How to Save a Sunburned Scalp From Itchy, Flaky Ruin

Updated 08/29/19

Nothing kills the highs of summer like a bad sunburn. And though we try to be meticulous when it comes to our SPF habits, we’re not perfect. At some point that fateful pink-hued skin is practically inevitable. However, with proper after-sun care, the damage and cringeworthy aftermath of a bad burn can usually be contained. But when said burn is on your scalp and not, say, your shoulders, proper care and damage control can get a lot trickier—and wreak havoc on your hair. Even worse? Some store-bought remedies (we see you, dandruff shampoo) may do more harm than good in terms of calming that irritated and flaky skin.

Don’t get us wrong—here at Byrdie, we love our product. But we also know that natural solutions can be just as good.

sunburn remedies for scalp

The Green Tea Rinse

It’s no coincidence that green tea can often be found in the top-of-the-line skincare products. Loaded with beautifying and soothing antioxidants and tannins, tea naturally and effectively reduces inflammation, which makes it perfect for soothing an angry and itchy scalp. When applied in the form of a compress or rinse, green tea can help heal the irritated skin and also expedite recovery.

For a rinse, you need to first brew green tea. If you've never done this, just pour boiling water over a green tea bag and let steep for about 10 minutes. Next, you're going to want to remove the bag and place the tea in the refrigerator to let it cool all the way down. When you get in the shower, wash your hair as usual, making sure to cleanse and condition with an ultra-gentle shampoo and conditioner (we like Living Proof's Restore line). Once you've towel-dried your hair, pour the lukewarm tea over it and lightly massage it into your scalp. Don't rinse, and let your hair air-dry—you shouldn't be using heat styling tools on burnt skin anyway.

The Milk Dip

Milk contains essential enzymes that bond to skin and speed up your skin’s ability to heal. We recommend 2% or whole for this treatment, because the fat, protein, and pH have anti-inflammatory properties that help calm the skin. The cold temperature takes this remedy a step further by restricting the blood vessels in the scalp and reducing any swelling. Utilizing the healing powers of milk is pretty simple: dip a clean washcloth into freezing-cold milk, then gently press the milk-drenched cloth against your scalp for roughly five minutes. You can repeat this up to three times in a session, but any more is overkill.

Double Oil Treatment

You know we at Byrdie love our essential oils. How could we not? Oils are known for their miraculous skin-saving, youth-preserving, all-around amazingness; thus, their ability to calm an inflamed and irritated scalp shouldn’t come as any big surprise. Our preference? Tea tree—the holy grail of oils. This is the remedy you’ll want to turn to if your burn is inducing serious flaking and itching. Not only is tea-tree oil anti-inflammatory, but it’s also antibacterial, antifungal, and a natural antiseptic—so basically an elixir of the gods. Use it to tame your screaming head while simultaneously curing any and all pre-burn scalp woes (and yes, you’re welcome).

In order to do a tea tree oil treatment, you should first fill a container 3/4 full with any oil other than tea tree (jojoba, coconut, olive, and almond are all great options). Tea tree oil is strong, so add 10-15 drops to the container and mix it well. Gently massage the mixture into your hair until it's totally saturated—a tingling sensation is normal—and leave it in overnight. In the morning, shampoo and condition your hair thoroughly.

Don’t want to DIY? Here are some editor-approved scalp soothers:

Aveda After-Sun Hair Masque $30
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Leonor Greyl Paris Régénérescence Naturelle Pre-Shampoo Treatment $60
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Nioxin System 6 Scalp Treatment $26
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serene scalp soothing leave-on treatment
Oribe Serene Scalp Soothing Treatment $48
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scalp revival charcoal and tea tree scalp treatment
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment $32
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