How to Care For a Sunburned Scalp at Home, According to Dermatologists

woman tying her hair into a bun


A bad sunburn is always a pain to deal with. But when said burn is on your scalp and not, say, your shoulders, proper care can get a lot trickier. Even worse? Some store-bought remedies may do more harm than good in terms of calming the irritated and flaky skin on your head.

So, to help you effectively treat your sunburned scalp, we went straight to the experts. Dermatologists Marie Hayag, MD, and David Lortscher, MD, share their expert tips for caring for a sunburned scalp at home below.

Meet the Expert

  • Marie Hayag, MD, is a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City.
  • David Lortscher, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the CEO of the skincare brand Curology.
01 of 08

Try a Double-Oil Treatment

Oils are known for their miraculous skin-saving benefits; thus, their ability to calm an inflamed and irritated scalp shouldn't come as a big surprise. Our preference, validated by Hayag, is tea tree. This is the remedy you'll want to turn to if your burn induces serious flaking and itching. Not only is tea tree oil anti-inflammatory, but it's also antibacterial, antifungal, and a natural antiseptic.

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

02 of 08

Try a Cold Milk Dip

Milk contains essential enzymes that may bond to the skin and speed up your skin's ability to heal. We recommend two percent or whole for this treatment because the fat, protein, and pH have anti-inflammatory properties that help calm the skin. Hayag approves of using milk as an at-home sunscreen treatment, though Lortscher doesn't recommend it as a total solution. "Although cold substances such as milk may provide some temporary relief, there is no known benefit beyond the soothing cool temperature," he explains.

Utilizing the soothing powers of milk is pretty simple: dip a clean washcloth into cool 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.

03 of 08

Do a Green Tea Rinse

Green tea naturally and effectively reduces inflammation, which makes it perfect for soothing an angry and itchy scalp. When applied as a compress or rinse, green tea can help heal irritated skin and expedite recovery. Hayag also approves of this method.

For a rinse, you need to first brew green tea. If you've never done this, pour boiling water over a green tea bag and let it steep for about 10 minutes. Next, you will want to remove the bag and place the tea in the refrigerator to cool it. 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 have 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.

04 of 08

Use Aloe Vera

"Aloe is well known for its skin-soothing and skin-healing properties," says Lortscher. He suggests looking for a moisturizer that features aloe vera as an ingredient. But choose your formula wisely and avoid added fragrance. "Scented products, including scented aloe vera, should be avoided since the fragrances may irritate the sunburned skin," says Lortscher. Hayag likes the Seven Minerals Aloe Vera Gel ($20).

05 of 08

Avoid Harsh Exfoliants

Hayag and Lortscher caution against using abrasive or harsh products on your scalp while healing from a sunburn. "I would stay away from products with acids and fragrances as they have the potential of further irritating compromised sunburned skin," says Hayag. "Try to stay away from exfoliating products and products that contain alcohol. The alcohol can further dry out skin that is already damaged," adds Lortscher.


06 of 08

Try an After-Sun Mask

Don't want to DIY? Hayag recommends reaching for a product like Aveda's After-Sun Hair Masque ($23). The creamy formula contains moisturizing and fortifying morikue protein and a blend of plant oils (tamanu and coconut) that promote healing and hydration.

07 of 08

Cool the Area Down

You'll notice that a common denominator in a lot of these tips is cooling. With this method, you can get fast relief from an uncomfortable sunburn and cut down on inflammation. "You want to try to reduce the inflammation of a sunburn right away," says Hayag. "One way you can do this is by cooling the area with an ice pack wrapped in a damp cloth and applying it to the burn. It will cause blood vessel constriction and reduce swelling. A bag of frozen vegetables (like peas) works well, also. You should apply ice packs or cool compresses for no longer than 15 minutes."

08 of 08

Take a Painkiller

When in doubt, there's always good old-fashioned Ibuprofen. If your sunburn is feeling itchy, Hayag suggests applying an OTC hydrocortisone like Cortizone-10 ($5). Both doctors say it's best to steer clear of lidocaine and benzocaine, which can cause further irritation. And isn't that the last thing you need when you've already got an itchy, red, inflamed scalp?

Article Sources
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  1. Pazyar N, Yaghoobi R, Bagherani N, Kazerouni A. A review of applications of tea tree oil in dermatologyInt J Dermatol. 2013;52(7):784-790. doi:10.1111/j.1365-4632.2012.05654.x

  2. Ohishi T, Goto S, Monira P, Isemura M, Nakamura Y. Anti-inflammatory Action of Green Tea. Antiinflamm Antiallergy Agents Med Chem. 2016;15(2):74-90. doi: 10.2174/1871523015666160915154443

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