Why You Need An After-Sun Care Routine This Summer

Just as important as SPF.

AleksandarNakic/E+/Getty Images
after-sun care routine

By now, you should be well aware of the role sunscreen plays in protecting and preserving your skin. Outside of beach days and afternoons spent in the sun, a broad-spectrum SPF has likely become an essential part of your skin care routine. And with evolved formulas, finding the right one for your specific needs has become simpler. Applying it daily to your face and body prevent sun damage, but what steps should you take after you’ve been exposed? Even if you’re on top of refreshing your SPF coverage throughout the day, UV damage can still be a concern. That’s where an after-sun care routine comes into play.

“The initial reaction of the skin is to become flushed and tanned as a result of increased blood flow and melanin production, attempting to protect the deeper layers of the skin from harm. However, a day’s worth of sun can cause the skin to become dehydrated and increasingly uncomfortable,” says Dr. Neil Sadick, MD, board-certified dermatologist and owner of Sadick Dermatology in New York City.

As you can imagine, this can take a toll on how your skin appears and feels. So much so, that a general moisturizer won’t always do the trick. According to Rachel Lee Lozina, licensed esthetician, and owner of Blue Water Spa in Oyster Bay, NY., extensive periods of sun exposure better benefit from products targeted to restore lost moisture. In addition to hydrating the skin, developing a regimen will also help balance the barrier and alleviate many common summer issues like sunburns and flaking.

Ahead, TZR spoke with three industry experts ranging from dermatologists to estheticians to find out the basics of after-sun care, including how to adjust your routine and which product will help or work against you.

Olga Rolenko/Moment/Getty Images

What is After-Sun Care?

“Put simply, after-sun care is a practice that involves the use of products like lotions or gels to soothe and treat the skin after being out in the sun,” says Dr. Sadick. While it’s not as frequently discussed as preventive sun exposure methods, he explains that after-sun care is crucial to rehydrate and help support skin repair by countering the damaging effects of UV rays.

Sunscreen is the first line of defense but the products used following your day out will also mollify the symptoms of burns and decrease healing time. Merry Thornton, PA-C, a licensed board-certified physician assistant and founder of Element Medical Aesthetics in New Canaan, Conn. tells TZR that “many of these [products] typically include humectants, such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid, and natural ingredients, like cucumber or aloe, to quench and cool the affected area.”

How Sun Exposure Affects The Skin

Regardless of whether you have a dark complexion or sensitive skin type, extended time spent outside can have an effect on your skin. “Excessive sun exposure can lead to a nasty sunburn, but over time, the UV rays will penetrate the skin, damaging collagen and elastin fibers needed to maintain elasticity, and ultimately make it more prone to wrinkles and fine lines,” says Dr. Sadick. Not to mention the pigmentation changes, such as freckles and sun spots that often occur throughout the years.

Dryness is also a common issue that can become exasperated, as your body’s natural moisture is depleted on long days out in the sun. According to Dr. Sadick, “rays can damage the lipid barrier, which is needed to retain moisture, and lead to dehydration and increased water loss.” This can result in making the skin feel tight, rough, and flaky over time. Lozina also notes that natural oils are also at risk of decreasing which can cause the surface of your skin to appear dull despite it being tanned. “The sun literally leaches vitamins from your skin and after spending a long day outside it will be devoid of water hydration and oil hydration that runs deeper than the surface level,” she says.

simarik/E+/Getty Images

What To Do Directly After Extended Exposure

Anyone who’s had a sunburn is going to be familiar with the hot and itchy symptoms of irritation. That said, tending to the area sooner than later can make a major impact. At those beginning signs, Thornton recommends using a cool compress to soothe and decrease inflammation. “You might even want to keep a product, such as gel, in the refrigerator for additional relief when you’re ready to apply it to the problem region,” she says.

If you’ve been lucky enough not to burn, you’ll still need to “cool down” your skin by rinsing yourself with cold to tepid water. “A cool shower after returning indoors will remove any sweat, salt, or chlorine from your skin and begin to hydrate it,” says Dr. Sadick. You’ll also want to ensure that you’re using a soft towel and gently patting yourself dry to minimize further irritation. Once you're rinsed and dry, Lozina notes that replenishing your skin with products rich in vitamins A, C, and E, and drinking plenty of water will promote optimal hydration levels and maintain its health. “Both creams and oils work well and should be applied directly after the shower when your skin is the most absorbent,” she says.

Hydrating your body from within is just as important, and all three experts agree that drinking enough water is going to be crucial to restoring the balance of your skin.

Ingredients To Avoid After Extended Exposure

Avoiding harsh actives is a no-brainer for irritated skin, but exfoliating in general is a step that should be taken off the table after a day spent in the sun. Lozina explains that since your skin is drier and most likely sunburned you shouldn’t be utilizing a loofa, exfoliating beads, or harsh chemicals like AHAs and BHAs. Not only do they increase sensitivity but they can worsen your sunburn. Similarly, Dr. Sadick recommends steering clear of alcohol-based products, as they can be drying, and fragranced products. “Instead, look for products that incorporate gentle ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile, cucumber, green tea extracts, and hyaluronic acid that will increase hydration and decrease discomfort,” he says.

Incorporating After-Sun Care Into Your Skin Care Routine

In the days that follow, all of the experts agree that rehydration should be the main focus of your skin care regimen. If you aren’t already using a product that includes hyaluronic acid, Lozina recommends starting here first. “Your routine should center around products that will deeply penetrate and add moisture back into your skin,” she says. Consider using a hydrating face mask to further boost hydration levels and incorporating ceramide creams that will soften dry and flaky skin. Dr. Sadick also recommends the consistent use of antioxidant-laced products as they naturally work to repair damage from UV light.

But hydrating your body from within is just as important, thus drinking plenty of water is going to be crucial to restoring your body’s balance. “Remember, after-sun care is essential to promote skin recovery, maintain its health, and minimize the long-term effects of sun exposure, so make it a regular part of your post-sun routine during sunny days,” says Dr. Sadick.