Most men experience significant thinning of scalp hair by age 50 and two-thirds will notice hair loss by age 35. Women represent 40 percent of those with hair loss. In addition to the potential psychological impact, less hair coverage makes the scalp more susceptible to the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure from the sun.
The manifestations of chronic sun exposure of the skin include redness, flaky patches, and a rough, sandpaper like texture. These findings often indicate the presence of precancerous actinic keratoses (AKs) which can sometimes cover the entire surface of the exposed scalp. AKs may be tender, painful and bleed easily. Five to 10 percent of AKs evolve into skin cancers which can become aggressive. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common skin cancer on the scalp but basal cell carcinoma and melanoma may also occur.
Sun protection measures are critical to protect the scalp and prevent the development of skin cancers. While sunscreens with SPF 30 or greater are helpful, they must be applied every 2 hours so hats with a tightly woven fabric and broad brim to protect your ears and back of the neck are a better option. Many companies make UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rated hats with those rated UPF 50+ the best option. If you have AKs and/or you’ve had a skin cancer of the scalp, you can decrease your risk of future skin cancers with treatments including cryotherapy, topical chemotherapy creams, photodynamic therapy (PDT), and oral nicotinamide (vitamin B3). Existing skin cancers must be treated, however, typically with surgery. If you have concerns about sun damage of your scalp schedule an evaluation with your dermatologist. (Adapted from The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal, Vol.XLI, 2023)
If it’s been a while since your last skin cancer screening, look yourself over and schedule an exam with your dermatologist: 310-626-4631