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By Cynthia Bailey MD.

Scalp sun protection is really important because scalp skin cancers are especially aggressive.

Plus, sun damaged scalps are fragile and spotty, and your scalp gets a lot of sun over the course of your lifetime.

We know that precancerous growths and basal and squamous cell carcinoma are common on the scalp. It is common for me to see them in my dermatology practice. Melanoma on the scalp is more rare to come across, but really dangerous.

Skin cancer on the scalp can be hard to spot early because it can hid in your hair.

How do melanoma skin cancers happen on the scalp?

We know that exposure to the sun's UV rays play a big part in causing melanoma. Most of the melanoma cancers that I have diagnosed on the scalp are in the part line or the hair whorl at the crown. Often it is a person's hair stylist that spots the cancer first and sends the patient in for diagnosis.

What part of the scalp is the most at risk for sun damage?

The top of the scalp is most at risk.  The top is where I find the common sources of sun damage:  where the hair is parted, and where the hair first starts to thin.As hair thins with age, it thins the most on the top.  Many people destined for thin hair, or even some balding, don't realize that very early in the process, hair has thinned enough to expose their scalp skin to too much sun.

What this means is that scalp skin is exposed to the sun from the first day of your life. Depending on your hair, that exposure may just be at the crown or vertex where your hair whorl is. (Your hair whorl is the circular pattern of hair growth with a central point that is visible at the top and back portion of your scalp). I see scalp sun damage mostly at the hair whorl and down the part line. When scalp hair is fine or thin, I may see more extensive sun damage.

Most people have experienced sunburn on their scalp at least once, so you know the sun shines there. Every time you are outdoors during the day and not wearing a hat, your scalp is exposed to UV rays. This means that exposure is chronic and significant. This all means that sun protecting your scalp is essential.

It also means that hats are important. Many people don't like the idea of wearing hats, “I’m not a hat person”, “I don’t want hat hair” are common reasons I hear in my practice for resistance to wearing a proper sun hat when outdoors.

What is the best way to protect your scalp from sun damage?

Sun umbrellas are perfect for times when you will be in the sun but won’t wear a hat. You still need sunscreen on your scalp if your head is hatless (see below)!

Wear a dermatologist recommended sun hat to protect your scalp from sun.

  • Use a hat top that blocks UV rays well and is made with UPF 50 or greater material.
  • Use a hat with a full 3 to 5 inch brim to protect the sides of the scalp, face, ears and upper neck.

Look below for the hats I recommend – convenient and economical so they serve you and your scalp skin well.

When you can’t (won’t) wear a hat, apply sunscreen to the top of your scalp. You will need a thin product and my Sheer Strength Pure Physical Spray Sunscreen is the best product I’ve ever found.

Please learn to love sun hats though. I have to admit it took me years but now I’m hooked. I had to try a lot of hats before finding ones that were comfortable, functional and looked great on me. Now I wear my bucket hats all the time. I have them piled in every color on the shelf in my closet and they fit all but the dressiest occasion.