If you have been in the sun too long and now have a sunburned scalp, then this article will help you. We’ll not only explain what causes scalp sunburns but also disclose the treatment interventions available to give you back your smooth, soft, and shiny scalp that speaks beauty.
Sunburned Scalp – Sunburn on Scalp
Having sunburn on scalp is not a pleasant experience, no doubt, especially given the soreness that it can entail. Redness and soreness are the most obvious symptoms of sunburn on the scalp. A sunburned scalp often tends to peel and flake off after a few days as part of the healing process.
As with any other form of sunburn, scalp sunburns are the result of excessive exposure to the damaging effect of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The skin is normally protected from UV rays by melanin (the skin’s pigment that gives it its color).
When exposed to excessive UV rays, more so for prolonged periods of time, the ability to of melanin to protect the skin is outweighed and the UV radiation penetrates the skin and the resulting damage to the skin cells is what culminates in sunburns.
Fair-skinned individuals are especially more prone to scalp sunburn since they have less melanin compared to the darker-skinned individuals.
People living, or visiting, high altitude areas (e.g. mountain tops) and low latitude areas (close to the equator) are at higher risk of getting sunburned scalps as such areas are typically hotter and so are those in close proximity to water bodies e.g. oceans, snowy areas, and sandy areas because of the reflection effects of associated with such areas.
Sunburned Scalp Blisters
The formation of blisters on a sunburned scalp is typically an indication of more serious (second degree) sunburn). These usually result from damage to the lower layers of the skin unlike the more common first degree sunburns which only afflict the tops layer of the skin.
A golden rule of thumb to remember is: don’t pop or pick on those blisters. If they however burst open, you should consider applying an over-the-counter antibiotic cream such as Bacitracin or Polysporin.
Sunburn on Head – Prevention
As the Mayo Clinic website puts it, preventing scalp sunburns is as easy as putting on a hat (preferably a wide-brimmed hat just to protect the face as well) when outdoors in the sun and this applies to sunny days as much as it applies to cloudy days since 77% of sun’s UV rays still filters through the clouds according to Dr. Val Jones, MD, a medical author at the “Dr. Val and the Voice of Reason” blog.
Sunburned Scalp Treatment or How to Treat a Sunburned Scalp
If the unthinkable has already happened after forgetting to protect your hair and scalp from the sun and are now wondering how to treat a sunburned scalp, you will delight to know that it will in most case heal by itself.
There are however numerous options that maybe helpful to not only promote faster healing but also prevent the formation of blisters and peeling of the skin including:
Be gentle on your scalp: The first thing to keep in mind is to use gentle, soft styling brushes to style your hair. As for washing and shampooing your hair, it is advisable to use your fingertips only to prevent scratching the scalp which could potentially worsen the problem and slow down the healing process.
You will also want to avoid using harsh shampoos that contain alcohol as their drying effect could lead to further scalp damage. There are also various brands of shampoos formulated for post- sunburn use such as Redken UV Rescue after Sun Shampoo which may help. Using a good moisturizing conditioned is also often beneficial.
Anti-inflammatory medicine: To treat the pain, you may want to take an over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Tylenol), Naproxen, or acetaminophen (Advil or Motrin). Remember however that aspirin containing medicines are not advised for children aged below 16 years since it has been showed to increase the risk of Reye’s Syndrome which is often fatal.
Aloe vera: Can you talk about sunburned scalp (or any other type of skin sunburn) treatment without mentioning aloe vera? In my opinion, no, Aloe vera is a splendid home remedy for virtually all types of sunburn, the only exception perhaps being sunburned eyes.
The anti-inflammatory properties of Aloe vera help to soothe the scalp while at the same time cooling it.
You can either apply a fresh juice from a split Aloe vera leaf to your scalp immediately after washing it with warm water and patting it dry with a towel (while it is still damp) or apply a couple teaspoons of aloe vera gel. After 30 minutes or 1 hour, wash the aloe vera off with cool water.
There are also aloe vera sprays brands available over-the-counter and these can as well serve the purpose. The major advantage of aloe vera sprays is that they can be used after styling your hair to your preferred taste.
Green tea: Green tea is yet another remedy suitable for getting rid of sunburned scalp. Freshly brewed green tea works by reducing the inflammation and stinging often associated with scalp sunburns. To prepare a green tea rinse for this purpose, drop a tea bag of green tea into a pot of boiling water and allow it to simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Now remove the tea bag and allow the tea solution cool until it is lukewarm before rinsing your hair and scalp with it (after washing your hair or shampooing and conditioning it with gentle products). Do not rinse the tea solution out.
Apple cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar also helps to get rid of the sting commonly associated with scalp sunburns. To use vinegar for sunburn treatment, mix vinegar and water in 1:1 ratio (e.g. ½ glass of water to ½ glass of water) and use it to rinse your hair after washing it or shampooing and conditioning it with gentle products twice daily.
Additional tips for sunburned scalp treatment
- Drink plenty of water to stay adequately hydrated
- Avoid further exposure to sun by wearing a hat
- Avoid the temptation to pick at the burns
- Avoid heat treatment e.g. blow-drying as the sunburn heals
Sunburned Scalp Peeling
Sunburned scalp peeling is a pretty common phenomenon that accompanies the healing process and should not be a cause for concern. You might get tempted to scratch off the flaking and peeling skin, but you shouldn’t as that lead to further damage and sometimes infection.
Instead, keep the scalp well moisturized with a gentle shampoo and conditioning products and soothe the inflation and itching with aloe vera spray, sap or gel, apple cider vinegar, or green tea rinse. OTC anti-inflammatory medications, e.g. ibuprofen and acetaminophen, may also help.