How to avoid sun damage to your hair

There’s nothing better than soaking up the warm rays of the summer sun. Whether you’re lying poolside with a glass of chardonnay, splashing in a beachy wave or two, or enjoying a good book in your garden, summertime is all about getting a dose of sunshine, with SPF protection, of course.

But what many of us forget is that the sun isn’t just a potential source of skin damage. In fact, UV rays can do a number on your hair and scalp, leading to fading, breakage, and increased hair shed. Here’s why you need to avoid too much sunshine on your hair—plus the steps experts recommend you take to protect your strands all summer long.

Why the sun stresses out your strands

Before we discuss how to prevent it, let’s take a closer look at the way sunshine can damage your strands. 

The sun’s damaging impact on your hair and scalp begins at a cellular level, as UV ray exposure causes the cell structure to weaken and break down. In the same way that sun exposure can accelerate the aging process, causing a noticeable difference in your skin texture, this cellular damage can visibly damage your hair. 

How to spot sun damage on your strands

So sun damage is bad news, but how do you know if you’re suffering from it? Here are some signs to keep an eye out for:

  • Sunburn or flaking skin on your hairline and scalp
  • Lightening, and bleaching effects give hair a lighter color
  • Hair feels weak and brittle due to damage to your strands’ natural proteins
  • Hair loses natural moisture, leading to a dry or frizzy appearance. This can be exacerbated if you spend a lot of time swimming in chlorinated water
  • Increased split ends and hair loss from cellular damage

How you can protect your hair from sunny day stressors 

It’s possible to repair sun-damaged hair with a great deal of time and effort, but in some cases, damaged hair needs to be snipped off—a serious bummer if you’re going for a long-locked, beachy summertime look!

Instead of fighting back against sun damage after the fact, it’s far easier and more effective to take steps to ensure your hair is protected from potential sun damage before it starts. Here are a few effective tricks experts recommend:

Use an overnight mask to lock in moisture

Much of the unwelcome results of summer sun damage are caused by the way UV ray exposure strips your hair and scalp of their protective oils. If you have a beach day or a poolside afternoon planned, prep your strands with an overnight hair mask designed to lock in moisture and soothe your scalp, preventing dryness and damage. Simply rinse out in the morning and go about your day—with extra soft, hydrated strands that can take the heat. 

Cover up

Just like a long-sleeved, lightweight shirt is the best protection from the sunshine on a summer hike, creating a physical barrier to guard your strands against the sun is one of the simplest and most effective steps you can take to avoid UV ray damage. Find a hat style you like (we hear cowboy hats are having a moment), and keep it by your front door so you’ll remember to snag it every time you step into the sunshine. A fashionable headscarf or even an old-school parasol are also great sources of sun protectant style.

Use a sun protectant product

Sun protectant hair styling products used to be hard to find, but these days they’re popping up everywhere. There are many sun-protecting options out there, depending on what your hair needs, but most people’s go-to is a simple styling mist you can keep in your bag and spritz on whenever it’s time to reapply the SPF on your skin. While they won’t prevent potential heat damage from the sun (you’ll need your hat for that), they’re great at keeping the UV rays at bay and preventing cellular damage.

Wear a protective hairstyle 

The less of your hair is in the pathway of the sun, the less chance it has to be damaged. If you anticipate being out in the sun for a long period of time, such as a lengthy beach day or on a sunny hike to a swimming hole, putting hair into a protective hairstyle can help keep damage from occurring. Wrap your hair into a braid or bun to prevent the sun from coming into contact with the full length of your strands, and lock in moisture that would otherwise evaporate in the heat.

Swim smarter

While the sun is one of the summer’s most hair-damaging factors, the extra swimming you’ve been doing may have undesirable consequences in its own right. If your hair is constantly being exposed to salt water or chlorine you allow it to sit on your strands for a long time before rinsing, your hair and scalp can become dehydrated as they’re stripped of their natural protective oils. 

Swim smarter and avoid hydrogel fatigue by keeping hair dry under a swim cap when possible, and dampening hair with regular shower water to prevent chlorine absorption before you jump in the pool.

Experiment with oils

It’s no coincidence that many naturally sunny places have a tradition of styling hair oils. From the amala oil used throughout the Caribbean Islands, to African marula oil, oil styling can help keep strands moisturized and protected from the heat of the summer sun. And some oils, including carrot oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil even have low levels of natural SPF factor that add an extra dose of protection.

Avoid direct sun as much as possible

Last but not least, the best way to avoid sun damage is to stay out of the sun! No, we’re not suggesting you become a vampire, but by avoiding direct sunlight in the hours when the sun is at its strongest you can prevent a lot of potential damage before it occurs. The sun is at its hottest between the hours of 10 AM and 2 PM, so if you’re out and about during that part of the day stick to the shade when possible, and be extra vigilant about your hair protective measures.

So there you have it—the smart hair way to have the best summer ever! Now get out there and bask in some rays, from the shade of a beach umbrella, of course.

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