If you’ve been craving a little vitamin D over the last few months (or years?!) in lockdown, you’re certainly not the only one. As the world is opening up again and summer holidays are back on the cards for some, you might be heading to the beach, a pool, or just a walk in the park to lap up those beautiful rays of sunshine.
While the summer breeze brightens your mood and makes you feel fine, your skin may have other feelings. Even if you’ve been extra careful applying and topping up your sunscreen, seeking shade, and all those well intentioned things, it’s likely you still caused some visible damage on the surface, or hidden dangers lurking deeper down.
Here’s a few ways you can care for your skin after sun exposure.
Soothe That Sunburn
The warning sign that's easiest to spot after a day in the sun is of course, sunburn. Whether you’ve got a slight pink glow emanating from your cheeks and nose, or you’ve fallen asleep in the sun and turned lobster red all over (minus the bikini lines), your skin is probably tight, hot and painful to touch. The damage is done, so what’s the solution?
First things first, take a refreshing shower to wash away any sweat, sunscreen, sand or chlorine. As with every skincare routine, you need to cleanse your skin. Not only will it unclog your pores, leaving your skin feeling fresh and clean, it will allow any moisturizing products to absorb deeper into your skin. Dr. Alan Dattner, MD of Holistic Dermatology, recommends avoiding cleansing products that are too gritty, as they can be too abrasive and aggravate your sun-damaged skin. Instead, opt for a gentle cleanser on your face and body to avoid irritating the skin and pulling out any moisture.
Although an ice-cold rinse may seem tempting to cool your body down, make sure to use lukewarm water. Hot or cold water can shock the skin and can delay recovery. Pat the skin dry with a towel to avoid any further irritation.
Now it’s time to apply a cold, soothing cream. Not only does it feel amazing, it hydrates and acts as a barrier, protecting the skin from harmful external factors. Fusco suggests opting for a thicker, creamier formula. “Go for creams as opposed to moisturizers, and look for products containing ceramides, lanolins, and oat.” You can also turn to calming natural soothers like aloe vera. This is a favorite after sun care ingredient for good reason, as it has moisturizing, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. A useful tip is to keep your aloe vera (or aftersun products) in the fridge for an extra cooling effect!
Let’s not forget, sunburns essentially resemble first and second-degree burns, so should be taken just as seriously. The symptom peak is reached after 12 to 24 hours, and it takes another three to seven days until the symptoms completely disappear. Keep applying the steps above for at least another week after the redness has faded away to make sure there’s no lasting damage.
No More Dry Skin
Even if you’ve managed to avoid getting burnt, exposure to sun, wind and heat dries out your skin. Your skin may also appear thicker and rougher, so before getting to the hydration step of your dry skin routine, it is important to get rid of dead skin with a gentle exfoliation. As long as you’re not exfoliating burnt or peeling skin (as this can cause further irritation and pain), try exfoliating dry skin in the shower using an exfoliating glove or a natural scrub such as our citrus coffee scrub. This will leave your skin feeling smooth, refreshed, and ready to absorb your hydrating products.
Skin needs to be moisturized every day, even more so after getting some sun. Dr. Francesca Fusco of Wexler Dermatology explained in Nylon that “the tanner (or more burned) skin gets, the more hydration it loses.” That is why you should drink a lot of water while also using a moisturizing cream or lotion. Look for ingredients that lock in moisture such as hyaluronic acid, hydrolyzed collagen but also salmon DNA with moisturizing and regenerating properties. Fusco warns against using any products that are too strong or chemically drying. Ingredients like retinoic acid, AHAs, glycolic acids, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and other acne-fighting products are best to avoid, as they can dry out the skin even more.
Choose a moisturizer that is rich in antioxidant repairing active ingredients such as vitamin E or vitamin C. In fact, UV builds free radicals which damage our skin during exposure to the sun but also in the hours following exposure. Using active ingredients will protect the skin during exposure and facilitate cell repair in the hours following exposure. As your skin regenerates at night, use your moisturizer in the evening, before bedtime. It’s even better if it comes straight from the fridge to give slightly damp skin a cool, soothing sensation, perfect for after sun treatments.
Keep Your Youthful Glow
Sun exposure doesn’t just cause short term harm solved by moisturizers and creams. Caring for your skin is a long game, and we can easily see the effects of our over-exposure to the sun with time.
Sun exposure destroys your collagen fibers and depletes your skin’s vitamin C stores. These effects contribute not only to the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin, but also pigment spots. Vitamin C is an antioxidant which protects the skin from the oxidizing effects of the sun and which is essential for the proper renewal of collagen. It preserves the youth and vitality of the skin and helps to even out the complexion. If your treatments are rich in antioxidants, they will help to neutralize the effects of free radicals induced by the sun. You can also look for regenerating and plumping treatments based on pentapeptides, salmon DNA and fragmented hyaluronic acid.
Another natural product to try is coconut oil. Due to its vitamin E content, it also soothes and cools the skin after sun exposure. It penetrates into the deeper skin layers, allowing regeneration and preventing wrinkles.
In addition to applying skincare products, there are of course ways to support the regeneration of the skin from the inside out. Not only is it essential to drink plenty of water, but maintaining a proper diet also plays a major role. Fruits and vegetables that contain vitamins and phytochemicals help with the regeneration of the skin. Carrots and mangoes, for example, compensate for the beta-carotene content of the skin. The more you expose your skin to the sun, the more liquids should be consumed, as fluids are lost through the skin.
Take Preventative Measures
It goes without saying, it’s best to avoid all these after-sun routines by taking proper preventative measures in the first place. The importance of wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen every single day—rain or shine, indoors or outdoors—can’t be understated. It’s the key to preventing skin cancer, painful burns, fine lines and wrinkles, sun spots, and collagen depletion. When you pair your sunscreen with vitamin C, one of the best antioxidants in the game, you essentially double-down on all those skin protecting benefits. You can find some great vitamin C and sunscreen pairing products here.
Of course, try to limit your sun exposure by avoiding the hottest hours of the day (between 10am and 4pm), seek shade, and wear protective clothing and sunglasses with 99% to 100% UV absorption. But for those times where the sunshine can’t be avoided or is just too tempting, we hope these tips will help keep your skin hydrated, youthful, and pain free!