They'll counteract the drying effects of the sun and environmental exposure, and make your sunburn feel ~loads~ better.

By Brittany Loggins
July 23, 2020
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It's no secret that excessive sun exposure is bad for your skin, especially if you're venturing outdoors without the protection of SPF. But even if you do lather on the sunscreen and manage to make it off the beach burn-free, your skin may still suffer irritation or damage from ultraviolet rays. (Also, always check the expiration date to make sure your sunblock is still good to go to avoid getting fried.)

"After being outdoors with exposure to the sun, even without a sunburn, the skin barrier can have a disruption as well as inflammation from the heat, UV radiation, infrared and visible light," says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology in New York City. Because of this, it's important to choose an after-sun lotion that helps restore and repair the skin barrier, and also replenishes the lost moisture, adds Dr. Kanchanapoomi. (Check out these other soothing products to help treat sunburn.)

Keep an eye out for skin-care picks with moisturizing and hydrating ingredients such as ceramides, lipids, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin that will help to repair the skin barrier, advises Dr. Kanchanapoomi. You may also want to consider products featuring antioxidants, including vitamin C and vitamin E since these can help neutralize free radicals, which can cause skin aging, hyperpigmentation, and fine lines and wrinkles. And don't forget tried-and-true after-sun ingredient aloe, which is "incredibly calming, inexpensive, and soothes and cools the skin," notes Dr. Kanchanapoomi.

And while it may seem counterintuitive to opt for a lightweight cream after sun exposure (is it just me, or don't you just want to slather the thickest coat of lotion all over your lobster-red body after a beach day?), Kanchanapoomi says they're preferable. "Heavier moisturizers with lots of emollients and oils can actually hold the sunburned heat into the skin, and [they] don't provide the relief that something more lightweight would," she explains. Be sure to avoid occlusives or heavy ointments, as well, as those formulas can trap heat and prevent skin from cooling down, she adds. (Looking for relief for dry skin? Explore the best derm-loved moisturizers here.)

As for the best time to apply after-sun lotion, Dr. Kanchanapoomi suggests using them right after you shower when the skin is still slightly damp. When your skin is wet and permeable, it allows the ingredients in your skin-care products to penetrate easier. Take a cool shower and then make sure to pat the skin dry, as opposed to rubbing, which can be irritating, suggests Lily Talakoub, M.D., a board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist at McLean Dermatology & Skincare in Virginia. Also, be sure to apply your after-sun lotions and moisturizers twice a day, especially if you're dealing with sunburn.

Have a gnarly sunburn that could use some TLC, or stocking up on healing moisturizers ahead of your next tropical vacation just in case? Keep scrolling for the best after-sun lotion products that get the stamp of approval from top derms.

Coola Organic Radical Recovery After-Sun Body Lotion

AMAZON

Dr. Talakoub's pick, this lotion is packed with antioxidants and deeply hydrates and soothes skin, thanks to ingredients such as agave, aloe vera, sunflower oil, and rosemary extract. "It is super hydrating with antioxidants and other vitamin intensive ingredients," she says. "Most importantly, it includes agave to naturally lock moisture in, and [it] is clinically proven to aid in sunburn relief."

Banana Boat After Sun Lotion

AMAZON

On top of smelling seriously heavenly, this formula contains cocoa butter, coconut oil, and aloe, offering breathable hydration and allowing heat to dissipate from the skin, explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "This lotion also contains vitamin E, which hydrates and protects the skin against UV damage," he adds. (No lotion on hand to treat a nasty sunburn? Here's what derms think about applying coconut oil to the skin after sun exposure.)

Bioderma Photoderm After-Sun Milk

AMAZON

Not only is this option extremely affordable, but it's formulated specifically for post-sun skin—so keep it on hand after a day at the pool or beach. Dr. Kanchanapoomi is a fan of its calming ingredients, including allantoin (a non-irritating ingredient that soothes and protects skin) and ginkgo biloba leaf extract (which is loaded with antioxidants), as well as its hydrating ingredients, such as glycerin and shea butter.

Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration

AMAZON

With 94 percent of reviewers giving it four and five stars, this sunny-weather must-have has shea butter, aloe, and antioxidants derived from papaya and mango. Rachel Nazarian, M.D., a New York-based dermatologist and fellow at the American Academy of Dermatology, notes that the addition of shea butter in this lotion helps improve the moisture barrier of the skin, which can also be compromised by chronic outdoor exposure and sun. While it's super light, it manages to keep skin feeling hydrated for up to 24 hours.

Avène After-Sun Repair Creamy Gel

Another go-to for Dr. Kanchanapoomi, she likes this decadent gel because it boasts ceramides, plant sterols, and fatty acids, which all focus on restoring the skin barrier. It has a non-greasy, fast-absorbing formula, has an immediate cooling effect, and also contains the brand's signature thermal spring water to soothe and soften skin. (See more: 10 Water-Infused Beauty Products for Flawless, Clear Skin)

Pacifica After-Sun Cool & Glow Chest Area Sheet Mask

ULTA

There is nothing worse than debuting a bright red chest beneath a pretty summer top after a day in the sun (OK, besides the painful, hot burning sensation!). Thankfully, this mask will come to your rescue, since it's designed specifically for use on the chest and delivers aloe vera to hydrate, calendula to soothe, and vitamin C to protect from free radical damage, says Dr. Zeichner.

StriVectin Re-Quench Water Cream Moisturizer

AMAZON

One of Dr. Kanchanapoomi's favorite face moisturizers, she likes this as an after-sun option because it's lightweight, cooling, and formulated to build the skin barrier. Plus, it's chock full of hydrating glycerin and hyaluronic acid as well as soothing aloe, she adds. Also nice: It's oil-free, so it's ideal for those who don't want to feel greasy or have acne-prone skin.

Kopari Coconut Body Milk

KOPARI

Packed with fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamin E,  coconut oil, chamomile, and aloe, this all-natural, anti-inflammatory body milk hydrates, soothes skin, and minimizes loss of moisture into the environment says Dr. Nazarian. She notes that it's especially "great for the super dry, out-all-day beach bum"—so perfect for summer. Even better? It's maintained an almost perfect five-star rating on Amazon. (Side note: Here's exactly how to treat sunburned lips, if you got 'em.)

Lord Jones High CBD Formula Body Lotion

LORD JONES

This cooling lotion features moisturizing shea butter (hello, fatty acids and vitamins!) and 100mg of buzz-worthy CBD. CBD oil is an excellent emollient for the skin, since it softens, hydrates, and protects the outer layer, explains Dr. Zeichner. "It also has anti-inflammatory properties that help to soothe and calm the skin, which is ideal after a day in the sun," he adds. Even at a bit of a higher price point, more than 15,000 Sephora customers "love" it, so it must be worth it.

Burt's Bees Aloe and Coconut Oil After Sun Soother

AMAZON

Made with anti-inflammatory coconut oil and aloe vera, this product excels in evening out redness and calming the skin post-sunbathing, which can make it uncomfortable and itchy, says Dr. Nazarian. Also nice: More than 900 reviewers love it and continuously write that it's both soothing and non-greasy.

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