Even those of us who don’t necessarily worship the sun can at least acknowledge the delight of basking in it, from its first rays in the morning to the hazy warmth of a late afternoon. It’s simply nature at work, as sunlight helps regulate everything from your sleep cycle to your vitamin D production.
Still, having too much of a good thing holds especially true when it comes to the sun—and the results can be uncomfortable at best. “Too much sun exposure, especially when not protected by SPF, leads to an inflammatory response in the skin,” says Geeta Yadav, MD, a dermatologist in Toronto. “It’s one of the major components of a sunburn: inflamed skin that’s hot to the touch.”
This is where the best after-sun products can shine. Dedicated formulas typically offer anti-inflammatory agents to calm skin within minutes, as well as antioxidants (the countermeasure against UV-induced free radicals) to offset longer-term damage to skin. Aloe vera may be the best known ingredient among them. “In addition to being hydrating and naturally full of antioxidants, it’s quite soothing on contact,” says Yadav. (The key is to have the unadulterated form in a high concentration.) Another winner is chamomile: “It contains a compound known as azulene, which has potent anti-inflammatory effects.”
That said, don’t forget that after-sun products primarily only help to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of a sunburn. “It doesn’t undo the damage caused by the radiation, including increased risk of skin cancer,” cautions Yadav. “If you find yourself having to use after-sun products all the time, it might be that the sun protection you are using isn’t sufficient.” If that’s the case, consider a next-gen sunscreen formula (whether chemical-based or mineral) to prevent exposure in the first place—and remember to reapply.
But if it’s too little, too late for prevention—we’re only human, after all—here are 18 products that can provide instant relief. Consider it an excuse to take it easy and decamp to the shade.
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