Do you need an aftersun lotion?
As a teen, an aftersun was a must in my beach bag. I had no idea what it was or what it did, but I knew I had to slather it on after a long day in the sun.
It’s in the name, ya all. AFTERsun. Why else would they call it like that?
To trick you into buying another moisturizer. Those marketers are smart. They know “aftersun” will catch your eye and make you think you’re doing some long-term damage to your skin if you don’t put that bottle in your cart.
Can you skip it? Yes and no. Here’s the truth about aftersun and what you really need to do after a day of frolicking at the beach:
What Is Aftersun And What Does It Do?
An aftersun is a moisturizing lotion you apply on your skin after prolonged sun exposure. Its job is to soothe skin from the assault of UV rays.
Here’s the deal: all that ultraviolet radiation fries your skin. It dries it out like the Sahara, turns it red like a lobster and makes it flake like a croissant.
You know what I’m talking about. Maybe you weren’t in the sun enough to develop a fully-fledged sunburn, but after a few hours under the scorching heat, your skin is getting worse for wear.
An aftersun comes to the rescue. Loaded with soothing ingredients like allantoin and aloe vera, it moisturises skin, soothe redness, and calms down irritations.
That’s the theory. In practice? Most aftersun lotions barely contain a sprinkle of aloe vera & co. The bulk of the formula ain’t that different from your regular body lotions.
Related: 4 Natural Ways To Heal A Sunburn
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Is There A Difference Between Aftersun And Moisturizer?
Most of the time, no. Take a look at the ingredients in Bioderma Photoderm Refreshing After-Sun Milk, for example:
Aqua/water/eau, Paraffinum Liquidum / Mineral Oil / Huile Minerale, Glycerin, Sorbitan Stearate, Cyclopentasiloxane, Propylene Glycol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cyclohexasiloxane, Polysorbate 60, Cetyl Alcohol, Caprylyl Glycol, Fragrance (parfum), Allantoin, Mannitol, Xylitol, Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Rhamnose, Ginkgo Biloba Leaf Extract, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Citric Acid, Ectoin, Disodium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate.
It’s basically a standard moisturizer for dry skin.
Mineral oil is an occlusive on steroids. It creates a barrier on the skin that traps moisture in, keeping it soft and hydrated. Problem is, your skin doesn’t have that much moisture left after a day in the sun…
You could argue that’s what the glycerin is for. It’s a humectant that attracts water from the air into the skin, upping its moisture content. But the aftersun would work better if it were higher in humectants and lower in mineral oil.
More humectants would also give the lotion that cooling, refreshing feeling you crave after been roasted alive for a few hours. You won’t find that here (thank you, mineral oil!).
What about allantoin? It has anti-inflammatory properties that calm down redness and irritation. The catch? It’s listed after fragrance, so there’s barely a drop of it here. *sighs*
Don’t get me wrong. If your skin is dry, this can help. It just doesn’t do anything that any body moisturizer doesn’t…
Related: 5 Myths About Mineral Oil You Need To Stop Believing Right Now
It could be worse. Take Eucerin After Sun Creme-Gel For Sensitive Relief:
Aqua, Glycerin, Alcohol Denat., Butylene Glycol, Tapioca Starch, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Glycine, Sodium Citrate, Cyclomethicone, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Octyldodecanol, Dicaprylyl Ether, Citric Acid, Xanthan Gum, Glucosylrutin, Glycyrrhiza Inflata Root Extract, Tocopherol, Isoquercitrin, Dimethiconol, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Ethylhexylglycerin
This aftersun has a huge dollop of glycerin, so it’ll give your skin plenty of moisture with a refreshing feeling to boot.
It also has a lot of alcohol, an ingredient that can cause dryness and irritation. I’m the first to admit you can counteract these side effects with a good moisturiser. But it’s not something I’d want to slather all over skin that’s already dry and traumatised from too much sun exposure…
Glycyrrhiza Inflata Root Extract is a fancy name for liquorice extract. It has soothing properties, but it’s so far down the ingredient list, it won’t do much for you.
Just like body lotions. Some are good, some not so much….
Related: What Does Alcohol-Free In Skincare Really Mean?
What To Look For In An Aftersun Lotion
Some aftersun lotions ARE different from your regular body lotion. Case in point, Holika Holika Aloe 99% Soothing Gel:
Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Nelumbium Speciosum Flower Extract, Centella Asiatica Extract, Bambusa Vulgaris Extract, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Zea Mays (Corn) Leaf Extract, Brassica Oleracea Capitata (Cabbage) Leaf Extract, Citrullus Lanatus (Watermelon) Fruit Extract, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sodium Polyacrylate, Carbomer, Triethanolamine, Fragrance, Phenoxyethanol.
Unlike a typical body lotion, this aftersun is almost oil-free and chockfull of anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Aloe Vera, centella asiatica and cucumber all have soothing properties that soothe irritated skin and calm down redness and itching. Aloe goes the extra mile. Made up of 99% water, it’s super hydrating and feels refreshing on the skin.
Now that’s what your skin needs after a day under the scorching sun!
P.S. This aftersun lotion has fragrance, which could irritate sensitive skin. But if that doesn’t bother your skin, this is a good lotion for a beach holiday.
Related: 9 Soothing Ingredients That Calm Down Irritated Skin
What Are The Best Aftersun Lotions?
You could get away with using your regular body lotion after a long day in the sun. But if you crave that cooling feeling and some serious soothing power, here are the best aftersun lotions to invest in:
- Badger Balm Aloe Vera Gel (£7.99): Available at iHerb
- Clinique After Sun Rescue With Aloe Vera ($29.00/£20.00): Available at Feel Unique, Nordstrom and Ulta.
- Holika Holika Aloe 99% Soothing Gel (£8.95): Available at Beauty Bay, Feel Unique and Look Fantastic.
The Bottom Line
Most aftersun lotions are just glorified moisturizers for dry skin. If you’re after the real deal, look for alcohol-free products low in oils and high in soothing and anti-inflammatory ingredients (a huge dollop of Aloe Vera is usually a good indication the aftersun’s worth your money).
Do you need an aftersun or use one after a day at the beach? Share your experience in the comments below.