How to Deal with a Scalp Sunburn

Two Methods:Treating Your Sunburn at HomeRecognizing When to See Your Doctor

Sunburn is a common problem, affecting approximately 42 percent of people each year.[1] While common, it carries an increased risk of skin cancer when you have had a sunburn more than five times in your life. Your skin burns when exposed to UVA and UVB light from the sun when it isn’t protected by clothing or sunscreen. While you do need approximately twenty minutes of exposure to the sun daily to manufacture vitamin D for your health, more than that can increase your risk of sunburn. Your scalp is often the one area of the skin you forget when applying protection before enjoying your time at the beach or in the sun. A simple cap or sun hat is usually all that’s required to prevent a sunburn on your scalp.

Method 1
Treating Your Sunburn at Home

  1. Image titled Deal with a Scalp Sunburn Step 1
    Use tepid or cool water on your scalp. While lukewarm or tepid showers can be unpleasant, hot water on your damaged scalp will be even more unpleasant. Turn the water to a cooler temperature while washing your hair, which will be much more comfortable than hot water on your sunburnt skin.[2]
    • You can also apply a washcloth with cold water to your head while in the shower to help relieve the discomfort.[3]
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    Avoid shampoos with sulfates. Your sunburned scalp needs plenty of moisture to help heal. Sulfates are salts found in many shampoos, which will dry out your scalp, doing even more damage. Read the ingredient label on your shampoo and avoid sulfates while your sunburn heals.[4]
    • Additionally, you should try to use shampoos and conditioners that contain 18-MEA, which will help provide moisture to your damaged scalp.[5]
    • Avoid conditioners that contain dimethicone as well, which is a form of silicone that can block pores and trap heat on your scalp, causing further damage and discomfort.[6]
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    Skip the blowdryer and straightener. Styling devices that use heat such as blowdryers and straightening irons will also cause unnecessary discomfort while your scalp is burnt.[7] The heat radiating off the devices will also further dry and damage your scalp, so you should avoid them for roughly a week until your sunburn has healed.[8]
    • Most styling products contain chemicals that may irritate your sunburnt scalp as well. Try to minimize the hair products you use during this period.
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    Apply cold compresses. This may be more difficult for those with long, thick hair, but applying a cold compress to your scalp can also help cool your skin and soothe the discomfort.[9]
    • Using cold skim milk to soak the compress is a popular home remedy that some physicians also support.[10] Proteins in the milk can help ease discomfort in addition to the cold soothing the pain.[11] Though, you’ll probably want to rinse your hair quickly afterward.
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    Moisturize the skin around the burn. Moisturizers will help to cool and soothe your painful scalp as well. Topical moisturizers with aloe gel or hydrocortisone can help relieve any pain.[12] Coconut oil is another safe moisturizer to help relieve sunburn pain.[13] Choose products fortified with vitamins E and C, which will help limit the damage done to your scalp by the sunburn.[14]
    • You may have an easier time with coconut oil penetrating your hair to reach your scalp, but as an oil, it will give your hair a greasy look while you use it.
    • Skip after-sun products that contain lidocaine or benzocaine. They are common allergens, and you can find the same relief from these other moisturizers.[15]
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    Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is another way to help moisturize your skin. Ensure you stay hydrated over the course of your sunburn by drinking at least eight glasses of water each day.[16]
    • The color of your urine is the easiest way to determine if you’re properly hydrated. It should be clear or very light yellow.[17]
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    Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. An OTC painkiller such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen will also relieve pain from your sunburn.[18] Take as directed and never exceed the recommended daily dosage.
    • If your child is the one with the sunburn, do not give your child a product containing aspirin due to the risk of a potentially life-threatening condition called Reye’s syndrome.[19]
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    Avoid additional sun exposure. You should keep your sunburnt scalp out of the sun as it heals.[20] You may choose to wear a hat during this period, but pick something loose that doesn’t trap heat on your scalp or put pressure against your sunburn.
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    Leave blisters alone. If your sunburn is severe enough to form blisters on your scalp, do not pick or poke at them. Rupturing a blister from a sunburn is more likely to cause infection of the skin and eventual scarring.[21] Keep your scalp dry and allow the blisters to heal without applying the moisturizing products directly to them.[22]

Method 2
Recognizing When to See Your Doctor

  1. Image titled Deal with a Scalp Sunburn Step 10
    Note if you feel faint or dizzy. Though unlikely if your sunburn is isolated to your scalp, complications can arise from sunburns, especially if your time in the sun has also led to heat exhaustion.[23] If you feel faint or signs of dizziness directly following your time in the sun, then you should rest in a cool, shady area and watch for other possible signs of needing to see your doctor. Other symptoms include:[24]
    • Quickened pulse or breathing
    • Extreme thirst
    • No urination
    • Sunken eyes
    • Clammy skin
  2. Image titled Deal with a Scalp Sunburn Step 11
    Take your temperature. A high fever is another sign of heat exhaustion that requires medical attention.[25] Seek immediate treatment if your fever reaches 104°F (40°C).[26]
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    Monitor your attempts to hydrate. You may feel nauseous directly following severe time in the sun as well. If your nausea includes vomiting that makes it impossible to stay hydrated, then see your doctor who can use an IV to keep you from dehydrating.[27]


  • It will hurt to brush your hair the first few days. Be extra gentle with it.
  • A hat is always a good choice if you plan to spend a long amount of time in the sun.
  • There are misting products available to help provide sun protection to your scalp where normal sunscreen can be impossible to apply.
  • Check to see if any of your medications cause sensitivity to sunlight. This may increase your chances of sunburn.
  • Stay out of the sun during peak hours, between 10am and 4pm.


  • If your sunburn blisters, then you have a second-degree sunburn, and you may want to have it evaluated by your physician.[28]

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Stings Bites and Burns | Sun and Sunless Tanning