A sunburnt scalp is serious business. It’s vital you protect your hair and scalp from sun exposure or you’ll undoubtedly get a sunburn or worse.
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays cause a sunburnt scalp when in direct sunlight. Before going out into the sun for an extended period of time, it’s important to protect your scalp by covering it with a hat or wearing a high SPF sunscreen.
Dealing with a sunburnt scalp can be incredibly painful. When your skin starts to peel, your head may also feel itchy and irritated. Fortunately, you can heal a sunburnt scalp easily using these tips and remedies – keep reading below.
How Long Does a Scalp Sunburn Last?
Sunburns typically last 3 to 7 days where most severe symptoms are felt within the first 48 hours. Mild sunburned scalps will typically heal within a few days, but more severe sunburns with blisters may require up to two weeks with a period of peeling that can last another week.
- Mild sunburn: lasts approximately 3 days.
- Moderate sunburn: lasts around 5 days and may be followed by peeling skin.
- Severe sunburn: can last for 7+ days, and the afflicted person may require medical attention.
Can I Sunburn with Hair?
You may also be wondering, can your scalp get sunburned even with hair? The answer is yes. Any skin exposed to UV rays can result in a sunburn. So, you may want to cover your head if you’re outside for long periods of time.
Symptoms of a Sunburnt Scalp
A sunburn on your scalp is the same type of burn you can incur anywhere else on your body when exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time. In some cases, sunburns can happen so quickly that you don’t even realize you have a sunburn.
- Skin is hot to the touch
- Pain and tenderness
- Small blisters
- Peeling skin
More Severe Symptoms
There are less common but more severe symptoms. If you experience any of the following, then you should seek medical attention immediately.
It may take over 24 hours to start feeling the full effects of your sunburn. However, blisters and extreme pain are indicative of a severe sunburn that requires treatment.
Sunburnt Scalp Treatment
Wondering how to treat a sunburned scalp? Most sunburns can be treated easily with some simple home remedies.
1. Cool Shower
One of the first steps when you get home should be to hop in a cool shower.
Any type of hot water will increase the pain from the sunburn.
Even after your sunburn heals, you should avoid getting your scalp wet for too long. Quick, cool showers are best. Long showers can damage the skin further, sense it’s so thin and sensitive after a sunburn.
2. Avoid Scratching Your Scalp
You may feel tempted to “pop” a blister or scratch at peeling skin, but this will only make it worse. During this time, your scalp is healing and should be protected as much as possible.
If you peel the skin further or pick at blisters, it will only take longer to heal.
3. Avoid Sulfates
You may want to avoid any shampoo or conditioner until your scalp heals. Any shampoos with sulfates should be avoided as they can dry out your scalp even more and cause further agitation to your skin. You should also avoid any products with Dimethicone, which can block pores and cause more damage.
4. Cold Compress
If you’re feeling extreme pain on your scalp, a cold, damp towel can help soothe the affected areas.
5. Use Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera is one of the best remedies for sunburn. It helps your skin heal, and can be applied multiple times per day for added protection. When used, aloe vera will help soothe, prevent further damage and peeling while helping your scalp return to normal.
Using Holika Aloe Gel has always helped me heal a sunburned scalp faster and stop the peeling.
The healing moisturizer combination of aloe is proven to promote healing. You need to apply it directly, but gently, to the affected sunburn area to relieve discomfort.
6. Drink Water
Extreme sun exposure can lead to dehydration. You should drink at least eight glasses of water per day to hydrate properly.
7. Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
If you’re experiencing severe pain, then there’s relief with certain over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), aspirin (Bayer and Excedrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve).
Lesser Known Remedies
We’ve mentioned a few ways to get relief immediately, but there are some more ways you can heal your scalp after a bad sunburn.
Finely ground oatmeal can be mixed with water and spread over your scalp. This works as an anti-inflammatory and healer to relieve your burn and help blisters close.
2. Baking Soda
For immediate pain relief, you can mix baking soda and water to create a paste, then smoothe it over your scalp.
Does a Sunburnt Scalp Cause Hair Loss?
Under typical conditions, sunburns do not cause hair loss. You may lose some hair due to skin peeling and itching, but these will likely regrow.
However, if you have thinning hair with a bald spot, then you may need more protection from UV rays. You should always wear a hat and use sunscreen.
Bald Spots and Sun Protection
It’s important to wear a hat any time you go outside to protect your scalp and hair, especially if you have bald spots. The right hat will not have any holes, such as a straw hat or woven hat would. In addition, you can use a sunscreen with a high SPF of 50 or more to protect your skin.
Sunburn Scalp Prevention
It goes without saying the best way to prevent sunburnt skin is to cover your scalp in the minutes prior to sun exposure.
Wear a Hat
You can’t stay inside forever, so if your sunburn is still fresh, you can wear a hat whenever you head out into the sun. However, you should avoid direct sun exposure for too long following a sunburn.
When you can’t wear a hat, you must use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. It should have a minimum SPF 30, though I personally always use SPF 50 on my head and SPF 100 on my nose.
See our Buyer’s Guide on the Best Sunscreen for Bald Heads.
When to Seek Medical Attention?
There are some cases when sun poisoning can cause severe pain and infection. You should see a doctor if you feel extreme pain, high fever, nausea, dizziness, confusion, and headaches.
If your pain doesn’t stop and gets worse, you may notice the following signs of infection:
- Larger, discolored blisters draining fluid
- Red streaks around a blister that won’t heal
An infection is a dangerous health condition, especially on your scalp. You should seek treatment immediately if you notice these warning signs.
Although a sunburnt scalp is typically treatable at home, it can still be severe and require further treatment.
Also, frequent exposure to the sun can also lead to skin spots and cancer. So, if you have a job or activity that puts your scalp in direct contact with UV rays, you should think about investing in a protective hat and sunblock lotion to prevent any further damage.
When in doubt, always consult your doctor and seek medical attention.