Summer is known for its carefree vibes, like floating around on your inflatable flamingo and drinking frozen margaritas. But it’s not all sunshine and lollipops, as anyone who’s skimped on the SPF and ended up with a nasty sunburn will know!
Alongside a sunburned nose, a sunburned scalp is one of the most annoying summer fails. And, since many of us don’t think to slather our scalp and hairline in sunscreen, it’s also super common. Leaving loads of us with severe sunburn pain on our noggins after a long day at the beach.
If you’re currently suffering from a sunburned scalp, read on. We’re sure you’ll find some sweet relief with our handy tips for preventing another episode of toasted misery.
Sunburn on Scalp Symptoms
If your scalp is red, feeling hot, painful to the touch, or starts to flake, you may have a sunburned scalp. Severe cases of a sunburned scalp can include blisters, headaches, and nausea—if you have these symptoms, get your pretty little self to a doctor ASAP. Sun poisoning is no joke.
While a sunburned scalp is a fast track to ruining your summer fun, rest assured there are a few easy ways to speed up healing and get back to the beach where you belong. As long as you’re wearing a hat!
How to Treat Sunburn on Scalp
If you’re suffering from a sunburned scalp, you should do your best to avoid more sun exposure. While you’re recovering from a sunburned scalp, give your melon some lovin’ and time to heal using these sunburn-soothing tips.
Keep Your Cool
When dealing with the pain (and peeling—ew!) of a sunburned scalp, the best way to feel better fast is to keep your scalp as cool as possible. Sure, you could stick your head in the freezer, but that’s not exactly safe and—even worse—could result in melted ice cream. Instead, opt for a nice cold shower a la middle school and let the cool water run all over your sunburned scalp.
You can also use a cold compress throughout the day to help relieve your suffering. Soak a washcloth in cool water and place it on your hair part or wherever your sunburn is most painful. You can keep a bowl of ice water next to you and regularly dip your washcloth in it to keep your scalp feeling cool and happy. Aim for about 20 minutes at a time and repeat as needed.
Don’t Pick or Peel
Since we’re talking about skin flaking, we know there are two camps of folks: those who think peeling skin is GROSS and those who LOVE it. Either way, picking at or peeling your sunburn is always a bad idea. You should always let your body do its thing to help you heal faster. As tempting as it may be for some of us, resist the urge to pick as it’ll only make it worse.
Moisturise Your Sunburned Scalp
When treating a sunburn on the scalp, one of the most important things you can do to heal faster is to keep the skin moisturised. If your sunburn extends to your hairline, forehead, etc., apply a good body moisturiser to keep the skin nice and hydrated.
You can also apply a topical ointment designed for treating itchy, irritated skin like hydrocortisone cream or Neosporin to your scalp. Just be sure to use the hydrocortisone cream sparingly and for less than a week; any longer can cause more harm than good to your skin.
Another go-to for soothing sunburned scalps and skin is aloe vera gel applied directly to the burn. Aloe vera is the perfect solution for easing sunburn pain thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to provide exceptional hydration for your skin.
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Avoid Heat Styling (For Now)
Using heat styling tools like curling or flat irons or your blow dryer can worsen the pain from a sunburned scalp. Sorry.
As a rule, it’s best to avoid fancy hairstyles for a while because you can accidentally irritate your scalp or pull your hair, making your healing process take even longer. So, stick with a simple hairstyle for a while, claw clips and scrunchies can be incredibly useful in these moments. Your sad and sorry scalp will thank you.
Take Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
Taking an over-the-counter pain relief medicine like Tylenol or NSAIDs (Ibuprofen) can easily and safely relieve some of the discomforts of your burn. These medications can help you feel and sleep better, plus they're inexpensive and you probably already have some in your home. Ibuprofen is known for its anti-inflammatory benefits; just make sure to always double-check for any potential prescription medicine interactions.
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Add a Gentle Scalp Scrub to the Mix
After about 3 days, the inevitable peeling phase will begin. While you’re enjoying your cool shower, try to use this time to gently get rid of the flaking. To wash those unsightly flakes right outta your hair, opt for a good sulfate-free deep clean scrub. It will help exfoliate your flaking, peeling scalp without causing further irritation. If you think that the scrub is still rough for your scalp, avoid massaging it into your scalp and let the AHA and BHA work their magic.
How to Avoid a Scalp Sunburn
You may be in the thick of it now, swearing to the sun gods you’ll never go outside again. Let’s be honest, though, as soon as you start feeling better, the salty sea air will start calling and you’re gonna answer.
While there’s no need to spend your summer inside; there are a few ways to avoid a sunburned scalp:
Wear a Hat
Summer hats are so chic, and they help prevent a sunburned scalp: win-win. Depending on your mood, you can choose a classic floppy straw hat or opt for a sporty baseball cap. Whichever you choose, you won’t have to worry about the wrath of another sunburn on your scalp.
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Apply a Sunscreen to Your Scalp
Yeah, you heard us. Applying sunscreen directly to your scalp, especially on your parting, is a great way to avoid a nasty sunburn. But be sure to choose one that’s meant for your scalp. They’re normally formulated as sprays, mists and powders for easy application and so you don’t end up with a greasy mess. Also, while you’re at it, remember to protect your locks by using a leave-in that provides UV protection!
Prep for the Occasion
Of course, the best way to avoid the pain from a sunburned scalp is to avoid getting it in the first place. Sunburns don’t have to be an inevitable downside of summer. You can enjoy time in the sunshine without the burn with just a few simple daily routines.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
Make sure you’re drinking enough water! Hydrated skin is healthier, plus during the summer, you’re spending time in the sun and sweating more than usual. Your water intake needs to be increased to prevent dehydration, which can make a sunburn way worse. If you’re already dealing with a sunburn, make sure to drink extra water because sunburn causes your body to dehydrate. Also, adding electrolytes to your water is a great idea to help with hydration. So you might want to reach for a sports drink to up your electrolytes.
Do Your Part
No, we aren’t talking about global warming—although that’s also very important! To avoid sunburn on your scalp, make sure you apply and reapply your sunscreen regularly to protect the little sliver of skin exposed to the sun throughout the day. Switching up your hair is also an option worth trying. An easy way is to don a ponytail, or a low bun with your hair brushed back, protecting your natural hair part. Easy breezy.
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With these simple tips, you can help protect your scalp from sunburn and continue enjoying your endless summer. For more health and beauty tips, including the best and safest way to get naturally glowing skin, check out our blog!
Edited by: Pip Jarvis and Iris