21 May 2024

Sun exposure: how to protect your hair

Year-round protection, both under the sun and clouds. With the help of an expert, we can discover together what we need to know.

When it comes to sun exposure, the wellness culture has gotten us used to fighting the aging of our skin, especially during the summer with sun screens. Hair instead is often neglected or protected only now and then. We always think: “I’ll get a good trim, and let it grow out”.

But this question is much more complex. Hair, according to the concept of exposome, should be protected from sun exposure year-round. To gain a better understanding, Estetica’s Glorianna Vaschetto asked Dr. Maria Teresa Rigione, a Pharmacist specialized in Cosmetic Science and Technology to enlighten us.

Why does sun exposure lighten our hair?

Lightening is the result of UV rays on the hair’s amino acids, melanin, and even on the lipids that make up the cuticle. And this change is irreversible. In blonde hair the effect is very visible. This is because our natural sun filter is melanin, the natural pigment in all our hair. We have three types of melanin: pheomelanin in blonde hair, eumelanin in dark hair, trichosiderin in red hair. Each one undergoes a certain degree of sun lightening. For white hair, it’s a different story. White hair has lost its melanin and consists mainly of keratin.

Keratin degrades under UVR, which finds lots of cystine to consume. This causes an even more devastating effect on the hair structure. It can cause hair to yellow due to the increase in sulfur due to the oxidation itself

If we add the dehydrating effect of brine, of lime, or the oxidation caused by swimming pool chlorine, you can imagine the condition our hair is in when we get back from vacation!

How and when should we protect our hair from sun exposure?

We have to think about protecting the scalp and the hair from direct sunlight. This is especially true during the hours of more intense radiation. Nowadays some scarves and hats are made of a new generation of fabrics containing filters. These filters are capable of reflecting solar radiation. Then you should select hair products that contain sunscreens to help prevent damage.

The scalp can undergo serious consequences if exposed without protection.

We have to delicately cleanse the scalp to eliminate traces of sea salt or chlorine. Use balanced shampoos that are rich in nourishing substances, like the natural moisturizing factor (NMF) or aloe. Oils like Moringa Oil, Argan oil, Macadamia Oil and many others contain anti-oxidant substances and can be found easily. Follow-up with a mask containing a hydrolyzed amino acid base and conditioner to help hair reintegrate part of the moisture lost. These will also help to seal the scales of the cuticle.

What are the main innovations in the hair sun screen formulas?

The biggest problem in products formulated with hair sun screens, which differ little from those for skin, is the application. The best technique for transmitting a sun screen for hair is a mask. The processing time varies between 15 and 30 minutes and allows a deeper penetration of the sun screen. It is even more effective if you massage it carefully and delicately into the cuticle.

To meet his need the true innovation lies in nanoemulsions. Indeed, a recent study at the galenical and cosmetics laboratory at the Universitè Aix-Marseille suggests that a nano-particle formulation can increase protection for some organic filters. This enables the reduction of the quantity of filters used to obtain a specific SPF while maintaining its effectiveness.

We can opt for products pre- or post- sun exposure rigorously formulates with classic filters (like benzophenone, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, octyl dimethyl para-aminobenzoic acid PABA). These protect our hair from excessive oxidation by the sun’s rays. Or we can chose an oil-based products with a high linoleic acid content. This unsaturated fatty acid is capable of forming a protective spiral on the hair shaft (polymerization) and integrating the external lipidic protection of the cuticle.

What are solar integrators?

Solar integrators essentially contain beta-carotene from vegetables and vitamins. All these categories have proprietary antioxidants that sustain cutaneous defenses against solar radiation, both short- and long-term. We can mention carotenoids(beta-carotene, astaxanthin, lycopene and lutein) and vitamins A, C, and E.

The protective mechanisms of the functional substances contained in the solar integrators are useful mostly in contrasting solar oxidation damage, as well as in indirect activation of melanin. They improve the skin’s defense mechanisms against UV rays, stimulate the production of new collagen, and attenuate post-sun exposure inflammatory reactions. Moreover, with their anti-oxidant power, they prevent cutaneous photo-aging.

Exposome is the new methods for studying the complex relations between the environment and health. How does it involve hair?

UV rays cause damage to our hair and skin, but are not the only ones to do so. A series of environmental factors cause damage from the moment we are born (even from the moment of conception). It does not depend on our genetics, but on our lifestyle, be it voluntary or involuntary. This series of factors is called “exposome” (literally “exposure” of the body) and is represented by solar radiation, environmental pollution, tobacco smoke, poor nutrition, stress, temperature, and sleep loss. However, we must take into a series of significant lesser-known factors, like the quality of the cosmetics we use over our lifetime.

In the case of hair exposome, multiple factors also weigh in. These include pollution and smog, domestic pollution, shampoo with overly-aggressive surfactants or excessively alkaline pH, hot styling tools, and chemical stress from bleaching, permanents, straightening, sand, algicides, and chlorine. “


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