After-Sun Care for Skin and Hair

Recipes for cooling masks, misks, soaks, gels, and more

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Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat with a brim and by covering exposed skin with a light layer of clothing.
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Apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going out in the sun to allow the cream to bind to your skin and increase protection. Reapply frequently.
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Aloe vera makes an excellent skin soother, plus it’s easy to grow in pots indoors.
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Protect your skin from sun damage by keeping it well-hydrated.
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Treat yourself to a luxurious milk bath the next time your skin is sunburned or irritated; you can add fresh or powdered milk to warm bath water.

Spending the day outdoors on a sunny day is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Sunlight is necessary for healthy bodies and minds. It’s our main source of vitamin D, and it’s important for strong bones. Studies have also shown that sunlight is an instant mood booster and a cure for some types of depression.

Without proper care and protection, however, the sun can also cause aging of your skin, sunburn, and even skin cancer. Sun exposure can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes, and overexposure to the sun can also break down collagen — the protein that gives skin elasticity — making wrinkles and lines more apparent.

Avoid being outside in direct sunlight during the middle of the day, which is when the sun’s rays are strongest. A good way to test the sun’s strength is to check your shadow; if it’s larger than you are, then the sun isn’t directly overhead and you should be safe. If your shadow is smaller than you, then its rays are strong and you’ll want to be prepared with the right supplies, including sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.

The sun can also be very drying to hair, so it’s always a good idea to cover your head with a hat or scarf when spending time outdoors. This is especially important if you dye your hair, because the sun can also lighten the color. Consider spreading a small amount of sunscreen on your hair for added protection, and don’t skip the areas where you part your hair or have a cowlick, as those spots burn easily.

Always apply sun protection, even on cloudy days. It’s difficult, however, to create a DIY version of sunscreen that will protect your skin properly, so choose a good commercial product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

If you’re unlucky enough to have gotten sunburned, or your skin is just sensitive from a day spent outdoors, then remember to keep your skin and body well-hydrated by using lotions that are water-based and by drinking lots of liquids.

Understanding SPF

A product’s SPF number will tell you how much sun protection the product will provide. For example, if your skin usually turns pink in 10 minutes out in the sun, then an SPF of 8 will give you eight times the protection, so you can be protected in the sun for 80 minutes. Likewise, an SPF of 15 would give you 150 minutes of sun protection.

Homemade Sunscreen: Don’t Go There

If you’ve made your own homemade lotion, it can be tempting to mix in a little zinc oxide and titanium dioxide powder — two of the leading active ingredients in commercial sunscreens. However, formulating sunscreen is very complex, and a number of things can negatively affect the success of your product. For example, many emulsifiers, thickeners, and emollients in lotions affect the final SPF, and zinc oxide is notoriously hard to evenly disperse, even with specialty lab equipment. For your own safety, it’s much better to buy organic, commercial sunscreen than to make your own.

The recipes in this article are designed to provide natural, simple relief and moisturizing benefits to your skin and hair after spending a day in the sun without proper protection.

After-Sun Recipes for Dry Hair

Avocado Hair-Conditioning Pack

Fresh avocados are great for soothing dry, sun-damaged hair. They’re rich in natural oil, protein, B vitamins, and vitamin A. They contain more protein than any other fruit, and their abundant natural oil will coat your hair and form a protective barrier, keeping your hair well-hydrated, soft, and flexible. Yield: about 2 ounces.

  • 1 ripe avocado, mashed
  • 2 tbsp sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Juice of half a lemon

Directions: Use a fork or blender to combine all the ingredients until they form a smooth paste. To use, apply the entire mixture to dry hair and massage it into hair and scalp. Wrap your hair in a warm towel or put on a shower cap and leave the treatment on for 20 minutes. Rinse well with warm water, then shampoo as usual.

Tropical Banana Hair Conditioner

Bananas are perfect for conditioning your hair and scalp after a day spent outdoors in the sun. Very ripe bananas work best in this recipe, and you can store them in your freezer until needed. Make sure to blend the mixture until super smooth — this will make it easier to rinse out. Yield: about 4 ounces.

  • 1/2 ripe banana
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp coconut oil

Directions: Mash the banana, and then put it in a blender with the rest of the ingredients and process until very smooth. (You can also do this by hand, but a blender works best.) To use, shampoo your hair, and then apply the entire mixture to your head and massage it into your hair and scalp. Wrap a warm towel around your head or put on a shower cap and leave the conditioner on for 15 minutes, and then rinse your hair thoroughly.

After-Sun Recipes for Dry Skin

Cooling Cinnamon Body Powder

Use this fragrant, cooling powder after bathing. You can also sprinkle some over your bed sheets to soothe hot skin and help you sleep. Some people in Asian countries have used ground rice as an ingredient in their cosmetic powders for years.

Rice flour contains gamma oryzanol, a UV-light-filtering ingredient. The addition of cinnamon gives this cooling body powder a wonderful scent. Rice flour is available in many grocery and natural food stores. Yield: about 4 ounces.

  • 1/4 cup rice flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon

Directions: Mix all the ingredients until well-blended. Pour the mixture into a clean, dry container. To use, sprinkle the powder onto your skin or bed sheets.

Aloe Vera Skin Soother

Aloe vera gel is especially soothing to skin because of its high water content (99.5 percent water), and chamomile and vitamin E also help condition the skin and prevent peeling. This refreshing and cooling gel is ideal after a day spent outdoors. Aloe vera gel is available at most natural food stores in the skin care aisle, or you can use the gel from a plant growing in your home. Yield: about 4 ounces.

  • 1/4 cup aloe vera gel
  • 1/4 cup strong chamomile tea, cooled
  • 2 tsp vitamin E oil
  • 2 to 3 drops peppermint essential oil

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and then stir well. Pour into a clean container. To use, massage into your skin. For a refreshing boost, store your skin soother in your refrigerator.

After-Sun Rinse

If you burn easily, this simple solution will help calm your sensitive skin. It contains 3 well-known sunburn soothers: witch hazel, baking soda, and lavender essential oil. Yield: 3.5 ounces.

  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp witch hazel
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 to 2 drops lavender essential oil

Directions: Mix together all ingredients to form a thin, milky solution. Shake well between applications. To use, gently apply to your skin after a day in the sun and allow to dry. Reapply if necessary. You may also want to rinse your skin before going out, as this lotion leaves a fine, powdery film on your skin as it dries.

Homemade Sunscreen Booster

Dark sesame oil and avocado oil both have UV-screening properties and make a light and airy skin cream. This cream can be used as an after-sun moisturizer or as a supplement to your own commercial sunscreen products. Don’t use it in place of commercial sunscreen products, as it doesn’t provide the degree of protection they can offer. Yield: 6 ounces.

  • 2 tbsp liquid soy lecithin (a natural emulsifier)
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil
  • 2 tbsp dark sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions: Place the lecithin and oils in the blender and mix on medium speed. Slowly add the water and turn the blender on high to mix well. You’ll be left with a light and fluffy cream. Continue to blend on high until smooth, and then spoon your mixture into a clean container. To use, massage into your skin. Stir well if the cream separates between uses.

Cucumber Body Mask

This cooling body mask is ideal for soothing sunburn. Fresh cucumber is refreshing and will draw the heat out of your skin. It can be a bit drying because cucumbers are naturally astringent, so after you use this body mask, follow up with a rich body cream or natural oil, such as the Homemade Sunscreen Booster. Yield: 4 to 5 ounces.

  • 1/4 cup strong chamomile or green tea, cooled
  • 1 whole cucumber with peel, chopped
  • 1/4 cup aloe vera gel
  • 2 to 3 drops lavender essential oil

Directions: Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend on high until you have a smooth mixture. To use, spread the entire mixture over your body or the sunburned area using your fingers or a small paintbrush. Leave the mask on for 20 to 30 minutes. You may want to wrap yourself in a large towel or cotton sheet. Rinse well with cool water, pat your skin dry, and moisturize with a light, water-based lotion.

Sunburn Soothers

Sunburns happen, even if you’re super careful. Try these home remedies to soothe your skin and take some of the heat and discomfort out of the burn.

Body Mists

The following can be used as a cooling spray or compress for sunburned skin. Simply fill a spray bottle or soak strips of thin cotton cloth in the solutions, and then spray yourself or lay the cotton over your tender skin. Choose one:

  • 1 cup pure water with 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • Club soda
  • Buttermilk (rinse off because it will spoil in time)
  • 1/2 cup water mixed with 1/2 cup aloe vera gel
  • Fresh watermelon juice

Healing Baths

Add 1 cup of the following ingredients to a bathtub filled with warm (not hot) water. Choose one:

  • Fresh carrot juice
  • Cornstarch
  • Ground oatmeal
  • Dry milk powder

Soothing Skin Packs

Spread one of these body masks over your sunburned skin. Choose one:

  • Mashed, fresh apricots
  • 1/2 cup baking soda mixed into a paste with 1 to 2 tbsp
  • water
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch mixed into a paste with 1 to 2 tbsp water
  • Sour cream or plain yogurt

Light Lotions

Massage one of the following ingredients into clean skin as a light after-sun lotion. Be careful to gently stroke rather than rub tender skin. You may even want to apply the lotion using a soft brush. Choose one:

  • Aloe vera gel
  • Cocoa butter, warmed slightly
  • Fresh cucumber juice
  • Light sesame oil

Janice Cox is a leading natural beauty expert. She’s the author of three best-selling books, including Natural Beauty from the Garden.