A dermatologist weighs in on the quickest way to remedy the redness.

By Brandi Broxson
Updated June 22, 2016
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The scalp is one of those areas that often goes unnoticed when applying sunscreen. “Even if you have a full head of hair, your scalp is at risk for a sunburn,” says Arielle Nagler, a dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City. Here’s what to do if you return from a day in the sun and discover your scalp is red and tender.

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Moisturize the sunburnt skin to provide some symptomatic relief says Nagler. Apply a generous schmear of soothing aloe vera gel to the affected areas before bedtime. (Lay a towel on the pillow first.) In the morning, wash with lukewarm water and an alcohol-free shampoo (like Burt’s Bees Super Shiny Mango Shampoo; $8, burtsbees.com).


“Avoid products with alcohol since they may make flaking worse,” says Nagler. Also steer clear of petroleum, which can trap heat and exacerbate sunburn and lidocaine which can be very irritating. Keep hair spray, gel, dry shampoo, conditioner, and mousse off the area too. While the burn is painful to the touch, nix the blow-dryer, and when brushing, avoid roots.


Wear a UPF hat or apply sunscreen to the exposed scalp. “If you cannot wear a hat for some reason, applying sunscreen particularly to the most exposed parts of the scalp is essential,” says Nagler, who recommends SPF 30 or higher with broad spectrum protection (including UVA and UVB). “Apply 1 ounce or enough to fill a shot glass to exposed areas of the body, 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours ideally and certainly immediately after getting in the water or sweating.” (Try Banana Boat Body & Scalp Quik Dry Spray; $6, walmart.com.)


Consult your dermatologist or physician if you have a severe, blistering and painful scalp, if you have a fever, or the sunburn is getting worse instead of better.