do haircare products with spf provide adequate sun protection?

It’s officially a thing: haircare with SPF.

It makes sense. UV rays don’t just damage skin. They damage hair too. When they hit your hair, these pesky UV rays strip away its colour, moisture and glow. After a few days in the sun, your soft, shiny mane turns into a dull head of hay!

SPF can save your skin. Surely, it can do the same for your hair? Mmm… not so fast. There are 4 (yes, 4!) problems with SPF in haircare.

Let’s take a look at what the science says about sunscreen for hair:

The Science Behind Sunscreen For Hair

Sunscreen on hair works. No doubt about it.

When scientists take a strand of hair, cover it completely in sunscreen and expose it to UV rays, that strand of hair suffers a lot less damage than an uncoated strand of hair.

The verdict is clear: sunscreen can protect hair from sun damage.

The catch? The conditions of this experiment are hard to reproduce at home. Translation = just because sunscreen for hair works in the controlled setting of a lab, it doesn’t mean it will work in the messiness of real life.

Here’s why:

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Problem #1: Sunscreen In Shampoos Doesn’t Stick To Hair

Sunscreen works on hair… if you leave it on.

That rules out shampoos and rinse off conditioners. There’s no point in putting UV filters here. Most UV filters are water-soluble, so, as soon as you rinse off the shampoo/conditioner, sun protection goes down the drain, too.

A small amount of these filters may still remain on your locks but, how do you know it’s enough to give you adequate protection? It’s not like you can measure it.

For sunscreen to work on hair, it needs to be in a leave-in formula. But those have their own problems, too.

Problem #2: It’s Difficult To Cover Every Hair Strand

I avoid spray sunscreens like the plague: they make it so hard to cover your skin evenly. Miss a spot and you get 0 protection there.

It’s the same with hair. If you want to protect it from UV rays, you have to apply a thick and even layer on each and every hair strand – without missing a spot. How the heck are you supposed to do that?!

But, let’s say that you can. You’re so determined and patient, you’re ready to tackle the task. Once done, what? You had to use so much sunscreen, your hair is now as shiny as a frying pan. Are you really going out like that?

By the way, you can’t brush it and style it in any way, now. Here’s why:

Related: Why I Avoid Spray Sunscreen (And You Should, Too)

Problem #3: Styling Removes Sunscreen

Water isn’t the only thing that removes sunscreen from your hair.

Brushing, combing, blow drying, straightening hair with a flat iron, curling hair with a curling iron… Styling hair in any way, with any tool, removes some of the sunscreen from your hair.

Less sunscreen = less protection.

You know what this means? Once you’ve applied sunscreen on you hair, you can’t touch it in any way.

Problem #4: How Do You Determine SPF In Haircare Products Anyway?

Have you noticed that hair care products only say something generic like “provides UV protection” or “has SPF”? But, there’s no number in sight.

How can you tell if you’re getting SPF 30, SPF 50 or… gosh, SPF 10? You can’t.

Here’s the deal. The FDA doesn’t think it’s safe to rely on haircare products to protect your locks from sun damage. So, it doesn’t allow brands to put a number next to the SPF symbol.

Saying that a shampoo “has SPF” is legal. Saying it “has SPF 30” isn’t.

Without a number, you don’t know for how long the sunscreen works or how often you have to reapply it. (But, let’s be honest: even if you knew, would you reapply it every couple of hours?).

Related: Take A Number: Which SPF Is Right For You?

The Bottom Line

Sunscreen for hair is a good idea. SPF in hair care products isn’t. In the controlled settings of a lab, it works wonders. In the messiness of real life, it barely offers you any protection! If you really want to protect your hair from the sun, there are better ways to do it.

Have you ever used haircare products with SPF? If so, how did they work for you?