We all know that we need to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun, but what about our hair? Over time, the sun’s harsh UVA and UVB rays can damage the hair, from its cuticle right to its inner structure. This is why it’s vital to protect your tresses from the damaging effects of sunlight.

Sunlight and hair: The real effects

There’s nothing better than letting your hair flow free in summer and allowing the warm breeze to lift it off your face. However, excessively exposing your hair to sunlight can cause it to become dry, brittle and weak, make it more susceptible to split ends and even cause it to lose its rich, deep colour. While hair that has been chemically treated is at greater risk of damage, even non-treated hair is susceptible.

Why your hair ‘changes colour’ in summer

Have you ever noticed that your hair turns yellow, dull or faded in summer – or that your once-dark locks have developed a reddish tint? This is a clear indication of sun damage. Exposure to UV rays can break down hair proteins, which weakens the hair and causes it to look dull and lifeless. People with thicker hair have greater natural resilience to this damage, as most of the impact is on the outer regions of the hair shaft. People with fine hair, however, often experience greater degrees of damage.

What’s more, the pigments in dark hair are able to filter the damage of UV rays more effectively than the pigments in lighter hair, so darker-haired people enjoy greater protection against the breakdown of proteins that can lead to damage. It is this filtering action that causes the hair to lighten as exposure to sunlight increases.

Think about any pigmented item: coloured fabrics, paper and even painted surfaces lose their colour over time as a result of prolonged exposure to sunlight. In the same way, your hair fades too when exposed to the bleaching effects of the sun. These effects may be exacerbated if you swim in chlorinated water. This is because the chlorine dries out your hair and that, combined with the effects of sunlight, can bleach the hair even faster!

How to prevent sun damage to your hair

The easiest and most effective solution is to wear a wide-brimmed hat whenever you spend time outdoors. The added benefit of this is that it will also protect your face from sun damage and reduce your risk of cancer. Don’t forget to rub suntan lotion into the parting of your hair if ever you find yourself outdoors without a hat. This will protect the skin on your head, but it won’t protect your hair. You could also rub lotion into the hair itself as an effective last-resort option.

To further protect your hair, you should also make use of good quality leave-in conditioners that contain zinc oxide or a UV protector, and try to avoid the sun between the hours of 10am and 3pm, when its rays are at their hottest. You can also speak to your stylist about specially formulated products designed to prevent UV damage to hair.

Help! I already have sun damage to my hair

Don’t worry, thousands of women are in the same position as you. While the solution is simple, it may not be what you want to hear: you’ll need to have your hair cut. By removing all the damaged hair, you’ll give new, healthy hair the chance to grow. Eventually, you’ll have a full head of healthy, shining hair once again.

If you’re panicking at the thought of losing your long hair, there’s no need to fret. Why not use clip-in hair extensions or bonding extensions until your own hair has grown back? These high-quality, natural-looking hair pieces blend seamlessly with your own shade, which means no one will know that you’re wearing them. Plus, you can style and treat them just as you would your natural hair. It’s the perfect solution to dry, damaged hair, and no one will know your secret!

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