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Editor’s Picks: 14 of the Best After-Sun Lotions to Soothe, Hydrate and Repair Your Skin

They’re not just for sunburns.
Best after sun lotion

You already know how important it is to wear (and re-apply) sunscreen whenever you’re outdoors. But there’s one more step to complete your suncare routine: an after-sun lotion.

You might think that after-sun products are only necessary when you’ve had a sunburn—but think again. Research shows that even if you don’t burn, UV light can disrupt your skin barrier[1] and trigger dryness[2] and inflammation[3]. Of course, it can also lead to DNA damage that you can’t see, which continues for hours after sun exposure[4].

That’s why it’s a good idea to apply soothing, hydrating and reparative ingredients as soon as you can after spending time in the sun. 

Read on for the best after-sun lotions, why I chose them, and what you need to know about each one.

The Skincare Edit Recommends

The Best After-Sun Lotions of 2021 (At a Glance)

  1. Herbivore After Sun Skin Soothing Aloe Mist
  2. Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel
  3. Dr. Barbara Sturm Aloe Vera Gel
  4. Badger Aloe Vera Gel
  5. Aromatica Organic Aloe Vera Gel
  6. Babo Botanicals After Sun Soothing Hydrating Gel
  7. Pacifica Sea & C After Sun Cooling Water Gel Spray
  8. Beautycounter Countersun After Sun Cooling Gel
  9. Goddess Garden Organics After-Sun Gel
  10. Jason Soothing 98% Aloe Vera Moisturizing Gel
  11. Burt’s Bees Aloe & Coconut Oil After Sun Soother
  12. Holika Holika Aloe 99% Soothing Gel
  13. California Baby Aloe & Arnica Soothing Spray
  14. Kerstin Florian Natural Aloe Gel

What to Look for in an After-Sun Lotion

This is what I like to see in an after-sun product:

  • High in humectants: Lightweight hydrating ingredients like aloe vera, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, honey and allantoin work to draw water into your skin, restoring moisture levels. 
  • Low in occlusives: If you’ve had a sunburn, anything that forms a barrier and traps the heat in your skin could lead to further skin damage. Until your skin cools down, avoid products high in occlusive oils (like mineral oil) and silicones (like dimethicone). Of course, I suggest avoiding these on your face regardless, since they can interfere with cellular renewal and trigger breakouts.
  • Low in PUFAs: Oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are especially important to limit during and after UV exposure, since they produce toxic free radicals when oxidized by radiation. I skip products that contain PUFA-based oils in the first five ingredients, which typically represent about 80% of the formula.
  • Low in fragrance: Whether synthetic or natural, fragrance ingredients are common irritants. 
  • Low in alcohol: While alcohol-based gels and sprays tend to feel cooling on the skin (since they evaporate quickly), they can exacerbate dryness and irritation.
  • High in anti-inflammatory ingredients: Aloe vera, arnica, propolis and Centella Asiatica are examples of ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties. (Aloe’s other benefits include binding moisture, accelerating wound healing and suppressing radiation damage[5]—no wonder it’s so ubiquitous in after-sun treatments!)
  • High in antioxidants: For post-sun skin repair, look for antioxidants such as green tea, Centella Asiatica, niacinamide, vitamin C, caffeine and algae. (Niacinamide is my personal favourite because it repairs radiation-induced DNA damage[6], prevents photocarcinogenesis[7] and treats signs of photoaging[8], like pigmentation.)

The Best After-Sun Lotions of 2021 (Reviews)

Herbivore After Sun Skin Soothing Aloe Mist
Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel
Dr. Barbara Sturm Aloe Vera Gel
Badger Aloe Vera Gel
Aromatica Organic Aloe Vera Gel
Babo Botanicals After Sun Soothing Hydrating Gel
Pacifica Sea C After Sun Cooling Water Gel Spray
Beautycounter Countersun After Sun Cooling Gel
Goddess Garden Organics After-Sun Gel
Jason Soothing 98 Percent Aloe Vera Moisturizing Gel
Burt's Bees Aloe Coconut Oil After Sun Soother
Holika Holika Aloe 99 Soothing Gel
California Baby Aloe Arnica Soothing Spray
Kerstin Florian Natural Aloe Gel

Further Reading

  1. Permatasari, Felicia, Zhou, Bingrong & Luo, Dan. (2013). Epidermal barrier: Adverse and beneficial changes induced by ultraviolet B irradiation depending on the exposure dose and time (Review). Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine. 2013 Aug; 6(2): 287–292.
  2. Amaro-Ortiz, Alexandra, Yan, Betty & D’Orazio, John A. (2014). Ultraviolet Radiation, Aging and the Skin: Prevention of Damage by Topical cAMP Manipulation. Molecules. 2014 May; 19(5): 6202–6219.
  3. Hruza, L.L. & Pentland, A.P. (1993). Mechanisms of UV-induced inflammation. Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 1993 Jan; 100(1): 35S-41S.
  4. Premi, Sanjay, Wallisch, Siliva, Mano, Camila M., Weiner, Adam B., Bacchiocchi, Antonella, Wakamatsu, Kazumasa, Etelvino J.H., Halaban, Ruth, Douki, Thierry & Brash, Douglas E. (2015). Chemiexcitation of Melanin Derivatives Induces DNA Photoproducts Long after UV Exposure. Science. 2015 Feb 20; 347(6224): 842–847.
  5. Surjushe, Amar, Vasani, Resham & and Saple, D.G. (2008). ALOE VERA: A SHORT REVIEW. Indian Journal of Dermatology. 2008; 53(4): 163–166.
  6. Thompson, Benjamin C., Surjana, Devita, Halliday, Gary M. & Damian, Diona L. (2014). Nicotinamide enhances repair of ultraviolet radiation-induced DNA damage in primary melanocytes. Experimental Dermatology. 2014 Jul; 23(7): 509-11. 
  7. Gensler, H.L. (1997). Prevention of photoimmunosuppression and photocarcinogenesis by topical nicotinamide. Nutrition and Cancer. 1997; 29(2): 157-62.
  8. Bissett, Donald L., Oblong, John E. & Berge, Cynthia A. (2005). Niacinamide: A B vitamin that improves aging facial skin appearance. Dermatologic Surgery. 2005 Jul; 31(7 Pt 2): 860-5; discussion 865.

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