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How to protect your hair from sun damage: Summer haircare tips

Karen Shelton is a hair specialist with Hair Boutique.

Sun-safe haircare

When summertime rolls around it is easy to get caught up in the toasty warmth of the sun and forget to adequately protect your hair. Here's how you can take care of your hair even on the sunniest of the spring and summer days!

Everyone knows that the sun can potentially cause cellular damage that can speed up aging and possibly trigger cancer in your skin but it is essential that you protect your hair as well.  Sun damage to the hair can manifest as faded hair color, brittle and dry hair shafts and split ends.

Types of Light waves on hair

The sun's light waves are categorized by their intensity. There are three categories of light waves. These are UVA, UVB and UVC. The UVA and UVB can both damage the hair in a variety of ways. It can cause permanent damage to the outside covering of the hair which is the cuticle and it can penetrate into the center of the hair, which is the cortex and cause damage there.

UVA - Ultraviolet A

This is the sun's strong radiation-filled light rays. Ultraviolet A rays have the longest wavelength and they can penetrate into the hair's deepest inner layer, the cortex. The UVA rays disturb the hair cortex's fiber-like cells that gives the hair its strength and elasticity. It can also damage the color pigments that create natural hair color. The UVA rays can also burn the hair cuticle which is the outer hair layer.

The cuticle contains a web of tiny overlapping scales. When the scales are damaged they can not lay flat and will look lifeless, brittle and dry.

UVA rays can also burn and damage unprotected scalp. It is even possible to burn the part of your hair where scalp is unprotected. UVA rays can damage the skin on the scalp in many ways and activate free radicals which accelerates aging. A severe sunburn on the scalp has even been known to cause some cases of hair loss.

UVB - Ultraviolet B
These are invisible rays that also can penetrate deep into the hair's cortex or center damaging the hair fibers. It can also damage the hair cuticle. UVB rays can easily dry out the hair and cause natural and chemical colors to fade.

UVC - Ultraviolet C
These rays are the most damaging but do not reach us because of the ozone layer which currently protects us.


Types of hair protection filters

There are two type of sun protection filters that will protect the hair from UVA and UVB damage:  physical or chemical filters. 

Calculate SPF

The sun protection factor (SPF) of a product refers to the length of time you can remain in the sun safely. To calculate this protection time, multiple the SPF by the number of minutes you can stay in the sun unprotected without burning.

For example, if you normally takes 10 minutes of sun exposure before starting to burn, using a sunscreen with SPF 8 will theoretically extend this to 80 minutes.

Physical filters

They sit on the hair's surface and reflect, rather than absorb, ultraviolet rays. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are some examples of physical filters used in most sunscreens. They repel radiation at all wavelengths (including infra-red waves), which is essential as burning and damage involves the interaction of all wavelengths at varying degrees.

Chemical filters

They absorb ultraviolet light like a sponge and prevents the sun's rays from penetrating and attacking the hair. The fact that they can be mixed into any base, dissolved into gels, lotions, moisturizing cream bases and waterproof formulations making them cosmetically acceptable for use on the hair.

Choosing Products with sun filters

Whether a hair care product will actually protect your hair from UVA or UVB rays depends on the following factors: 

Type of hair care products you use

Hair care products are designed in different ways to interact with the cuticle of the hair. Some of the hair care products that contain sun filters will work better than others because their make up. For example, leave in hair conditioners are designed to penetrate into the layer of the cuticle and soak into the tiny little overlapping scales. Deep conditioners are great products to apply before sun exposure.

Other hair care products like hair sprays and hairsetting sprays may not be designed to soak into the shaft, but to float over it instead. This makes them less durable for any extended period of time, hence why some hairspray requires touchups during your day. Hair care products that float on top of the cuticle will offer less protection.

Ingredients of the hair care product
Some hair care products actually have SPF agents that are listed on the bottle. Other products list a specific chemical component, that is known to be a sunscreen agent, which they have added to their beauty product. Aveda's Styling Curessence, leave-in heat protection spray and conditioner, has Octyl Methyoxycinnamate listed in the contents. This is a known sunscreen ingredient.

If you are serious about sun protection for your hair, make sure the products you use list an actual SPF. Most hair care products will not use more than 10 SPF or the formula would be too heavy for hair. Hair care products with actual SPF formulas have been proven to protect the hair from UVA and UVB damage. It is important to keep in mind that all hair care products with sunscreens are not the same. You may find that you have to pay more for a product with a strong SPF of 8-10.

If a hair care product says that is has sun protection but does not list an actual SPF or does not list a specific known sunscreen like Octyl Methyosycinnamate, there is a possibility that the product does not really have sun screen protection. Unfortunately, some hair care companies will advertise their product to protect against UVA or UVB rays when it doesn't. It is very important to read the labels and to understand what you are buying. Also, be on the lookout for hair treatments that are rich in vitamins A, C and E. They will help protect your hair against free radicals that will harm your hair cells.

Amount of sun exposure your hair will have
Hair products with listed SPF factors that are designed to penetrate the hair cuticle (like leave in conditioners) will serve you well in daily short periods of sun exposure. If you are going to the beach or will be out in the sun for an extended period of time it is best to supplement your sun protection product with a full blown SPF product or a product designed specifically for heavy or prolonged sun exposure.


spf wrap up

Here a few key points to remember before soaking up any sun:

  1. Some proucts use false advertising. Just because it claims to protect against sun damage, doesn't mean it will. Look for SPF levels or sunscreen chemicals Octyl Methyosycinnamate and Octyl Methyoxycinnamate in the ingredient listing.
  2. Products that list SPF levels offer the best protection for extended sun ray exposure. 
  3. Products, like conditioners, that settle into the hair cuticle are more effective than products that simply coat the hair cutitcle.

 


 

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