How to Protect Your Hair from Sun and UV Damage

While sun protection for the skin is a given, it shouldn’t stop there. That’s because UV radiation from the sun can impact your hair, too, in unexpected ways. For starters, UV radiation can damage the hair follicles — the source of healthy hair growth — and can fade hair color. And that’s kind of a big deal. One study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science found that UV rays can damage the hair follicles and, in doing so, may even impact healthy hair growth. Their influence affects more than the roots, too; another study found that sun exposure can both degrade and destroy protein, which can lead to breakage and split ends. 

Meanwhile, the influence of sunlight on hair color isn’t exactly breaking news. (Just ask anyone who’s ever doused their hair in lemon juice and sat in the sun in order to create DIY highlights.) Not only does research indicate that it fades hair color, but one study in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology even found that it does so in every single hair type regardless of natural color or color treatments — so, no one’s exempt. 

The good news, though, is that there are simple, straightforward ways to protect your hair from these changes. Here, consider these easy defense strategies. 

Style strategically 

Three purple product bottles standing on a mirror surface.

For starters, use hair products that offer UV protection. Consider a detangling spray that both hydrates and shields strands from UV rays, such as Restore Perfecting Spray — or, if hair is damaged, consider a reparative treatment with UV protection like Restore Repair Leave-in. It’s the best of both worlds, actively nourishing hair while defending it from damage. 

Wear a hat with UPF 

For the uninitiated, UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, is a measure of the amount of UV protection provided by fabric. While any hat is better than none, one with UPF will deliver the highest amount of UV protection; just opt for one with a wide brim so your hair is fully covered. (Unless you’re working with a pixie cut, a baseball cap with UPF won’t do the trick here.)  

Seek shade 

It may seem obvious, but seek shade whenever possible. If you’re spending the day at the beach, make sure you’re set up under an umbrella. The less overall exposure of sun on hair, the better. 

Time it right 

A person touching their yellow hair with their hand.

Rather than heading outside midday, stick to early morning or early evening to be in the great outdoors. The UV Index, or the amount of UV radiation, is highest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so staying out of the sun during these hours is ideal for keeping hair healthy. 

Bottom line? Whether you’re walking to the office or prepping for a day at the beach, protecting your hair (and scalp) accordingly is essential for keeping both you and your hair healthy. And with the proper UV protection, it can be easy, too — without having to sacrifice time in the great outdoors.

Sources:

National Library of Medicine. Transepidermal UV radiation of scalp skin ex vivo induces hair follicle damage that is alleviated by the topical treatment with caffeine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6850087/

National Library of Medicine. UV damage of the hair. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19138021/

Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology. Hair color changes and protein damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1011134404000375