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Should I Wear a ‘Running Hat’?

Even if you’re not bald, your head could use some protection from the sun

Fresh off a 10-day stretch that we here in Chicago call the Spring of Deception, I now remember what it’s like to run in warm weather with the sun beating down on me. While I’m not necessarily worried about getting a “runner’s face,” at 32, it’s high time I start taking better care of my skin

Sunscreen, of course, is the go-to solution. But what about those little hats I always see people running in? Not the heat-retaining beanie that’s a must-have when running in cold weather, but the shallow, mesh ball caps with a tiny bill. Here’s one I got after running a 5K in Chicago several years ago, and promptly threw in my closet, never to be seen again:

Just in case you can’t read the logo, it says, “Fastest 10%er” 😉

In my mind, wearing a hat while running in the summer sounds like an impediment. Not only would it feel hot and uncomfortable, but it’d soak up all my delicious sweat. Yet according to Rina Allawh, a board-certified dermatologist in Philadelphia, I’ve got running hats all wrong. Not only will such a hat provide additional protection from the sun for my face and eyes, but it’ll protect my scalp and hair, areas that probably don’t get too much sunscreen. “As a dermatologist, I’ve removed several skin cancers from the scalp, and despite having hair, I’ve found that our scalp is often left unprotected,” Allawh tells me. “Running hats, specifically those with the added benefit of a sun-protective factor, protect the skin on our scalp from extensive sun exposure.” 

To that end, she recommends her patients look for hats that are made specifically for blocking UV rays. “UV-protective clothing contains ultraviolet protection factor or UPF, which helps to block both UVA and UVB rays,” Allawh explains, adding that the extra protection is good for your hair, too. “Prolonged sun exposure may damage the outer protective barrier of the hair shaft, which may cause split ends, thin or brittle hair, dry or frizzy hair or even thinning.” 

Deepak Shukla, an avid runner who’s competed in more than 30 marathons, says I’m also wrong to assume the running hat would increase my temperature. “The material they’re made from is designed to wick sweat away, ultimately keeping you cooler, which can help you feel less exhausted,” he explains. With that in mind, Shukla advises shopping for running hats that are “adjustable, lightweight, made from polyester and have mesh panels to allow air in and let sweat out.” 

This is important for your skin, too. “The presence of sweat may irritate the skin on the scalp causing itching or worsening scalp dandruff,” Allawh says. “It also may clog pores. So I recommend looking for a hat with a sweatband to not only keep you cool, but to promote airflow as well.” 

Okay, clearly, I was wrong, and I’ll give my “Fastest 10%er” hat a try this summer. That said, Shukla tells me that if I hate wearing a hat while running as much as I did wearing three socks, I shouldn’t force it. “Ultimately, running hats will make you cooler and help to protect you from sun damage,” Shukla says. “But it’s also important that you’re comfortable on your runs. If hats aren’t for you, you’ll be fine —  just make sure you lather on the sweat-resistant sunscreen instead.”