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Top 5 Scalp Sunscreens for Thin Hair: Expert Recommendations

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Steph Coelho

Published 07/28/2021

Updated 04/29/2024

If you’re experiencing hair thinning, your scalp is extra vulnerable to sunburn and UV damage. SPF is the answer — and the best scalp sunscreen for thin hair is easy to apply and doesn’t leave behind a mess.

Whether your excess shedding is the result of androgenetic alopecia (aka male pattern hair loss) or a stress-induced form of hair loss known as telogen effluvium, the right sunscreen can help protect your noggin without messing up your coif.

Read on to learn how to keep your scalp from getting scorched and which expert-backed, scalp-friendly sunscreen picks we suggest.

The skin on top of your head is just like the skin on any other part of your body. Without protection, damaging UV rays from sun exposure can reach your scalp and lead to sunburn.

For most people, hair acts as a natural shield from harmful UV rays. But thinning hair can expose scalp skin to the sun’s damaging rays and make you more likely to burn.

Research shows that ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and air pollution can negatively affect skin tissue, increasing your risk of skin cancer. Sun exposure is also responsible for signs of skin aging and hair damage.

Evidence suggests that skin cancers of the scalp, ears and other areas of the head and neck are more common in men than women. The working theory is that this has to do with differences in hair coverage. 

Your skin type, hair type and hair thickness may affect how easily you burn. But in general, the more you burn, the higher your risk of skin cancer. 

Bottom line? Suncare is skincare!

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It’s technically safe to use any sunscreen on your scalp. However, traditional lotions are moisturizing but tend to be oily and leave behind a greasy residue — bad news for your hair, especially if it’s already thinning and prone to oiliness. Excess oil can make your hair look even thinner.

Oil-free powder sunscreen can provide the same level of protection without the slick residue. It blends naturally with your hair and can even help sop up excess oil — think dry shampoo with SPF.

Another option? Spray sunscreen or sunscreen mist. These products offer lightweight coverage depending on the formula.

Stick sunscreens have convenient, travel-friendly containers and work well for applying protection to hairlines and parts. That said, they’re not practical for blocking UV rays from getting to the skin under your hair.

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen

Application type isn’t the only thing to keep in mind when shopping for scalp-friendly sunscreen. 

Two types of sunscreens offer protection from harmful UV rays:

  • Chemical sunscreen. Sometimes called organic sunscreen, this type of sunblock contains one or more ingredients that absorb the sun’s rays, like avobenzone, octisalate, oxybenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate or homosalate. These formulas usually absorb into the skin more easily without leaving behind a white cast. 

  • Physical sunscreen. Often called mineral sunscreen, this type of sunblock contains mineral-based ingredients that sit on top of the skin and physically block UV rays. Active ingredients in mineral sunscreens typically include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Since these ingredients can be less irritating, they’re an excellent choice for people with sensitive skin.

Learn more about the differences between these two types of sunscreen in our guide to chemical versus mineral sunscreen.

Some hair care products, like shampoo, also contain sunscreen filters to protect your scalp and hair from sun damage.

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Ready to shop? Here are our product recommendations for the best scalp sunscreen: 

  • Sun Bum Original Scalp & Hair Mist SPF 30 Sunscreen. This reef-safe broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays) vegan, cruelty-free sunscreen formula is lightweight, non-greasy and paraben-free. It’s also non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores — yes, even your scalp has pores!

  • Supergoop! Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35. If you’re looking for a two-in-one product that protects and banishes grease at the same time, this sunscreen powder might be for you. The mineral formula contains zinc oxide to physically block the sun’s rays.

  • Coola Organic Scalp Spray & Hair Sunscreen Mist SPF 30. This dermatologist-tested sunscreen spray contains a blend of plant-based ingredients (including antioxidants that help combat free radicals) formulated to help strengthen hair. It’s also safe for color-treated hair, so you can protect your skin and hair color.

  • Oars + Alps Face and Scalp Mist SPF 35. This lightweight, broad-spectrum spray SPF mist is gentle enough for both the scalp and face. It’s also water- and sweat-resistant.

  • CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen Stick SPF 50. Don’t love the feel of a spray or powder? This travel-friendly stick sunscreen offers broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection and contains skin-soothing ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid.

You can get most of these sunscreens online at Amazon, Nordstrom, Sephora, Dermstore or Ulta.

If you’re having trouble finding a sunscreen that’s right for your skin, reach out to a board-certified dermatologist for advice.

Beyond these scalp sunscreen for thin hair recs, let’s cover a few dermatologist-backed sun protection tips:

  • Choose a product that offers at least SPF 50 protection. 

  • Apply sunscreen before going out in the sun.

  • Wear a hat that completely covers your scalp.

  • Extra protection is always better! Grab an umbrella to further minimize UV exposure.

  • Skip hanging out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.

To apply scalp sunscreen for thin hair, follow the instructions on the packaging and spray, squeeze or brush on the recommended amount. Rub the product into your scalp to thoroughly cover the skin under your hair.

Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours and after sweating, toweling off, bathing and swimming — even if you’re using a water-resistant formula.

If you’re looking for ways to regrow your hair or fill in spots that look sparse, here are some totally legit (and FDA-approved) options.

Topical Minoxidil

Minoxidil is an FDA-approved topical medication that treats androgenic alopecia (male pattern baldness). It’s available as a foam or liquid solution.

The active ingredient in minoxidil relaxes the blood vessels in your scalp, making it easier for blood to flow to your hair follicles. When your follicles get the oxygen and nutrients they need, they’ll kick-start hair regrowth — at least, that’s the theory.

When you use minoxidil with other hair growth treatments and remedies, it helps improve hair thickness over time.

Topical minoxidil is generally safe to use, but some people can experience side effects. The most common side effect of minoxidil is irritant contact dermatitis, which typically causes itchy, scaly skin.

Finasteride Medication

Finasteride is an FDA-approved medication for the treatment of hair loss in men. It belongs to a class of drugs called 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors that act on the male hormone DHT (short for dihydrotestosterone).

According to a two-year clinical study involving men with hair loss, 66 percent of participants had improvements in hair growth when using finasteride versus just seven percent who used a placebo.

Keep in mind, though, that you need to use this medication continuously to maintain results. If you stop using it, you’ll lose any new hair about a year after stopping finasteride treatments.

Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy

Platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) is a treatment for male pattern baldness that involves drawing your blood and separating the platelet-rich plasma.

A healthcare professional then injects this plasma into your scalp to provide nutrients that stimulate the hair growth cycle.

A 2019 review concluded that current studies show “promising” results for platelet-rich plasma as a potential hair loss treatment, but research is still in the early stages.

Read about PRP in more detail in our guide to PRP treatments for hair loss

Hair Transplant Surgery

Hair transplantation involves taking hair from a healthier part of your body and physically transplanting it onto a thinner, balding part of the scalp.

While generally effective and safe, the main drawback of hair transplants is their cost — often thousands of dollars. Since insurance companies consider this an elective surgery, they don’t usually cover it.

Hair loss treatments, delivered

If your hair is thinning and you’re spending time outside this summer, a baseball cap won’t cut it. Hat or no hat, your scalp needs UV protection like the rest of the skin on your body.

Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Though you can use any type of sunscreen on your head, scalp-specific sprays and powders offer SPF protection without leaving behind grease or residue.

  • A formula with at least SPF 50 protection is best.

  • Promoting hair growth can also help protect your scalp from UV rays. FDA-approved hair loss treatments, like our topical finasteride & minoxidil spray, can help improve hair thickness and coverage. 

If you’re concerned about UV scalp damage this summer or want to grow thicker hair, consult a dermatologist or healthcare provider about your options.

8 Sources

  1. de Gálvez, M. V., Aguilera, J., Bernabó, J.-L., Sánchez-Roldán, C., & Herrera-Ceballos, E. (2015). Human Hair as a Natural Sun Protection Agent: A Quantitative Study. Photochemistry and Photobiology, 91(4), 966–970. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/php.12433
  2. De Vecchi, R., da Silveira Carvalho Ripper, J., Roy, D., Breton, L., Germano Marciano, A., Bernardo de Souza, P. M., & de Paula Corrêa, M. (2019). Using wearable devices for assessing the impacts of hair exposome in Brazil. Scientific Reports, 9(1). Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49902-7#citeas
  3. Yeung, H., Luk, K. M.-H., & Chen, S. C. (2016). Focal Photodamage on the Occipital Scalp. JAMA Dermatology, 152(9), 1060. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/2513690
  4. Is sunscreen safe? (2019). Aad.org. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/is-sunscreen-safe
  5. Latha, M. S., Martis, J., Shobha, V., Sham Shinde, R., Bangera, S., Krishnankutty, B., Bellary, S., Varughese, S., Rao, P., & Naveen Kumar, B. R. (2013). Sunscreening agents: a review. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 6(1), 16–26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3543289/
  6. Cranwell, W., & Sinclair, R. (2016, February 29). Male Androgenetic Alopecia. Nih.gov; MDText.com, Inc. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278957/
  7. HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION PROPECIA ® (finasteride) tablets for oral use. (n.d.). https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2014/020788s024lbl.pdf
  8. Stevens, J., & Khetarpal, S. (2019). Platelet-rich plasma for androgenetic alopecia: A review of the literature and proposed treatment protocol. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, 5(1), 46–51. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374694/
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

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