How the Sun Damages Hair and What to Do to Protect Your Strands

Published on: 08/04/2021 3:12 pm

The only thing worse than a sunburn on your skin? Sunburnt hair.

Girl in the Beach

By now, most of us have heard enough horror stories to know that repeated applications of sunscreen are a must, especially as temps rise. But not everyone thinks about protecting hair from the sun the same way they do their skin—and that’s a big mistake.

Skin damaging UVA and UVB rays can also sizzle your strands, leaving them thin, frizzy, and unable to hold a curl. Couple that with fun summer pastimes like swimming, and it could be hard for hair to make a full recovery.

Regardless of color or texture, all hair types are vulnerable to sun damage. Knowing how to protect hair from the sun is the best way to keep your strands silky and healthy, but first, a bit about what you’re protecting against.

  1. Dry, brittle locks. Fail to protect hair from UV rays and you’re at minimum going to be dealing with dry, unmanageable hair. It’ll feel as crispy as it looks too, especially if you expose it to pool chlorine or salty beach waves.
  2. Discoloration. If you’ve ever colored your hair, it’s automatically more prone to sun damage. That’s because treatments can disrupt the hair’s cuticle protein known as keratin, making it more susceptible. Be prepared for that artificial color to fade or even change shades entirely, too. Sporting your natural color? Sun can easily damage its natural melanin, permanently discoloring your strands. For lighter, thinner strands, the impact is particularly disruptive.
  3. Thinning hair. Hair naturally thins as we age, but there’s no reason to speed that process prematurely. Expose your hair to sun and heat and strands can become so damaged they begin to thin.
  4. Untamable frizz. No amount of flat ironing or blow outs can save you if hair gets too sun damaged. The only solution? Sun hair care. (More on this in a bit.)
  5. Split ends. Sun damaged hair inevitably results in split ends and breakage as its keratin proteins disintegrate. That means hair won’t grow as long and always looks a little ratty, no matter how much styling you try to do.

How to prevent sun damaged hair

If you’re noticing your hair color shift or find that your strands are more unmanageable after exposure to heat and sun, don’t worry. Your hair care professional can help you get back to a good baseline. These hair repair tips can help, too.

However, the best way to prevent the sun from damaging your hair is to protect it. While you may not be able to avoid the sun altogether (unless you have a real bummer summer), incorporating these preventative practices can save your strands.

  • Cover up with a hat, scarf, or parasol. Shielding your strands from the sun is the #1 way to keep them protected. Avoiding peak sun hours and seeking shade when possible can help, too.
  • Minimize chlorine exposure. Pool chemicals, heat, and sun are a lethal combo. If you’re going to swim in a chlorinated pool, try to either dilute or shield your strands. You can wet your hair before you get in the water, lessening the amount your hair absorbs. Make sure you rinse or wash your hair as soon as you get out of the pool, too. Wearing a swim cap or putting your hair up so that it doesn’t get saturated is also a strategic move that could spare your strands.
  • Use a beach hair protector. Certain hair care products have SPF built in and offer good sun protection. You can also incorporate more nourishing products into your summer hair care routine, including masks, oils, and leave-in conditioners.

Summer hair FAQ

Same as your skin, very little sun (if any) is really “good” for your hair. Minimizing exposure is highly recommended.

Is sun/sunlight good for your hair?

Same as your skin, very little sun (if any) is really “good” for your hair. Minimizing exposure is highly recommended.

Does sunlight affect hair color?

Yes! Sunlight can strip your hair of its natural or artificial color and make it difficult to correct.

Does sunlight help hair grow?

All humans need some sun to activate and produce certain vitamins and minerals within the body. But there’s a thin line between healthy vitamin D levels and thinning hair.

Gina Rivera

Gina Rivera

Beauty Icon and Expert

Gina Rivera skyrocketed to success when the company she founded in 2007, Phenix Salon Suites, became the fastest-growing salon suite company in the beauty industry. With more than 300 locations nationally and international expansion occurring in the UK, Entrepreneur Magazine named Phenix Salon Suites a Top 500 Franchise list seven years running.