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Can Sunscreen Cause Hair Loss?

Can Sunscreen Cause Hair Loss?

Sunscreens are a hot topic in the news after the major aerosol sunscreen recall due to traces of carcinogens.  

Now the ingredient that caused the recall was not listed on the sunscreens, but this highlights why it is so important to know what is in the products we are using.  

Unfortunately, if you read the ingredient list of most facial products, including sunscreens, they have a laundry list of hard to pronounce words that you have most likely never heard of.  It can be difficult to know which of the products can have side effects or not.

When it comes to our hair, recent research has shown that we should really be more conscientious about the products we are using.  We have been seeing an increased incidence in scarring alopecia in women and current research is showing that the products we are using may play a role in this.  

Scarring alopecia is still rare, but it is more difficult to treat and with this type of hair loss, once the follicle is damaged and the scarring occurs, you cannot bring that hair back, which makes it very difficult to treat.  While the research on the rise of scarring alopecia is still ongoing and not definitive, some of it is pointing to some of the common ingredients found in popular sunscreens, titanium dioxide.  

Now I need to make two important points, especially as I put sunscreen on my face every day.  First, sunscreens are life-saving products, and I am in no way advocating not using them.  We just want to make sure that we are using the right ones and using them properly.  Secondly, just because someone uses a product that contains an ingredient that we believe may play a role in the increase in scarring alopecia does not mean they will get scarring alopecia.  There is believed to be a genetic component to this, where a small group of people are genetically predisposed to react to these ingredients.

Here are my recommendations when it comes to sunscreen:

  1. Always use a zinc-based sunscreen. The best sunscreens to use are physical sunscreens, which include either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.  In terms of hair, my big concern is titanium dioxide, so make sure to use a zinc-based physical sunscreen.  Many zinc-based sunscreens include some amount of chemical sunscreen ingredients and that should be OK, but the main active ingredient should be zinc oxide.
  2. Do not put sunscreen on your scalp and wear a UV protectant hat instead. As our research is still ongoing, I personally do not recommend putting sunscreen on your scalp.  The scalp still needs protection and unfortunately, for those with thinning or fine hair, your hair is not going to provide enough coverage, so it is important to wear a hat to protect your scalp.
  3. If you do not have a hat to protect your scalp, wear sunscreen on your scalp. I know this is the opposite of what I just said, but any protection is better than no protection.  If you are going out in the hot sun and do not have a hat, then I would recommend using sunscreen on your scalp, especially your part lines.  I would strongly recommend that you use a zinc-based sunscreen.
  4. Do not put sunscreen into the hair line.  I use sunscreen every day and I used to blend it up into my hair line. However, with the current research I now leave about an inch between the sunscreen and my hairline. I still recommend wearing a hat to ensure complete coverage of the face when out in the sun.

With summer still going strong, make sure to grab the sunscreen to protect your skin and make sure to grab the right one to protect your hair.

Posted by Dr. Mary Wendel    

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