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The best defense in sun protection is a good offense—that means sunscreen, every day, all the time. But we all have days when we miss a spot, and that’s where after-sun lotion comes in. So if you ended up with a burn that’s more than enough reminder to be careful next time, an after-sun lotion is your new best friend.
We like to invest in after-sun lotion to soothe, calm, and treat any sun-ravaged spots. After all, the sun can take a toll on your skin, whether you're consistent with sunscreen or not, and it could always benefit from a little extra TLC in the form of reparative after-sun skincare. If you do suffer a sunburn, though, that extra TLC is necessary to get your skin back on track as fast as possible. They’re available in sprays, mists, serums, lotions, creams, and gels, and, after consulting with board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King, we rounded up our absolute favorites.
So without further ado, check out the best after-sun products to add to your product lineup (and beach bag).
Best Overall: Burt's Bees Aloe & Coconut Oil After Sun Soother
This accessible favorite is available in both drugstores and specialty retailers, and its all-natural formula packs a serious punch. Unlike with some beauty products, the natural power of aloe vera actually is the most effective over-the-counter treatment for healing burns, so a natural product is actually the best option. Coconut oil also helps the skin to retain moisture and heal quickly after sun exposure without being greasy or sticky.
King is a fan of the fact that the formula also contains honey. “It has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties,” she says. “It’s a humectant, so it helps to hydrate the skin and aids in wound healing by maintaining a moist wound environment and providing a protective barrier. It’s also rich in antioxidants, so that means it helps fight free radicals from the sun, pollution, and stress.”
Best Budget: Sun Bum After Sun Cool Down Lotion
If you tend to burn and then peel after sun exposure, an after-sun lotion is a must, and this formula from sun care specialists Sun Bum is one to covet. Key ingredients include vitamin E, vitamin A, and aloe vera to soothe burned skin and work with the sun’s rays to help repair it. Cooling cucumber extract locks water into the skin and prevents moisture loss, which is the key to preventing peeling. Cocoa butter, known for its deep moisturizing power, helps to further soften and protect skin irritated by the sun’s rays. King points out that the formula also contains tea tree leaf oil, which in addition to extra anti-inflammatory benefits that burns need, it also boasts anti-microbial properties. And yes, if you’re wondering, it smells like summer in a bottle.
Best Drugstore: Hawaiian Tropic Lime Colada After Sun Moisturizer
Hawaiian Tropic is a classic. We've seen it in drugstore aisles for as long as we can remember, but this after-sun moisturizer is a little different than traditional formulas. For one, it smells like a refreshing lime-based cocktail (who doesn't want to smell like that?). Second, it's vitamin-enriched to replenish and hydrate skin that's been exposed to drying wind, water, and sun.
Best Splurge: Sisley Paris After-Sun Care Tan Extender
Looking to extend that sun-kissed glow you acquired on a recent trip to the beach? Look no further than this luxe (and, yes, splurgy) after-sun cream from Sisley Paris. The soothing and rehydrating formula contains stevia leaf extract, plant glycerin, and shea butter to repair and cool the skin after sun exposure. But here’s the cool part: It also contains self-tanning active ingredients that enhance your skin’s color in a natural way, helping to prolong your tan while reducing the risk of peeling.
Best for Face: Coola Radical Recovery Eco-Cert Organic After Sun Lotion
Ingredients that make for great body products can be tough on your face, so finding an after-sun lotion specifically formulated for your more delicate facial skin is key. Layered under your regular moisturizer (and of course, a sunscreen!) a few applications in the days after a burn are key to saving face, and it’s particularly effective when used overnight. Cue in this fantastic after-sun lotion from Coola.
“This moisturizing formulation contains sunflower seed oil, which is rich in fatty acids to help support the skin barrier and lock in moisture,” says King. “It also contains aloe vera, which hydrates and soothes with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as lavender, another anti-inflammatory and calming ingredient.” Plus, the non-greasy formula is non-comedogenic, which means that it doesn’t cause zits. While the tube may be pricey, a little goes a long way—it works so fast, one bottle should last the whole summer, if not longer.
Best Mask: Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Mask
This mask just looks like a drink of water for your skin—and in this case, it's totally OK to judge a book by its cover. After cleansing, apply a thick layer and allow ingredients like cucumber, papaya, and chamomile extracts to calm, hydrate, and soften the skin. After 10 minutes, just rinse it off for instant relief. For an extra-refreshing treatment, refrigerate the product before applying it.
Best Gel: Korres Greek Yoghurt Calming + Cooling Gel
Korres calls this post-sun treatment a cooling "gel," but it's technically a gel-cream hybrid. It's made with real Greek yogurt, and as such, has a lightweight and ultra-cooling finish that feels absolutely and positively amazing on hot, mildly sunburned skin. Of course, it’s super good for your skin too: “Yogurt moisturizes and provides probiotics to help support a healthy skin microbiome,” says King.
Runner-Up, Best Gel: SheaMoisture Gotu Kola & Raspberry Seed Oil After Sun Treatment
After spending a little too time in much sun, the last thing we want is to slather on a lotion or cream that’s too heavy, which is why we appreciate the lightweight feel of gel formulas. This one from SheaMoisture is extra refreshing, formulated with gotu kola, raspberry seed oil, and carrot seed oil to relieve sun-stressed skin while providing much-needed moisture. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also cruelty-free and formulated without sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and mineral oil.
Best Aloe Vera: Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel
Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skincare products) is made up of 99.5% water.
Aloe vera is known for its ability to soothe mild burns, rashes, itches, and irritation, but this gel from K-beauty brand Benton goes above and beyond. While aloe calms and hydrates the skin, propolis—a resin-like substance that's commonly found in Korean skincare products—delivers anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant benefits. “It also may be helpful for wound healing,” points out King. making this an even greater pick for more intense sunburns. It's also fragrance-free and appropriate for all skin types.
Best with Hydrocortisone: Dr. Dan’s Hydrocortisone Hand and Body Lotion
This one isn’t technically marketed as an after-sun product, but when it comes to uncomfortable sunburns, King recommends reaching for lotions that contain 1% hydrocortisone due to its anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Formulated by a dermatologist, this lotion helps to restore moisture to the skin while providing extra strength relief for itchiness—and it’s gentle enough to be used by sensitive skin types. “Just don’t use it more than three times per day and for more than a week at a time,” she recommends.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Babo Botanicals Cucumber and Aloe After Sun Treatment
Nothing can be worse than having sensitive skin and a bad sunburn. This treatment from Babo Botanicals is specifically formulated to bring much-needed relief to more sensitive skin types. The non-sticky gel contains 75% organic aloe vera juice to soothe the skin, plus it's enriched with hyaluronic acid and rosehip oil to boost moisture and witch hazel, arnica, and green tea to keep overexposed skin cool and refreshed.
Best Spray: Herbivore Botanicals After Sun Soothing Aloe Mist
Okay, so this Herbivore Botanicals product isn't technically an after-sun lotion, but it's just as effective. It has aloe, mint, and peppermint to cool and alleviate inflamed skin. It's one of those skincare products that we basically hoard throughout the summer season to use on both our faces and bodies.
Best Hydrating: Bioderma Photoderm After-Sun
Hydration is what overexposed skin craves the most, and slathering on this creamy lotion from Bioderma does just the trick. It’s infused with glycerin and shea butter to nourish and rehydrate while allantoin and ginkgo biloba soothe that uncomfortable overheated feeling that comes with too much sun. Bonus? Once the redness calms down, this product will help prolong your tan.
Best Cooling: Everyday Humans No Problemo Pre & Post-Sun Water
Another must-have spray is this face and body treatment from Everyday Humans. It’s chock full of the good stuff—cucumber water, cactus extract, and aloe juice—to soothe and hydrate sun-stressed skin. It has the most incredible cooling effect when spritzed onto overheated skin, making post-beach day skin truly no problemo. Hot tip? Pop this in the fridge for truly blissful relief.
When it comes to products that provide sweet, sweet relief after getting too much sun, the Burt's Bees Aloe & Coconut Oil After Sun Soother checks all the boxes. It’s packed with skin-loving ingredients like aloe and coconut oil to soothe and rehydrate the skin, it boasts an all-natural formula, and it’s incredibly affordable. Our faces deserve the same attention as our bods, and the Coola Radical Recovery Eco-Cert Organic After Sun Lotion is another must. Its fatty acid-rich formula works hard to lock moisture back into the skin, plus it’s non-greasy and non-comedogenic, so you can trust that it won’t trigger a breakout. And finally, because sprays are just as effective (and less messy) than lotions, we’re big fans of Everyday Humans No Problemo Pre & Post-Sun Water. It’s soothing, hydrating, and cooling, helping to quench and calm our sun-stressed skin.
What to Look for in an After-Sun Product
Benefits Specific to Your Needs
Not all after-sun products are created equal, so you’ll want to shop for a formula that’ll address your specific needs. “Some are designed to soothe and moisturize skin that is dry and inflamed after UV exposure, whereas others contain self-tanners designed to provide you with lasting color,” says King. Classic soothing after-sun lotions are great options for relieving dryness and cooling the skin down after a day in the sun, but for a more intense sunburn, opt for products that contain burn-soothing ingredients like aloe.
An Antioxidant-Rich Formula
We touched on some of the key sunburn-soothing ingredients above, but King suggests looking for a product that’s also rich in antioxidants, as these will help neutralize free radicals from UV rays. Think: vitamins C and E.
She also recommends products with DNA repair enzymes, which help to repair damage caused by UV rays. These may not be found in many after-sun products, but they’re ingredients to keep in mind for when your skin has calmed down.
If you’ve ever slathered yourself in pure aloe vera gel after getting too much sun, you’re well aware of just how uncomfortably sticky it can be (despite being, you know, incredibly soothing). There are plenty of products on the market that contain a high percentage of aloe vera in addition to ingredients that give the formula much more comfortable texture. Lotions and creams, as well as sprays, tend to have a smoother feel and won’t leave behind as much residue as pure aloe.
How long does after-sun lotion last?
While sunscreen has a shelf life of three years, the expiration dates for after-sun products will differ based on its formulation. If it’s in the form of a classic body lotion, it can generally last for two to three years as long as it’s stored out of direct sunlight and in a cool or room temperature area. Store-bought pure aloe vera gels typically last for about two years if stored in the same way, but can last up to five if they’re kept refrigerated or frozen.
How often should after-sun lotion be applied?
After-sun products that are moisturizing or offer anti-inflammatory benefits can be applied as often as needed for relief, so feel free to slather or spritz away. However, King points out that if the product contains hydrocortisone, it shouldn’t be applied more than three times per day and shouldn’t be used for more than a week at a time. Also, if your after-sun product contains a gradual self-tanner, she recommends applying it once daily until you reach your desired shade and then using it every few days to maintain your color.
Is after-sun lotion good for sunburn?
When it comes to sunburns, King says that, yes, some after-sun products are great for treating them—but it depends on the formulation. She recommends products that contain aloe vera and soy for their abilities to soothe burns and combat inflammation. “For areas that feel particularly uncomfortable, a 1% hydrocortisone cream can also be helpful,” she says.
How do you apply after-sun lotion?
King recommends applying after-sun lotions and gels with your fingers, as you would with a traditional body lotion. “But, be sure to wash your hands afterwards if the lotion contains hydrocortisone, as well as if it contains self-tanner so your fingers won’t stain,” she says.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Hadley King is a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She’s also a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough after-sun products from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.