Summer is officially just around the corner, and that means more time spent outdoors. You already know you should be applying (and re-applying) SPF, wearing sun-protective clothing, and seeking out shade when possible. Unfortunately, no matter how diligent you are about sun protection, the reality is you’ll still be exposed to free radical damage that can aggravate and inflame your skin. While this may not cause a visible sunburn, it can leave your skin in less-than-ideal condition.
Of course, spending time outside is one of the great joys of summer so I’m certainly not suggesting you hole up inside! (If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I spend a lot of time outdoors!) Instead, keep reading for my post-sun-exposure skincare advice to have your skin feeling revived and refreshed in no time.
How Does Sun Exposure Affect the Skin? Spotting Signs of UV Damage
Most people tend to think of a sunburn as the only sign that your skin has gotten too much sun exposure. We take all sorts of precautions to keep ourselves from getting burned (rightly so), but the reality is that spending all day outside can trigger damage in your skin even if you don’t end up with a visible sunburn. There are two main reasons for this; The first is that it’s impossible to avoid UV rays completely (especially UVA), and the second is none other than those pesky free radicals you’re always hearing about.
Since the other signs of UV exposure are more subtle than a straightforward burn, they can be a little bit harder to pick up on—unless you know what to look for.
Skin Feels Tight (Dehydrated)
When you’re out in the heat and your internal temperature increases, it can lead to lower water levels in the skin—also known as dehydration. Exposing your skin to a combination of heat and UV rays can also disrupt its natural moisture barrier, another possible trigger for dehydration. If you’re swimming, remember that saltwater and chlorine can have a drying effect as well.
Not sure how to tell if your skin is dehydrated? Keep an eye out for skin that feels tight and “thirsty,” is drinking up moisture really quickly, and appears crinkly or shiny. You can also watch this video demonstration of a client of mine who had dehydrated skin.
Pigmentation Becomes More Visible (Freckles, Melasma, Sunspots)
It’s a well-known fact that sun exposure is a major trigger for pigmentation, whether that’s freckles, melasma, or sunspots. Something you might not know, however, is that heat can have the same effect. This means that even if you stay out of the sun, simply being outside when it’s hot can trigger an increase in pigmentation. Not great news, I know, but here’s how you can prevent summer sunspots.
Skin Becomes Red or Blotchy
Not all skin tones are prone to visible redness, but this can be one of the signs of overexposure to the sun’s rays. Blotchiness and redness can be a sign that your body is sourcing blood flow to damaged tissues and may indicate that you almost got a sunburn. Bear in mind that the redness you experience might not be constantly visible—it may present itself as skin that flushes more easily after a hot shower or while you’re doing your skincare routine.
Once again, the sun isn’t the only culprit. Simply being out in the heat can also open up capillaries, which can increase blood flow to damaged tissues making them appear redder.
Skin Feels Warm to the Touch
If you’ve gotten too much sun exposure you might end up with lingering heat in the skin that makes it feel slightly warmer to the touch than usual. This can increase the visibility of skin hyperpigmentation and irritate skin sensitivities.
Finally, keep in mind that even if your skin isn’t showing any of these signs, you can still benefit from following these tips after spending some serious time outdoors!
Skincare Ingredients to Avoid After Being in the Sun
Before we talk about how to revive your skin after sun exposure, let’s talk about what NOT to use. These are some of the ingredients and types of products you’ll want to avoid using right after a day of the sun:
- Exfoliating acids
- Physical scrubs
- Retinol products (learn how to safely use retinol during summer)
You want to avoid these types of products after being in the sun because they can be quite stimulating. Your skin is already over-stimulated (and probably inflamed) from all the free radical activity swirling around, so the goal should be to soothe, calm, and coddle it.
As far as how long to lay off these products, two days is a good rule of thumb. That said, it’s always important to listen to your skin and make sure it doesn’t seem irritated before adding these products back in. (If you are dealing with an actual sunburn, you’ll want to wait until your skin is completely healed before adding them back in. This means no more redness, peeling, stinging, or itching whatsoever.)
Tips for an After-Sun Skincare Routine
Here are my top four tips for reviving your skin after a day of fun in the sun.
1. Cool Your Skin Down Once Indoors
As I’m sure you can see by now, sun exposure isn’t the only thing you have to worry about when spending time outdoors this summer. Being in the heat and having your body’s internal temperature increased can cause all sorts of problems like dehydration, hyperpigmentation, and redness. The way to combat this is simple: start cooling your skin down as soon as you get back inside. There are several ways you can do this.
- Apply something cold to your skin. This could be a jade roller you keep in the fridge or, if you want to get fancy, something like these cryo freeze tools. Of course, I also love going the opposite route and using a simple cold compress or a trusty bag of frozen peas. Just make sure you put something between the bag and your skin to keep it protected.
- Turn your favorite toner into ice cubes. I love doing this during the summer, and it’s super easy. All you need is your favorite alcohol-free toner and an ice tray. Voila!
- Keep your skincare products in the fridge. While I don’t think skincare fridges are a necessity by any means, some products can feel really nice on the skin when they’re cold. Learn which skincare products to keep in the fridge.
- Take a cold shower. This might be the least glamorous of all the options, but a nice, cold shower never fails.
2. Hydrate With a Gel-Based Mask
Moving on to skincare products, the first thing I recommend to anyone after being in the sun is a gel-based hydrating mask. These are great for replenishing water levels in the skin to combat barrier damage and dehydration. I love a gel mask that also includes soothing ingredients to really help bring down any irritation and inflammation in the skin.
Hint: this is one of the products I love to keep in the fridge!
3. Load Up on Antioxidants
When you’re out in the sun, your skin is fully in defense mode. Once out of the sun, it goes into repair mode and you’ll want to do everything you can to aid in that process. One of the best ways to do this is to load up on antioxidants and apply them to your skin both during and after sun exposure. Antioxidants are a powerhouse when it comes to protecting your skin from cellular damage caused by free radicals. Learn how antioxidants work and how you can use them effectively in your routine.
4. Use Ingredients That Calm and Soothe
Speaking of aiding your skin’s natural repair processes, you’ll want to focus on using products with ingredients that calm and soothe the skin after getting sun exposure. This will help counteract some of the inflammation that’s been triggered and, as I like to say, “put out the fire.”
Here are a few ingredients I love for soothing upset skin:
- Algae Extract (especially red marine algae)
- Vitamin E
- Water Lily Extract (nymphaea alba)
- Green Tea Extract
So there you have it, now you know which ingredients to avoid after being in the sun and which ones you’ll benefits from. I hope you found this post helpful and that you enjoy your time outside this summer!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”