Review

The best aftersun for soothing scorched skin

1 August 2022

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The best cooling, calming and healing aftersuns to save your skin

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A good aftersun is essential first aid when you've overdone it a bit on your sun lounger, but it's also pretty handy for preventing peeling and prolonging your tan.

With so many out there, we've asked the experts for some pointers as to what to look for in a cream or lotion that's truly going to cool and heal UV-frazzled skin. "Aftersun should have a rich skin-nourishing agent such as shea butter in it to not only hydrate but calm skin after a day in the sun," says Sam Richardson, co-founder of sun care brand Saltee. "A regenerative agent is important for skin repair too." Look ingredients such as anti-oxidant vitamin E or pomegranate extract for this.

"Aloe vera is also a wonderful ingredient after sun exposure," adds skincare expert Dr Barbara Sturm. "It has a cooling effect on the skin and contains a vast storehouse of nutrients."

Dr Sturm has another piece of advice: "While many of us love the scent of summery aftersuns, if you're burned or you have sensitive skin, it might be wise to avoid fragranced products," she says. "With aftersun the goal is to soothe and calm the skin, and to do that you need gentle, non-aggressive ingredients. Added fragrance, colour or acids can damage skin barrier function and cause more sensitivity."

Texture-wise, gels are great for soothing hot skin, while creams tend to be better for long-term nourishment. "Gels are lightweight and have a watery consistency meaning they can be gently applied to the skin and will sink in effortlessly, whereas creams have to be massaged in - not always what you want when you have sore, sunburned skin," says aesthetic nurse Anna Baker .

Here's our selection of the best gels, lotions, creams and sprays for your after-sun needs.

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Best aftersun for feeling fancy: Nuxe Sun Refreshing After-Sun Lotion for Face and Body, £19 for 200ml

First things first, this smells amazing. Forget coconutty - this blends vanilla, Tahitian gardenia and sweet orange to give you the most grown-up take on after sun we've ever tried. It has cooling, calming and tan-prolonging ingredients, and chic packaging. Because of its scent, it's not the best option if you've burnt, but it's reat for nourishing skin post-beach. We love this so much we think we might use it in winter too.

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Best aftersun for quick absorption: La Roche-Posay Posthelios Gel, £10.12 for 200ml

There's no texture quite as refreshing as a gel - you can almost hear your skin breathe a sigh of relief when you apply this, especially if it's been chilled in the fridge all day (an insider hack). This aftersun combines hydrating La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water with shea butter for a thirst-quenching drink for parched skin. The brand specialises in sensitive skin conditions and with few things being as sensitising as sunburn, you're in safe hands.

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Best tan-enhancing aftersun: Saltee Tan Enhance Formula £26 for 200ml

Has a blend of tuberose, orange blossom and vanilla for a delicate floral fragrance that's so strong and delicious that it negates the use of perfume of an evening. Some of us at GTG adore it, but editorial director Victoria finds overly fragranced for just that reason. It's designed to prolong your tan with 'Melinoil', an ingredient said to support melanin (brown pigment) production. It also includes shea butter for hydration, regenerative pomegranate extract and collagen-boosting peptides. We liked the pump applicator on this bottle – makes it much less likely that a traditional tube to get messy.

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MORE GLOSS: The best tan-enhancers to boost and prolong your glow

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Easiest-to-use aftersun: Sun Bum Cool Down After Sun Spray, £15.95

US suncare brand Sun Bum embodies everything we aspire to be in the summer: laidback, bronzed and care-free. This light spritz is instantly cooling yet entirely non-greasy. It includes aloe vera, cucumber, camomile and vitamin E for a soothing cocktail of chill and comes out as a fine spray that made it hard to resist spraying over and over again. Quite heavily scented though, so not the best if skin is on red alert.

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Best aftersun for bad sunburn: Dr Barbara Sturm Aloe Vera Gel, £50 for 125ml

Not strictly an aftersun, but when aloe vera is the most cooling, soothing ingredient for sunburn out there, we can't think of a better use for the gel. It's made from 90 per cent pure organic aloe leaf juice to take down heat and irritation and soothe sore skin, with anti-inflammatory powerhouses purslane and panthenol thrown in for added relief (and to justify that price, we hope). Fragrance-free, it's one of the few options that's guaranteed not to irritate already put-upon skin even further.

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Best budget aftersun: Garnier Body Superfood Aloe Vera + Magnesium, £4.49 for 380ml

It may not be officially classed as an aftersun, but this big tub of aloe vera-based gel with added soothing magnesium and nourishing shea butter sure functions as one. Feels very cooling which is down to some alcohol in the formula: if you're skin is really burnt, that is not the best ingredient and neither is the fresh, bright perfume. But if you just need some deep-hydrating refreshment after a long day basking in the rays, this is a brilliant budget option.

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Best damage-fighting aftersun: SVR Sun Secure After Sun Milk, £10.20 for 200ml

This is a gel-cream that melts into skinand leaves it feeling all satiny. It's scented but the fragrance is said to not irritate sensitive skins; more importantly, it features an impressive array of actives that should off-set some of the damage done by those pesky UV rays. An antioxidant complex featuring niacinamide (among other heroes) will help quell free radical cell destruction while microbiotic ferments and aloe strengthen the skin barrier. Expect more supple skin and a longer-lasting tan.

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Best classic aftersun: Nivea After Sun Moisture, £5 for 400ml

This soothing classic from Nivea is a failsafe after a day in the sun – just a sniff transports us back to smell transport us back to the beachside breaks of our mis-spent youth. It's heavily fragranced so it may not be ideal for those with sensitive skin, but it's fast-absorbing, non-greasy and non-sticky and it hydrates the driest of skins. Enriched with aloe vera and avocado oil, it makes those sunburned areas feel soothed and cool. Skin is left moisturised for hours, smooth and incredibly soft.

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Best instant cooler: Rituals The Ritual of Karma Anti-Pollution Face & Body Water Spray, £7.60 for 150ml

This is to help you "Immerse yourself in positive summer vibes" - but it also immerses your skin in everything it needs to recover from a bit too much sun and heat. A very fine mist that cools very effectively (there's no hidden alcohol - hooray!), it's much more than water: it has aloe, sugar-based hydrating agents, skin-supporting minerals, nourishing oils and anti-oxidant white tea. It has a fresh scent that's not too overwhelming. 

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Best aftersun for sensitive skin: Eucerin Sun Sensitive Relief Soothing Regenerating After Sun Lotion Gel for Face & Body, £14.50 for 150ml

Finding an aftersun for sensitive skin  is pretty hard because brands are prone to indulge and lure us with lovely, nostalgic 'holiday' scents - great for the mind, not so good for your sunburn or for reactive skins. But with sensitive skin-specialists Eucerin that’s not a problem. Suitable for face and body, this lotion it has a light, gel-cream formula which initially feels a little tacky (that'll be the hydrating glycerin) but sinks in silkily. It's practically medicated, with a raft of proprietary anti-inflammatory complexes that will actively work on healing and settling upset skin. Extra points for being unscented; a raised eyebrow for the high level of alcohol, though.

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Best aftersun for face: Ultrasun After Sun & Post Laser Skin Soothing Gel, £24 for 75ml

The fact that it's indicated as a healing post-laser treatment as well as for sunburn should give you some idea of the reparative prowess of this gel. Enriched with serious anti-inflammatories and deeply hydrating (but not heavy) agents, it's a bit sticky initially thanks to the high level of glycerin, but it absorbs well, feels cooling despite the lack of alcohol (keep it in the fridge and it's soubly good), and has no fragrance to upset delicate-feeling skin.

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Best aftersun for silky skin: Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration After Sun, £6.75 for 180ml

Hydrating and tropically scented with a funky-looking ribbon running through it, this is for those who want their aftersun to match their evening cocktails. Has aloe, shea butter and some soothing agents and makes skin feel nice and silky. Two Pina Coladas please, bar person! 

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Best aftersun aftersun for bacne-sufferers: Clinique After Sun Rescue Balm with Aloe, £17 for 150ml

Very high in aloe vera and skin-calming active ingredients, this is not only fragrance-free but it's oil-free as well, making it particularly suitable for sensitive souls with skin prone to bacne. 'Balm' usually means 'rich', but despite the balm texture, this is light and sinks in very rapidly. 

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