While in many ways I’m sad to see the end of summer, I’m waving goodbye to the UK heatwave with both hands, jumping up and down at the same time and hoping next year doesn’t bring about the same fate.
Clear climate disaster aside – forest fires, floods and health implications that terrified most of the country – the lasting effects of the blistering heat can still be seen on my head, as what were once luscious locks transformed almost overnight into snappable strands of straw.
As a beauty writer, I’m a sunscreen fanatic, slathering lotion onto anyone who comes within touching distance.
But although my skin has remained unscathed, my hair is a different story. And I’m willing to bet that a good number of you are experiencing the same, with a post-holiday, post-heatwave reminder that is certainly less fun than a postcard.
After all, who knew your hair could get sunburnt? But it’s not too little too late, and there’s a lot to learn for the next time the sun comes back around.
How can you tell if your hair is sunburnt?
Turning to the experts with my scorched strands, Mason Josh, Senior Stylist at Hari’s put one hand on my hair before declaring it “felt fried from the rays.”
Lack of moisture, intense dryness and frizzy ends were protruding, giving all the signs of sunburn – similar in many ways to those of burning from overusing heated tools.
Discolouration, breaking bonds and even thinning can be spotted too, and for those of us with coloured hair, you’re in for an even more intense scathing.
What does sunburn actually do to hair?
While the long list of breaking, snapping and peeling strands has probably put you off enough, what really happens to burnt hair is even more concerning, as Anabel Kingsley, Brand President and Consultant Trichologist at Philip Kingsley explains.
“Hair can burn just like our skin, but because it is not a living tissue, we do not feel it,” she shared.
“UV rays can degrade the outside layer of the hair strand, called the epicuticle or lipid layer. This lipid layer is hydrophobic (water-repelling) and seals in moisture. When this layer is damaged, it makes hair prone to moisture loss, which can result in weakening the bonds in the hair, forming brittle strands that result in split ends, breakage and frizz from dryness.”
She later added, “when exposed to extreme heat, water/moisture in the hair can essentially boil and burst, which is what we refer to as bubble hair. It causes little bumps or nodules along the hair shaft.”
Now armed with new knowledge of exactly what I needed to fix – a lipid layer to repair, a scalp to soothe and mane in desperate need of moisture – it didn’t take long to get things back on track.
Top tips to prevent hair from sunburn
And how to remedy it if it does…
1. The first step in dealing with sunburnt hair is, of course, not to get it burnt at all – isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
While it might feel like a fuss to add yet another product into the suitcase or beach bag, I promise you you shouldn’t scrimp on suncare in any form. And for periods of intense sun, a hat or headscarf isn’t a bad idea either – just be prepared to sweat.
Philip Kingsley’s Swimcap Water Resistant Mask, £19.50, LookFantastic, is recommended by Mason Josh, protecting strands from salt water, chlorine and UV rays.
Bioderma Photoderm Body Mist SPF50+, £18.50, FeelUnique, is designed for your face and body, but the lightweight formula works wonders when sprayed effortlessly through the hair, and the Ultrasun SPF50 UV Face & Scalp Mist, £18, LookFantastic, does the same.
2. If your hair is burnt, or you’ve ventured out for too many hours in the sun without any protection, you need to take care when washing.
Firstly, you may have a red-raw scalp, so hot water is not your friend, and drying or moisture-drawing shampoos certainly are a foe for dry and damaged locks.
We Are Paradoxx Moisture Shampoo, £18, Cult Beauty, has long been a favourite of mine, and when paired with the matching conditioner, £20, Cult Beauty, it makes a noticeable difference to hair after just one wash.
Champo Kapha Balancing Shampoo, £18.50, Champohaircare, helps to add shine back to thicker locks, along with the corresponding conditioner, £20.50, Champohaircare. And R+Co’s Atlantis Moisturising B5 Shampoo, £24.50, SpaceNK, softly detangles hair into less snappable strands, too.
3. To really add moisture, you need masks – especially those that stay in like leave-in conditioners overnight to really sock into the strands.
Although all I tried were good, one stood out from the rest, and the Oway After-Sun Hair Mask, £27.50, Hairblessing, will now never come off my holiday packing list.
Restoring the lipid balance of the hair fibre, it repairs and seals the cuticles to fight frizz and breakage, according to Stephen Buller, Co-Founder at Buller and Rice, and after just one use, my hair was (almost) back to being bouncy.
For curly hair, the Moo and Yoo Miracle Curl Cream, £27, Mooandyou, really delivers. The Amika Soulfood Nourishing Mask, £20, Loveamika, acts like a vitamin shot, and the We Are Paradoxx Moisture Express Mask, £30, Cult Beauty, is a game changer like it says on the tin.
And, let’s not forget about another great Philip Kingsley product, the Bond Builder Lipid Shield Oil, £26, Boots.
4. Finally, once your hair is locked in with lotion, it’s time to turn your attention to your scalp – the most likely sore skin that has really felt the blast from the burn.
The Espa Tri-Active Resilience Clarify & Fortify Scalp Serum, £44, LookFantastic, clears dead skin to relieve itchiness while soothing sore skin. The more affordable Ameliorate Transforming Scalp Serum, £15, LookFantastic, works similarly to soothe and clear, and the Gisou Honey Infused scalp treatment, £37, Selfridges, can be used for when things are really rough.