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What Are the Best Skincare Products to Use After a Sunburn?

If you know me, you know how gung-ho I am about sunscreen and skin cancer prevention.

But, I can’t act like mistakes and slip-ups don’t happen sometimes!

Whether you forgot to slap on the SPF before your son’s soccer tournament, or you laid out at the pool with a cocktail for a bit longer than planned — sometimes even the most sunscreen-savvy of us get a bad sunburn — or just a little tanner than we’d planned on.

I’m here to acknowledge that none of us are perfect, and while a sunburn is never good news for your skin (I won’t sugarcoat it), there’s no reason to get down on yourself if you accidentally forget to re-apply and get a little toasty, just this once.

Instead of beating yourself up, just leap into skincare-saver mode and give your skin the proper nourishment and TLC it needs after some serious sun exposure.

Oh, and get your booty back inside ASAP!

I want to educate you (and your gorgeous skin) on how to give your skin what it needs after you’ve been exposed to the sun’s rays for a little bit too long.

With summer here, there’s no better time to ensure that we’re being extra diligent with our daily SPF.

Plus, it’s always good to know what exactly happens to your skin when you do accidentally get a sunburn and to have a plan of action to get your skin recovered and back to its beautiful natural state.

Grab your flip-flops, and your daily SPF, because we’re about to dive into all things post-sunburn skincare!

What Exactly Is a Sunburn?

We all know that a sunburn looks like, and chances are we know what it feels like too — but do you know what a sunburn really is?

Here’s the deal:

  • Essentially, a sunburn is the skin’s response to overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and is its way of indicating that severe damage has been done.
  • The first sign of a sunburn — the redness — is your body’s inflammatory response to the damage and a result of your dilating blood vessels.
  • Next, your skin will probably start feeling tight and dry, because your skin begins to lose moisture and hydration.

At this point, you’re probably hoping that your sunburn will turn to tan — and it might!

While this will be less visibly embarrassing, it doesn’t necessarily mean your skin is less damaged.

In attempts to stop the damage from reaching the deeper layers of your skin, your skin cells will thicken and melanin pigment will be produced, resulting in a tan.

But, wait, does this mean that even when you get a regular tan — not a burn — that your skin is working overtime to recuperate from damage?

Yes, actually! Which is why I always prefer to use sunless tanner rather than exposing my skin to the harmful sun rays.

Even better - you can prevent sunburns from happening in the first place with my newest product, the Daily Defense Anti-Aging Day Cream!

Physical SPF 30 & 18% zinc oxide combat UV rays while Alpha Lipoic Acid & castor oil provide anti-aging properties & moisture.

The streak-free formula dries sheer - no white finish.

You may notice that certain burns are more painful, or last longer than others.

This is because there are different kinds of sunburn that you may experience.

  • Your “standard” sunburn (although I hope no sunburn is standard for you!), is a first-degree sunburn. A first-degree burn will result in red skin, mild pain, and likely only affects the outer layer of your skin.
  • A second-degree burn, on the other hand, usually results in blistering and swelling. This means that your deeper skin layers and nerve endings have been damaged, which means that healing will take longer and be more painful.
  • In some severe cases, overexposure to sun or deep sunburn can result in more complicated skin issues, such as Shingles or Poikiloderma of Civatte (POC).

But even if your sunburn turns into a tan and doesn’t result in any scary side effects at first, that doesn’t mean you’ve gotten off scot-free.

Skincare rates are just going up!

The jump may be due to the increased popularity of tanning beds, which essentially just do more damage to your skin in a shorter amount of time.

Just one blistering sunburn during your childhood or teen years can double your chances of developing melanoma — the most dangerous (and deadly) form of skin cancer.

A common misconception we have is that if we tan easily and/or don’t burn, that our skin isn’t being damaged, but this couldn’t be further from the truth!

Just because you don’t burn easily, doesn’t mean that your skin isn’t being damaged by the sun.

However, it’s important to know if you’re at increased risk for sunburns.

If you have fair or freckled skin, red or blonde hair, or blue eyes, you’re likely more prone to sunburn.

I fit all of those categories, unfortunately!

Your age also affects your reaction to the sun, which is why folks over 60 need to be extra diligent with SPF, and why we always want to make sure any children under six are stationed in the shade.

Why Sunburns (And Even Suntans) Leads to Premature Aging

If the thought of skin cancer doesn’t scare you, I have a feeling premature aging might!

We probably all know at this point that exposure to the sun causes premature aging — whether it’s multiple sunburns or just one really deep tan from summer 1996 when you worked as a lifeguard — but how?

Well, the medical term for premature aging caused by the sun (aging that wouldn’t occur otherwise) is photoaging.

Essentially, the more your skin is exposed to the sun, the less it’s able to repair itself.

Repeat UV ray exposure also leads to the breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers, which makes our skin lose its strength and flexibility quicker.

You can try to restore collagen loss with products like the one below!

PCA Skin pHaze 11+ Apres Peel Hydrating Balm

A soothing moisturizer with the added hydrating, plumping and collagen building action of phytohormones from chasteberry and soy isoflavones.

I think it’s safe to say that none of us want to deal with these skin changes if we don’t have to!

Unfortunately, sun damage accumulates, and even seemingly harmless activities like driving in the car without SPF can cause damage.

But, it’s never too late to start being more responsible with our skin!

After all, we can work to reverse these effects (and the damage) by steering clear of the sun starting now!

So You’ve Been Sunburned...What Now?

We try to avoid it at all costs, but sometimes we slip-up.

What to do now?

Well, the first line of defense I always turn to is good ‘ol aloe vera, but here’s a list of other ingredients that are great to have in your arsenal:

Any products with hyaluronic acid are great for a sunburn, but are also great for long after your sunburn, or simply after a suntan.

Hyaluronic acid hydrates the skin, promotes cell renewal, and is a great moisturizer for those of us who are prone to oily skin or acne.

That reminds me - you want to be sure that you moisturize your little patootie off as soon as you’ve realized you’ve been exposed to too much sun!

The more moisturized your skin is, the less likely that your skin will appear burned or start peeling down the road.

Hyaluronic Moisture Boost Serum

Designed for dry, combination, and sensitive skin, this ultra-hydrating serum uses the power of 20% hyaluronic acid to bind moisture to the skin. It works to plump fine lines and wrinkles by promoting 10x hydration.

I recommend using coconut oil as a moisturizer.

Some coconut oils even have an SPF rating of 5-10, which of course isn’t enough for regular sun exposure, but will be an added boost when you might need it.

I even incorporated it into my cleanser - you still need to wash your face, after all!

Daily OC Cream Cleanser

The Alana Mitchell Daily OC Cream Cleanser is a great first cleanser or standalone cleanser to gently remove dirt, oil, and makeup. Nourishing and moisturizing coconut oil and plant extracts soothe and restore the skin.

Aloe vera is known to decrease inflammation, itchiness, and pain that can come with a bad sunburn.

Aloe vera is also said to reduce swelling, and the polysaccharides in the plant can help repair damaged skin cells and speed up the formation of new ones!

The good news is that aloe vera is inexpensive, and you can find it in multiple forms.

If you don’t want to buy an actual aloe vera plant, you can get aloe vera gel (the cool gel will feel nice on your hot skin!), or a moisturizing lotion that’s blended with aloe vera.

Epicuren Aloe Vera Calming Gel

The Epicuren Aloe Vera Calming Gel is a clear gel with an aloe vera scent. Its soothing properties can be used as a moisturizer for acneic skin, or for extra hydration.

Epicuren Refresh Aloe Cucumber Mist

The Epicuren Refresh Cucumber Mist is an extremely lightweight mist that works to replenish and hydrate skin that has been in the sun all day long. The mist contains beneficial, all natural ingredients like aloe, green tea, and cucumber extracts as well as peppermint extract that all contain refreshing, cooling, and soothing properties.

While it may sound like some kind of Halloween decoration, witch hazel can actually be found at your local drugstore and has tons of beneficial properties!

Healing damaged skin is one of witch hazel’s specialties, which makes it perfect for your skin when it’s been exposed to too much sun.

Applying witch hazel will speed up the healing process and potentially halt peeling or flaking from happening down the line.

As an added bonus, you can use the rest of the witch hazel for future razor burns or bumps, something that I think we can all agree is a pain in the summertime.

First and foremost, tea tree oil applied topically will act as a pain reliever, or analgesic.

But, more importantly, tea tree oil will act as a strong, superhero tissue regenerator — basically helping your body to make new cells to replace the ones that were damaged by the sun.

You should be able to find 100% tea tree oil at your local pharmacy!

Jojoba oil (pronounced ho-ho-ba), while not as common, is said to have been used to treat sunburn in the ancient times.

Jojoba oil naturally contains vitamin E (one of the best things for your skin post-burn) and will reduce flaking and peeling while providing some pain relief.

Lastly, cocoa butter and shea butter are both great options for moisturizing sunburnt skin.

Both options will melt into your skin and help you to avoid any itchiness or flakiness.

  • Other Tips

Other tips for sunburn?

Avoid tight clothing, and leave the bra in the drawer — I can’t think of anything worse than a tight bra strap or underwire on top of sunburnt skin!

If you’re in a lot of pain, you can also take an over the counter anti-inflammatory like Advil, which may also reduce some swelling - just try not to rely on it.

And, although you should be doing this anyways (especially in the summer heat), make sure you’re drinking lots of water!

Your body loses fluids while trying to heal from a sunburn, so hydration is extra important!

If you think you can handle it, you may also want to try a cold shower or bath, especially if your sunburn is making you feel extra hot — it’ll cool you down and hopefully ease some of the pain!

What Does it Mean When Your Skin Starts Peeling?

As I mentioned earlier, peeling is probably a sign of a second-degree burn, and the last thing you want to do is pick at it!

The reason your body peels isn’t pretty.

Your skin peeling is your body’s way of sloughing off the damaged skin cells that have the potential to grow cancerous.

Yes, it’s a pain and a damper on that cute sundress you planned to wear, but we should definitely be thankful that our body gets rid of these damaged cells while it can!

Unfortunately, once you start peeling, there’s not much you can do to help your skin speed up the healing process.

Of course, your go-to sunburn remedies can also be used here, but don’t peel, pick, or exfoliate the skin, as this could result in scarring.

Moisturizing is your best bet.

Hydropeptide Soothing Balm

HydroPeptide Soothing Balm offers holistic hydrating oils reach deep below the layers of your skin depositing much-needed nourishment.

Or, better yet, use this as a reminder to go heavy on the SPF next time...even if that means setting an alarm on your phone to make sure you don’t forget!

If you thought that peeling or burn were the only signs of damaged skin and the only causes for worry, I have bad news for you, gorgeous.

Just tan skin, in general, is a sign of sun damage.

The reason our beautiful bodies get “tan,” is because there is an increase in our skin pigment, or melanin.

The reason melanin is produced is simply that our skin is trying to protect itself against more sun damage!

This is the same reason that sometimes our sunburn turns to tan.

Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean that our body is fine.

It means that our body is trying its best to protect itself in case we expose it to too much harmful UV rays again!

Other Products To Help Soothe Your Skin

Dermaquest Delicate Soothing Serum

A stimulating serum designed to soothe post-treatment skin and sensitive complexions, DermaQuest Delicate Soothing Serum calms the skin and reduces inflammation while stimulating the skin's natural healing process for faster recovery.

Clearchoice Soothing Healing Lotion

This healing and anti-bacterial combination is great for calming and soothing skin for post hair, laser, and tattoo removal, eczema, psoriasis, and after chemical peels.

Final Thoughts

There you have it, beauties!

Accidents happen, but hopefully with all this new info, you’ll be inspired to take extra good care of your skin (and yourself).

Not to mention, find the perfect sunscreen that you’ll love so much that you’ll never forget to glide it on before you start your day!

Regardless, don’t beat yourself up if you accidentally make an SPF faux-pas.

Sometimes we just have too much going on and reapplying isn’t on the top of our to-do list!

I hope your skin feels better soon and that these tips have you back to your flawless self in no time!

And once you’re back to normal and feeling like you want a little bit of a summer glow, why not opt for a sunless tanner instead?

Do you have any sunburn horror stories? What products or tricks helped? Share with us in the comments!

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