Applying sunscreen alone isn’t enough.

By Yelena Moroz Alpert
July 28, 2020
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Summer and beaches are synonymous. However, while the beach may beckon with its cool waves and sunny rays, to your skin it’s anything but a vacation. Why? Damaging UV exposure, salty water, and sandy wind all affect your skin, compromising its natural barrier. 

“The sea and UV light will especially dry out the skin,” says Sharyn Laughlin, MD, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of The Sunscreen Company. “UVA wavelengths from sunlight damage the skin by degrading important proteins and fibers like collagen and elastin. It can also suppress your natural immune response so that your body is not as able to repair this damage. This is what leads to photo-aging over time.”  

But this doesn’t mean you have to skip the beach altogether. We talked to skin experts from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts to bring you the best advice on how to prep your skin before, during, and after a beach day. Now all you’ll have to worry about is choosing the cutest swimsuit and cover-up.

Pre-Beach Skincare

You’d hydrate the night before a race, right? Well, your pre-beach skincare routine should follow the same route. Going to the beach is essentially putting your skin through a marathon, so you’ll want to make sure it’s not thirsty. 

“I always recommend a good routine that involves different layers of hydration,” says Dr. Laughlin. “Serums that contain humectants draw water to the skin's surface. You can then 'seal' in this hydration with an effective moisturizer that replenishes your moisture barrier.” We love to prep skin with hyaluronic acid because it quenches your skin—it can trap approximately 1000 times its weight of water and help stimulate collagen and elastin production, according to a 2018 study. If you’re looking for a recommendation, your skin should look noticeably plumper after applying e.l.f. Holy Hydration! face cream ($12; target.com).

What you don’t want to do is any treatment using retinol or AHAs three days before your beach outing. “These products exfoliate the skin chemically, making the new skin thinner, more delicate, and more susceptible to a burn,” says Ginnaea Galvan, lead esthetician at The Cliffs Hotel + Spa in Pismo Beach, Calif. Waxing 24 hours prior is another big no-no, especially on your face. It completely removes a layer of skin, which can also lead to sun damage.

Beach Day Skincare

You already know to apply sunscreen on your face and body—but don’t forget the often neglected hands, feet, ears, neck, and chest. Find a sheer formula packed with a high level of SPF for your face that blends in seamlessly, such as Neutrogena Ultra Sheer SPF 100 ($9; target.com). Don’t forget to apply this to wrinkle-loving spots, like where the eye meets the temple and the "eleven" lines between your brows. 

Lips shouldn’t be an afterthought, either. “The wind can act as an exfoliant, removing surface skin cells and making lips more susceptible to burning,” says Kim Krumroy, lead esthetician at Carillon Miami Wellness Resort. Bobbi Brown Lip Balm SPF 15 ($23; macys.com) lasts for several hours (I can vouch for it withstanding multiple boogie boarding attempts and a sand castle competition). Plus, the aloe vera and avocado oil keeps lips soft, not waxy.

You should also apply all sunscreen at least 15 minutes prior to rolling out your beach blanket. “This allows time for the sunscreen to be absorbed into the skin and to be most effective,” says Krumroy. Reapply every 30 minutes if you’re splashing in water or every hour if you’re on land.

Most importantly, keep hydrating all day long. If you slack on sipping H2O, your skin will start to look crepey and lose its glow. Pack a lot of water, or even better, something with electrolytes.

Post-Beach Skincare

Your goal is to replenish the moisture lost while you were frolicking in the sunshine. First, cleanse skin really well, especially if your sunscreen has zinc oxide, which tends to stick to your skin in order to protect it, says Dr. Laughlin

Time to rejuvenate. For a one-two punch, you’ll want to layer products with antioxidants and hyaluronic acid, since antioxidants like aloe vera and vitamin C can help reverse UV damage.

Start with something super-light yet hydrating, like LOLI Beauty Aloe Blueberry Jelly ($28; madewell.com), as your ultimate post-beach panacea, especially if you get a little burned. Once it absorbs, really lock in moisture work with a rich cream, like SheaMoisture Papaya & Vitamin C Night Cream ($16; target.com). In addition to moisturizing, vitamin C protects against photoaging, according to Dr. Laughlin. Research shows that sunscreen is not foolproof when it comes to blocking free radicals, but applying vitamin C directly to the skin may minimize pigmentation and reduce skin wrinkling. In short, it’s your backup UV shield.

Continue this routine all summer long to keep your skin safe and glowing.