On a warm and sunny day, you can feel the impact of the sun on your skin almost immediately. As your skin heats up and starts to burn, it's a physical reminder to apply a protective broad-spectrum sunscreen and seek some shade. But did you know that the sun damages hair, too, and protecting it from ultraviolet (UV) rays, both UVA and UVB, is an important factor in keeping it healthy?

To understand how the sun damages hair, it's important to look a little closer at its structure and makeup. The outer layer of the hair, called the cuticle, is composed of the protein keratin. When exposed to UV rays, the cuticle is damaged, leaving the hair more prone to dryness and frizz. This may be the reason your hair feels more unmanageable in the summer months or when you're on a warm-weather vacation. The inner part of the hair also contains pigment and moisture, so when the protective cuticle is degraded, the hair can become discolored and brittle.

Read on for a look at how the sun damages hair and what you can do to help prevent unnecessary damage.

The Sun's Impact on Hair

When hair becomes overexposed to the sun and its rays, each strand becomes more fragile. This, in turn, means that the heat from the sun can penetrate it easier and do further damage. Add in other harsh elements, like chlorine from swimming pools, and heat styling tools, like straighteners and blow dryers, and your hair is now far more prone to breakage and significant damage.

Groups at Higher Risk

Like the skin, all hair types are at risk of sun damage, but some are more susceptible than others. Lighter and fairer hair, for example, doesn't have as much pigment, oil, or texture as darker and thicker hair, so it reacts faster to the sun's effects. If you have finer and fairer-toned hair, it's even more important that you protect your hair from damage and don't expose it to the sun for long periods of time.

Additionally, those with more hair to manage will probably notice the signs of damage sooner than those who keep it short. And, if not treated, this damage can become apparent at a glance.

Signs of Sun Damage

Dry, brittle, and limp hair is a common sign of sun damage. You might find that your hair feels particularly unmanageable and won't hold its usual style. This tends to be most noticeable as your hair grows long and the ends dry out and split, causing a frizzy appearance.

The sun can also lighten hair, especially after a vacation when you've spent more time outside than normal. And, while this look is often referred to as "sunkissed" and "beachy," it's actually just another telltale sign of hair damage.

Treatments and Prevention

The best way of protecting your hair and scalp from sun damage is to think about it in the same way you do your skin. First off, apply a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to any exposed areas of the scalp (like your hairline and part) to prevent the skin from burning and flaking, and apply styling products formulated with SPF ingredients to protect the hair cuticle.

When you're outside and the sun is at its strongest, it's wise to protect your hair (and skin) with a scarf or hat and sit underneath an umbrella whenever possible. If you're a swimmer, keep your hair dry and protected from the effects of chlorine with a swimming cap or seek out special chlorine-beating shampoos and conditioners.

It's also advisable to treat your hair to a revitalizing "mask" once a week to help nourish the ends and restore any lost moisture. Just like your skin needs moisture, your hair needs to maintain certain levels of hydration to look and feel healthy. So, consider adding this kind of hair care to your routine to keep both your scalp and your hair in good condition.

Happy, Healthy Hair

Once you become more aware of how the sun damages hair, you can take the necessary protective steps to keep it healthy and happy. Why not make applying your sun-protection spray a daily habit and that weekly hair mask a weekend ritual? You'll start to feel the benefits in no time at all.

Pair these practices with a daily broad-spectrum SPF product and other great skin care habits, and you'll be glowing the whole year long.

Author

  • Catherine Hufton is a UK-based freelance journalist and writer who has worked for some of fashion's most iconic companies and written for the world's best known magazines and newspapers. Beginning her career at Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion over 12 years ago, she has created content for L'Oréal, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, The Telegraph and more.