We don’t have to tell you that wearing sunscreen — whether you’re spending the day at the beach or just walking from the subway to your office — is an absolute must. But even if you make it through a 95-degrees-and-sunny day without a sunburn, you may still find yourself feeling heated. That could be because few of us remember (or even know) that our skin needs attention after sun exposure, no matter if you get burned or not. “Even low levels of UV light can affect the skin, causing both skin-barrier disruption and inflammation, in addition to damage to collagen and skin cells’ DNA,” explains Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai. “Whether you get a bad sunburn or not, you should make sure to use after-sun moisturizers.”
Point taken. And, skin-barrier disruption aside, the thought of coming home from a long day at the beach, taking a shower, and putting on some soothing serums and lotions sounds quite nice indeed. But which products to use? We talked to seven dermatologists, two aestheticians, and a spa representative about the stuff they trust for treating post-sun skin.
Best overall after-sun product
“It’s important to replenish lost moisture after sun exposure,” says Manhattan-based dermatologist Dr. Michele Green. “Using a moisturizer enriched with ceramides and lipids will restore the skin’s balance. The damage done by exposure to the sun is cumulative, and to minimize sun damage and premature aging you should use products with antioxidants and vitamin C.” She recommends Sun Bum Cool Down Hydrating After Sun Lotion, which contains the antioxidant Vitamin E, and also came recommended by Zeichner and Ellen Marmur, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai in New York. Zeichner says Sun Bum’s unscented lotion is a good option not only for its soothing and hydrating formula, but also because “it’s a totally natural product,” and prevents peeling to boot.
Best after-sun soap and body wash
Dr. Peter Saitta, a dermatologist at the Skin Institute of New York’s Brooklyn office, says that if you want to tan, there are a few post-beach products you can apply to prolong your glow. “To encourage your sun tan to stay a little longer, you’ll need to decrease the amount of natural skin shedding,” he says. Instead of using a loofah in the shower, “use a soft cloth with a pure and simple moisturizing soap. A bar of unscented Dove is best. It won’t increase exfoliation and will moisturize the outer layer of your skin.” But before you submit your body to the sun, he warns that “extended sun exposure without adequate protection can damage skin,” so don’t forget to slather on the SPF first.
If you want something a little more luxurious after a day in the sun, Kim Zimmerman, of Rescue Spa in Philadelphia, suggests Institut Esthederm After Sun Body Wash. She recommends it for “rinsing away sunscreen and chlorine.” The body wash has micellar molecules — similar to those in some of our favorite French cleansers — that gently clean overheated, sunscreen-clogged skin. Zimmerman says that this “leaves skin moisturized, soft and comfortable,” and that its moisturizing properties will help prolong a tan.
Best after-sun serums
“Antioxidant products are important because they eat the nasty free radical cells in the body,” explains Saitta. He recommends using a vitamin C or vitamin E serum either as or right before you apply sunscreen — saying studies have shown these serums increase sunscreen’s beneficial effects and help “scavenge free radicals in your body” — and reapplying after being in the sun. “The good ones are expensive, but they do a phenomenal job,” he adds. “Regular use can help you maintain the youthful, natural-looking glow of your complexion year ‘round, and a little product goes a long way. My favorites are Clarins anti-aging serum, Chanel Le Lift firming and anti-wrinkle serum, and Dior Capture Youth Glow Booster serum.” Saitta admits these are all a little pricey, but you’d really only need one, and a few drops will go a long way.
Jordana Mattioli, a New York–based aesthetician, calls this serum “hands down the best repairing product for the body.” One edge it has over everything else on this list: It also firms.
Best after-sun gels
“The yogurt base and its proteins are very calming to the skin,” dermatologist Ranella Hirsch of Skincare Doctors in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says of this gel. It also contains nourishing sweet almond oil and anti-inflammatory calendula extracts. To make it even more refreshing, try keeping it in the same place that you store your yogurt — in the fridge. If you want to maximize your post-sun skin repair by using a gel and a serum, you’d apply the serum before the gel, since you’d generally use a gel like you would a lotion or other hydrating moisturizer.
“Aloe is ultracalming and soothing, which is why it’s so commonly used,” says Zeichner. Hirsch concurs: “Aloe vera is the OG after-sun ingredient, and this is an inexpensive aloe product that’s great to keep around.”
“All skin types can benefit from after-sun products. Everyone from dry, to fair, to dark skin tones can use replenishment and added hydration that may have been lost while in the sun,” says Marmur. The LOLI Beauty hydrator jelly that she recommends contains the antioxidant blueberry, and leaves a matte finish for a fresh face with or without makeup.
Best after-sun lotions
If you prefer a soothing lotion to a gel, Saitta recommends using this cream after showering — you can apply it on its own, or after one of the serums (to lock in extra moisture). It helps prevent skin from peeling and also preserves a tan. The cream also has ceramides, which Green named as an important skin-balancing ingredient, and hyaluronic acid, which dermatologists say draws and seals moisture into the skin.
Dr. Sherwin Parikh, a dermatologist at Tribeca Skin Center, recommends Coola ER+ Radical Recovery After-Sun Lotion because it has aloe, “a known staple for after sun care,” as well as “natural yeast ferments and agave ferments, which cool the skin and restore cell integrity.” Parikh also notes that it has natural rosemary “which acts as an antiseptic,” and says that the lotion “helps to prevent excess peeling after sunburn.” (Coola’s sun-care products are generally beloved by derms, many of whom recommended its Mineral Sport SPF 50 Sunscreen Stick as one of the best for your face.)
“After-sun products come in a variety of textures, but I generally recommend lotions because they are easy to spread over large surface areas. This is an ultralight moisturizer that does double duty as an after-sun skin-care product,” says Zeichner. Plus, it’s nonsticky.
“For my body, I am currently in love with Moroccan Oil After Sun Milk. It’s great if you have a mild sunburn, and it has a pleasing smell that my patients seem to love,” says Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, director of cosmetic dermatology at South Shore Medical Center. Although it’s on the pricier side, the milky formula checks off all the boxes. “It’s lightweight, fast-absorbing, and contains naturally cooling aloe, antioxidant-rich argan oil, and vitamin E, along with coconut and passion-fruit oils,” Imahiyerobo-Ip explains.
Our ears always perk up whenever a skin pro recommends something affordable enough to buy in bulk, like this pick for the face and body from Hirsch. She’s a fan of this “very hydrating” product because it has a “good price” and “includes linden extract, which is a natural antioxidant.”