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Your scalp can get sunburned just like the rest of your body. The question we’ll be looking at is whether your sunburn will cause dandruff.

When we think of sunburn, we tend to think of red shoulders, faces and chests. But even under all that hair, your scalp can get sunburned too.

If you’ve suffered from a sunburnt scalp before, you may know that it can lead to symptoms that are very similar to dandruff: itchiness and flakes of skin.

But that doesn’t mean that sunburn causes dandruff. So what’s going on?

What causes dandruff?
On everyone’s scalp lives Malassezia globosa. This yeast-like fungus is generally harmless, living off the natural oils produced by our scalp.

Unfortunately, one of the by-products of malassezia’s lifecycle is oleic acid. And, if you’re sensitive to oleic acid (as many are), you can expect symptoms that include:

  • Itchiness

  • White flakes in the hair

  • Dry, irritated scalp

These are the classic symptoms of dandruff.

Getting rid of dandruff means regularly using a specially formulated dandruff shampoo. Sunburn, on the other hand, needs an entirely different approach.

What is sunburn?
By comparison, sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun.

While short exposure to the sun might give you a nice tan, if you stay out too long your skin starts to get damaged, kicking its defenses into high gear.

The affected area is flooded with blood to help with healing, and you can also expect inflammation and painful sensitivity.

About four to seven days later, the burnt skin begins to peel, as the body rids itself of the damaged skin cells.

Even with a protective layer of hair, this can happen to your scalp. But it’s important to remember that the symptoms in this case are not necessarily a sign of dandruff.

The dry flakes you see in this case are temporary – your scalp has been damaged, and this is part of its attempts to heal itself.

To treat your scalp discomfort, take a cool shower. Over-the-counter pain medications, like aspirin, or topical analgesics may also provide some relief. A moisturising lotion or aloe-vera gel applied gently to the scalp can also help.

To avoid this leading to product build-up on your scalp, you’ll need to wash your hair on a more regular basis while you follow this treatment.

If you’re prone to dandruff, it’s a good idea to keep using your dandruff shampoo while you’re dealing with a sunburn. That’s because sunburnt skin is weaker and more vulnerable to dandruff-causing irritants. So, if you’re using Head & Shoulders, sunburn is no reason to stop.

In the meantime, remember your sunscreen.

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