We all love basking in the sun, feeling its warmth, and enjoying the radiant glow it gives our skin. But let’s face it: we’ve all gotten a bit too ‘kissed by the sun’ at times.
I know I have.
As a beauty journalist of over 20 years, I should know better. But hey, I’m human too, and two summers back, I learned my lesson the hard way on a trip to the sun-soaked shores of Bali.
My skin was so red; I could’ve been mistaken for a tomato! But thankfully, I had the resources, including the best dermatologists and beauty brands, to nurse my skin back to health.
This is what inspired me to create this super-comprehensive guide on sunburn relief!
Understanding a sunburn
But before tackling sunburn remedies, we need to grasp the fundamentals of a sunburn, how it occurs, and its risks.
According to the National Institute of Health, when our skin has excessive exposure to the sun’s rays or artificial sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation such as tanning beds, it sets off a cascade of events that wreak havoc on our skin cells.
Immediate effects of a sunburn
So, when you get a sunburn, and your skin goes all red? That’s because the sun’s rays cause the blood vessels close to the skin to swell up.
This swollen or dilated state leads to an inflammatory reaction, which is basically your skin shouting, “Hey, I’m burnt!” That’s why your skin turns that tomato-red color.
But that’s not all: your skin gets super sensitive and hurts like crazy. Even the lightest touch can feel like a punch, showing just how irritated and damaged your skin is from the sunburn.
The long game
However, a sunburn doesn’t just hurt and make you look like a ripe lobster but also significantly accelerates skin aging. Think wrinkles, age spots, and sagging — all things we’d rather not have!
Plus, did you know that even a single blistering sunburn can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, later in life? And that’s not even all. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the process is cumulative and subsequent UV damage can occur even when there is no obvious burn.
And it doesn’t even stop there: A sunburn changes the blood vessels in your skin’s deeper dermis layer. This leads to inflammation, swelling, and prolonged soreness, potentially permanent skin tissue damage.
Sunburn SOS: What to do IMMEDIATELY
When it comes to sun damage, how we respond can significantly impact the burn’s severity and the healing process’s speed.
These immediate actions are vital to stop further damage, soothe the skin, reduce inflammation, and start healing. Always remember that your first response can make a big difference when it comes to sunburns.
Your immediate response should encompass the following steps, which I took when I got sunburned two summers ago — on the advice of all the board-certified dermatologists in my address book!
Get out of the sun NOW!
First, you must remove yourself from the sun as quickly as possible.
I know it might seem like a ‘duh’ moment, but you’d be surprised how many people stay in the sun, thinking, “Well, the damage is done. I might as well enjoy the rest of the day.”
This is a dangerous attitude because the longer you expose your skin to UV light, the more severe the burn will get. So, seek shade immediately at the beach, the park, or your backyard, or, even better, go indoors.
Bring down the temperature
The second step towards sunburn relief is to cool the skin down.
You can do this by taking a cool shower or bath or applying a cold compress to the sunburned areas for 10-15 minutes. Never use ice or freezing water directly on the affected areas, as this can cause further damage.
Cooling the skin helps alleviate the burning sensation and reduces swelling. It felt incredibly soothing when I did this after my sunburn episode.
Time for pain relief
The American Association of Dermatologists recommends taking a non-prescription pain reliever or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin to help with the pain and inflammation.
And if your sunburn is severe, consider seeing a doctor, as you may need stronger medication.
Next up in sunburn treatment is rehydration.
A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, so drinking plenty of water can prevent dehydration.
But it’s not just about hydrating your body; you must also hydrate your skin. A moisturizer containing aloe vera or hyaluronic acid can help keep your skin from drying out and peeling.
Now, you might be tempted to slather some butter or petroleum jelly onto the sunburn — don’t! These can trap heat and make the burn worse.
What you need is a product that cools and hydrates. That’s why I recommend the following products.
My favorite? The La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5 Soothing Repairing Balm is a multi-purpose product that helps soothe and heal irritated and sunburned skin, reducing redness and itching. When I used it, my skin felt soothed, and the cooling effect was heavenly.
Are you looking for more options for sunburn relief? Below are nine products with expert-approved recommendations to help accelerate the healing process.
Avene Thermal Spring Water: This soothing water spray provides a refreshing burst of hydration to dry, sunburned skin.
Aquaphor Healing Ointment: This ointment provides a protective barrier that seals in moisture, aiding the healing of dry, cracked, or irritated skin.
Banana Boat Soothing Aloe After Sun Gel: Affordable, easy-to-find, and effective, this sunburn treatment soothes and cools sunburned skin with the power of aloe vera.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel: This lightweight, non-greasy moisturizer locks in hydration with its hyaluronic acid content, perfect for healing sunburned skin.
Burt’s Bees Aloe & Coconut Oil After Sun Soother: This lotion soothes and hydrates with aloe and coconut oil and has a pleasant, natural scent.
Sun Bum Cool Down Aloe Vera Lotion: This lotion contains aloe vera for soothing and vitamin E and cocoa butter for extra hydration.
Bio-Oil Skincare Oil: While not a traditional sunburn relief product, Bio-Oil can help moisturize and heal peeling skin, reducing the likelihood of scars.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream: This cream, with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, provides long-lasting hydration and helps restore the skin’s natural barrier.
Sunburn relief: Home remedies
While many over-the-counter sunburn remedies are available to soothe ‘burnt skin, sometimes the best ones can be found in the comfort of our homes. When I got sunburned, I turned to several of these, and they did a fantastic job soothing and healing my skin.
A cool bath with baking soda
A cool bath can be one of the best sunburn remedies, providing immediate relief from the irritation.
But why stop there? Adding a cup or two of baking soda to your bath water can up its soothing power. Baking soda is alkaline and can help balance the pH of your sunburned skin, reduce inflammation, and ease itching.
Ensure the water is cool and not cold, as extreme temperatures can further irritate your skin. Soaking for about 15-20 minutes and air-drying afterward is what I did. The relief this sunburn treatment provided was incredible.
Taking an oatmeal bath can relieve widespread symptoms of sunburn or larger affected areas. Add colloidal oatmeal to lukewarm bathwater and soak for 15 to 20 minutes.
The oatmeal helps soothe and moisturize the skin, temporarily relieving itching and inflammation.
Alternatively, apply cold compresses or damp towels to the sunburned area. The coolness helps constrict blood vessels, reducing inflammation and providing a soothing sensation.
However, remember not to apply ice directly to the skin, as it can cause further damage.
Dipping a clean cloth or towel in cold milk and applying it gently to the sunburned skin can provide soothing relief. The cool temperature of the milk helps calm the skin and reduce inflammation.
Another fantastic sunburn home remedy I used was aloe vera.
The clear gel of the aloe vera plant has been used for centuries to treat various skin conditions, including sunburn. It has cooling and anti-inflammatory properties that provide immediate relief from sunburn symptoms.
If you have an aloe plant, you can cut a leaf, squeeze the gel, and apply it to your skin. If not, use a 100% pure aloe vera gel available in the market.
Have you ever thought of using tea bags for sunburn relief? Yes, you read that right.
The tannic acid and theobromine in tea help remove heat from sunburn, while catechins repair skin damage and aid healing. Just brew tea bags, let them cool, and then place them on the sunburned areas.
I did this, particularly for my eyelids, which were unfortunately also a victim of my sunburn (yes, that happens), and it felt immensely soothing.
Apple cider vinegar
Another of the best sunburn remedies from the kitchen is apple cider vinegar. Its acetic acid component helps alleviate pain, itching, and inflammation.
Add a cup of apple cider vinegar to your cool bath, or mix it with cool water and gently dab it onto your skin with a soft cloth. Remember, never apply it undiluted, as it can burn your skin.
Lastly, dermatologists recommend applying plain yogurt to sunburned skin.
What makes this an excellent sunburn treatment? The probiotics in yogurt help restore your skin’s natural barrier, and the coolness soothes the burn. Make it plain, unflavored yogurt, and rinse it off gently after about 15 minutes.
Pro-tip: Remember, sunburn can make your skin extra sensitive, so always do a patch test to ensure these remedies don’t cause further irritation.
Looking for more home remedies for sunburn relief? This post has all the sunburn soothing effects of kitchen shelf staples like lettuce, potatoes and tomatoes. Along with the science behind their success.
Sunburn relief: The importance of after-sun care
Now that we’ve discussed immediate actions and home remedies let’s move on to the often neglected yet vital part of sunburn treatment: after-sun care.
Sunburn recovery is a journey, not a one-stop destination, requiring ongoing care and attention. After my sunburn episode two summers back, the dedicated after-sun care really helped my skin recover completely and regain its healthy glow.
Here’s how you can do it too.
Cool & hydrate
Firstly, continue to keep the skin cool and moisturized. The skin will be dry and tight even when the heat and redness subside.
This is because sunburn accelerates the skin’s natural exfoliation process, causing the uppermost skin layer to peel off. Keeping your skin hydrated will minimize peeling and promote healing.
After-sun care also involves taking care of your body as a whole. Drink plenty of fluids to replace the water lost due to sunburn. Remember, hydration is as crucial for your body as for your skin.
Do. Not. Peel.
And what about the urge to peel off the loose skin or pop the sunburn blisters? It can be tempting, and I understand the odd satisfaction it brings.
But trust me, resisting this urge is your skin’s best interest.
Picking at the skin can cause further damage and even lead to scarring. Let the skin peel off naturally, and continue to moisturize.
Keep it gentle
When cleansing sunburned skin, avoid harsh soaps or products containing fragrances, as they can further irritate the already sensitive skin.
Instead, opt for mild, fragrance-free cleansers that gently cleanse without causing additional dryness or irritation.
The sunburn treatment diet
Incorporating foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and E in your diet can also help your skin recover. Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals from UV radiation, and vitamins C and E promote skin healing.
So, load up on fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds.
Protect. Protect. Protect.
Lastly, be extra careful with sun exposure while your skin is healing. Wear clothing that covers the sunburned areas, apply sunscreen religiously, don a wide brimmed hat, and avoid the sun during peak hours.
This is because sunburned skin is more vulnerable to UV damage. Even a little sun exposure can cause a setback in the healing process.
The best products for after-sun care
Apart from the sunburn treatment measures I’ve outlined above, investing in good after-sun care products is equally crucial for the successful recovery of your skin.
After-sun care is the bridge between immediate sunburn relief and complete skin recovery. It’s the final step in healing your skin after a sunburn. And trust me; your skin will thank you for it.
Here are five after-sun care products that have worked wonders for me and many others (click to buy!):
Korres Greek Yoghurt Calming + Cooling Gel: This sunburn treatment product uses the nourishing properties of natural Greek yogurt to soothe and re-hydrate the skin.
Nuxe Refreshing After-Sun Lotion: This lotion soothes and hydrates while enhancing and extending your tan.
Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration After Sun Lotion: This hero product from Hawaiian Tropic hydrates for 24 hours and contains aloe gel ribbons for added soothing power.
Clarins After Sun Moisturizer Ultra-Hydrating: This product hydrates and soothes, and its tanning-enhancing complex extends the life of your tan.
Sun Bum Cool Down Aloe Vera Spray: This vegan and hypoallergenic sunburn treatment lotion uses aloe, cucumber extract, and vitamin E to soothe and replenish sunburned skin.
When to see a doctor: Severe sunburn and sun poisoning
In most cases, a sunburn can be effectively managed with home remedies and over-the-counter treatments.
However, certain situations warrant medical attention. If you experience severe blistering, intense pain, signs of infection, or symptoms of sun poisoning such as dizziness, fever, or nausea, it’s essential to seek medical care promptly.
FAQs about sunburn relief
Here are the most frequently asked questions about sunburn relief and treatments.
How can you tell if a sunburn is severe enough to warrant medical attention?
If you experience symptoms such as extreme redness, blistering over a large portion of your body, severe pain, high fever, headache, confusion, nausea or chills, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. These may indicate sun poisoning, a severe form of sunburn.
What are the first steps in sunburn treatment?
It’s crucial to start by cooling the skin. This can be done by taking a cold shower or bath, or by applying a cold compress. Drinking lots of fluids also helps, as sunburn can dehydrate you.
Can aloe vera help with sunburn relief?
Yes, aloe vera is known for its soothing properties and can help with sunburn relief. It moisturizes the skin and speeds up the healing process.
Are there any over-the-counter medications that can help with sunburn treatment?
Yes, over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation caused by sunburn.
How can I prevent a sunburn in the future?
Prevention is always better than cure. Always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat, and avoid peak sun hours.
How long does it take for sunburn to heal?
It generally takes about one week for sunburn to heal, but this can vary depending on its severity. Remember, even when the redness is gone, the skin damage may still need time to repair.
Is peeling skin a normal part of the healing process?
Yes, peeling skin is your body’s way of getting rid of the damaged cells. However, do not force or pick at the peeling skin as it may cause further damage or scars.
Does applying sunscreen after getting sunburned help with healing?
Applying sunscreen after getting sunburned won’t help with healing, but it can prevent further damage from occurring.
Are there any home remedies for sunburn relief?
Besides aloe vera, other home remedies include cold compresses, baths with baking soda or oatmeal, and hydrating lotions. Remember, severe sunburn should always be evaluated by a healthcare professional.