Most of us are pretty good at using sunscreen everyday to protect our skin. But the truth is, not many people are aware that their hair *also* needs daily protection from harmful UV rays.
It’s not like you’ll notice a “sunburn” on your hair – your strands don’t feel pain. But just because there aren’t obvious telltale signs (like a giant, red sunburn) doesn’t mean your hair isn’t suffering from sun damage, which btw can heavily impact the texture, strength, elasticity, AND color of your hair. Big yikes.
The fact is, sun damage to your hair can sneak up on you. Color fade and weakened texture from UV rays can happen even if you’re just sitting by a sunny window, just like curtains or upholstery fabrics fade in a sunny room because they haven’t been treated with “sun-guard” protectants.
At Color Wow, we’re ALWAYS on a mission to help you stop color fade and protect the health of your hair. And in summer, especially this summer, when we’re all spending more days catchin’ more rays, that means making “hair sunscreen” (or UV protecting hair products) as much of a summer staple as regular sunscreen. So let’s get to it!
HOW DOES THE SUN DAMAGE HAIR? LET’S DIVE IN!
Okay, let’s break down that science-y talk. How important are these three affected areas?
1. Hair lipids
Healthy hair strands have a natural, outer layer of lipids (fatty emollients) that serve as a natural moisture barrier and protection from environmental factors. When UVA and UVB rays cause damage to your hair’s lipid layer and break down this barrier, your hair loses critical moisture.
The result is dehydration, frizz, dullness, loss of natural “swing and sway.” This lipid layer is what keeps hair “lubricated” so it has slip and movement. When it breaks down, your hair becomes still, static and motionless….pretty much like a dull, parched, bundle of straw!
2. Hair proteins
UV damage doesn’t just affect the surface of your hair. It can also weaken the internal protein structure of your hair. Kind of like the “spine” of your hair, it’s made up of keratin and is literally what holds your hair together… not to mention that it’s the key to healthy elasticity and strength.
Long-term UVB damage to these proteins leaves your hair weak and prone to breakage and split ends. Here’s the really bad news: This kind of damage can be irreversible. (The only cure? Snip, snip.)
3. Hair color
UV rays can definitely damage your hair color, whether it's natural or chemically-treated. If you have “virgin” untreated hair, the more melanin (aka, the darker your hair is) the more natural sun protection it has.
The melanin particles in darker hair are 1) darker pigment, 2) bigger, and 3) more plentiful. The melanin particles in blonde hair are 1) lighter pigment, 2) smaller, more fragile, and 3) sparser.
So in sunlight, melanin in blonde hair actually breaks down and dissipates faster. That’s why blondes and lighter brunettes get those sunny “natural highlights” in the summer. They look gorgeous, but those highlights can be more fragile and need some extra TLC.
Now, if your hair’s color-treated, sun can make it turn brassy or make the color go funky. That’s because UV rays break down the color and toner molecules that keep your color pure and vivid. On top of that, color-treated hair is more susceptible to protein and lipid layer damage since the hair is already compromised from dehydrating color treatments.
OUR RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS TO PROTECT HAIR FROM THE SUN
In case you were wondering, no, you can’t just plop regular sunscreen on your hair and call it a day! No matter what anyone tells you, SPF doesn’t actually protect your hair like it protects your skin.
Instead, Dr. Joe suggests you look for UV protecting hair products that contain ingredients that absorb harmful UV rays, such as Ethylhexyl Salicylate or Octyl Salicylate. Here are his top 3 go-to recommendations:
This unique oil-serum hybrid formula works on the outside and the inside of your hair to counteract UV damage. On the outside, the serum forms a crystal clear, UV-protectant shield around each strand that seals the cuticle, and helps keep pigments and moisture from escaping. Inside, the oil goes deep into strands to restore elasticity and suppleness to the hair. The result? Hydrated, strong, supple, glossy hair that is, most importantly, shielded from UV damage.
Made without any typical ingredients that yellow and darken your color, this unique, lightweight hairspray contains UV protection that keeps color tone true, plus gives a glossy finish to every look. Its firm but flexible formula won’t harden or leave hair stiff, so you can layer it on, brush it through and switch up your style without fear of over-applying.
Protect your hair in the sun AND fight frizz with this ultra-nourishing styling cream. Its lightweight, non-greasy formula not only saves your hair from UV damage but will also rehydrate sun-damaged hair. Only a pea-sized amount is needed to soothe and tame frizzy, unruly hair. Rich in Avocado Oil and Omega 3’s, it instantly absorbs into each strand for smooth, sleek, shiny, frizz-free results in one minute.
For more frizzy hair advice, check out our ultimate guide to controlling frizz.
Looking for more summer hair inspiration? Our guide to summer-proofing color-treated hair offers tips and tricks around keeping your color looking vibrant for longer. And if you’re in need of some styling inspo, check out our easy braided hairstyles guide - perfect for hotter days!