: The 100 percent mineral powder has a weightless feel.
What to Consider: There’s no water resistance.
If you have fine hair that tends to get weighed down by styling products, consider a powder formula for your scalp protection, which Dr. Kobets says “may be a better option for finer thin hair, as they are less likely to dampen the volume or make hair flat.” Supergoop’s mineral formula is a non-greasy, translucent, virtually undetectable powder that can be tapped directly onto your part line to protect it from UV rays. Shake well and spray evenly through roots and scalp until your part is visibly coated, then massage with your fingertips to blend in powder. The product should be used as the final step in your hair styling routine 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied every two hours.
Price at time of publish: $34
The Details: 0.71 ounces | Powder | 35 SPF
Why We Love It: Plant-based ingredients nourish your strands while protecting them from the sun.
What to Consider: Its active ingredients include the chemical octisalate.
Beyond shielding your hair and scalp from UVA/UVB rays with SPF 30 protection, this weightless spray also has nourishing benefits. Plant-based ingredients like green tea, olive oil, and vitamin B5 encourage thicker, fuller hair growth and protect against color fading, discoloration, and damage from the sun and free radicals. The formula, which feels lightweight on hair and clean on the scalp, is non-greasy and doesn’t leave any unwanted residue. Shake before use, then spray on your hair, scalp, skin, and face before sun exposure. It’s water-resistant for 80 minutes.
Price at time of publish: $30
The Details: 3 ounces | spray | 30 SPF
Why We Love It: It’s gentle for sensitive skin.
What to Consider: Stick formulas can feel a bit greasy.
Dr. Kobets recommends picking sunscreens with mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide, which is the key ingredient in Neutrogena’s SPF 50 stick formula. The product, which can be used on the scalp, face, and body, glides on easily and leaves no white residue. Though stick sunscreens can sometimes feel a bit greasy, they’re also super convenient to pack and use on the go. This fragrance-, dye-, and paraben-free one is great for beach and pool days as it’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Price at time of publish: $15
The Details: 1.5 ounces | Stick | 50 SPF
Why We Love It: The vegan, reef-friendly spray works on all hair types.
What to Consider: If you’re spending long periods in direct sunlight, you may want a product with higher SPF.
If you’re going to be swimming or sweating, make sure to pick up a product that offers water resistance. You’ll still need to reapply periodically, but Sun Bum’s scalp mist will offer water-resistant protection for up to 80 minutes. The lightweight, fast-drying product is formulated with vitamin E and sunflower seed oil to nourish strands and keep them shiny and strong. To apply, hold the container 4 to 6 inches from your scalp and spray liberally and spread evenly with your fingertips 15 minutes before sun exposure.
Price at time of publish: $18
The Details: 2 ounces | Spray | 30 SPF
Why We Love It: It has a delicious coconut scent.
What to Consider: It’s not available in a TSA-friendly size.
This easy application spray, which is a favorite for its tropical scent, goes on clear so you won’t need to worry about white residue on your hairline. The lightweight, quick-drying mist features a botanical blend of aloe vera, safflower oil, and avocado oil — and it doesn’t feel heavy or sticky on the skin. But the reason we really love this sunscreen is its attention to the environment: The cruelty-free vegetarian spray is made with reef-friendly and biodegradable formulas. It’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes, however, you may prefer it for the beach rather than the pool since it contains avobenzone, an ingredient that had a concerning reaction to chlorine in one study.
Price at time of publish: $11
The Details: 6 ounces | Spray | 50 SPF
Black Girl Sunscreen
Why We Love It: The continuous spray is infused with nourishing ingredients like jojoba and avocado.
What to Consider: Make sure to reapply every two hours.
Braids can leave your scalp more exposed than many other hairstyles, so you’ll want a formula that offers nourishing protection. Black Girl Magic’s SPF 30 continuous spray is packed with soothing and moisturizing ingredients like avocado oil, jojoba oil, aloe vera, shea butter, and glycerin — all of which work together to keep your skin hydrated and healthy. It finishes dry to the touch with no white cast and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. The 3-ounce product is on the larger end compared to many items on our list (but still TSA-friendly), which is great because this can be used just as well on your face and body. Apply liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours.
Price at time of publish: $19
The Details: 3 ounces | Spray | 30 SPF
Why We Love It: These drops can be used on their own or mixed in with other face products.
What to Consider: You may see a bit of white residue if you don’t rub it in fully.
If you prefer a liquid sunscreen formulation but don’t want that greasy, weighed down feeling, consider Coola’s Organic Sun Silk Drops. The fast-absorbing, lightweight sunscreen has a much thinner consistency than the thick formulas you’re used to slathering on. The non-comedogenic product is packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid and helps mitigate the effects of blue light, pollutants, and other skin stressors. It’s applied using a dropper and can be dabbed directly onto your hairline or face, or you can mix it in with another product like your favorite moisturizer to give it a boost of SPF. To top off the list of benefits, it’s vegan, gluten-free, cruelty-free, reef-safe, and comes in recyclable packaging.
Price at time of publish: $48
The Details: 1 ounce | Dropper | 30 SPF
Why We Love It: The oil-free formula is water-resistant.
What to Consider: Its active ingredients include the chemicals octinoxate and octisalate.
Bald heads (naturally) need the most protection from the sun’s rays. Thanks to its blend of zinc oxide with octinoxate and octisalate, this creamy sunscreen melts into skin without leaving any traces of greasy or white residue, so it’s perfect for slathering all over your head. Another bonus: It contains vitamin E, which helps strengthen skin. The fragrance-free, non-comedogenic formula can (and should) be applied to your face and body as well, which is why it’s convenient that it comes in both 7 ounces and a TSA-friendly 3-ounce bottle. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Price at time of publish: $30 (7-ounce)
The Details: 3 ounces, 7 ounces | Lotion | 50 SPF
Why We Love It: The SPF 30 powder comes in four hues, including a translucent version.
What to Consider: It’s pricey.
According to Dr. Kobets, liquid or spray sunscreen formulas can weigh down fine or thinning hair. In those cases, a powder substance may be your best bet. This weightless physical broad spectrum sunscreen is applied directly to the scalp via an ultra-soft vegan brush head, which delivers even application and comes off for easy cleaning. It’s refillable, so you may want to pack an extra vial or two if you plan to use it on your face (it can even be applied over makeup!) and body. The reef-safe formula is water-resistant up to 40 minutes, and it’s safe and effective for all skin types, including sensitive and acne-prone skin.
Price at time of publish: $55
The Details: 0.18 ounces | Powder | 30 SPF
“If someone has fine thin hair, using a [liquid] sunscreen in the scalp may make the hair feel flat and lose its volume … An SPF powder would be a better choice,” says Dr. Kobets, explaining that powders won’t weigh hair down as much. “[For] someone with more of [a] bald scalp, most sunscreens should work.”
Furthermore, it’s important to note that “using a scalp sunscreen with pore-clogging ingredients can lead to acne,” adds Dr. Rubin. “If you’re prone to scalp breakouts, make sure any products that come in contact with your hair and scalp are non-comedogenic,” which means they won’t clog pores.
“Lotions may provide the best sun protection because they offer better coverage,” explains Dr. Rubin. “Sprays can be very effective for the scalp as well since application is targeted (as opposed to spray body sunscreens that can provide less adequate coverage if spots are missed). Powder-based sunscreens are convenient for touch-ups when you’re on the go, and specifically along your hair’s part or around the hairline.”
“Yes, the scalp can experience sunburn despite being covered with hair, especially if you have fine or thinning hair,” says Dr. Rubin. “You can think of this similar to how clothing can offer sun protection. A regular white T-shirt provides an SPF of roughly 7, but an opaque, tightly woven fabric can provide a UPF of 50.”
“You can use regular sunscreen on the scalp,” confirms Dr. Kobets, who recommends using products with “mineral ingredients (a.k.a. physical sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) SPF 30-50. It’s often a trial and error with sunscreens, to make sure it feels not too pasty, oily or too dry.”
Dr. Rubin warns “you’ll likely wind up with greasy hair” if you apply body sunscreen to the scalp.
“When applying sunscreen on the scalp, you work it in the same way as on the face, but make sure to use extra, and don’t forget the ears and the back of the neck,” says Dr. Kobets. “All the scalp that is exposed should be covered in sunscreen.”
For this story, Talia Ergas used her experience as a beauty editor and diligent sunscreen wearer to research the best selections in every category.
We also spoke to two dermatologists for advice on choosing and applying an effective scalp sunscreen:
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