7 Derm-Approved Ways to Soothe Your Sunburn Fast
Feeling the burn? Try one of these recommended sunburn remedies stat.
Vacation is here! You set that out-of-office, zipped up your carry-on, and hopped in your ride share to the airport. As soon as you landed, you made a beeline for the shore to soak up that sun you’ve been dreaming about for weeks (er, months). But in your excitement, you forgot one key component of any beach vacation: sunscreen.
A day later, as you’re nursing a killer sunburn, you would do anything to alleviate the pain and diminish the red hue. Though this happens to everyone, dermatologists say a single sunburn is one too many. Especially when not treated properly, you run the risk of developing sores, infections, scarring, or even worse, skin cancer.
The good news is, sunburn relief is possible most of the time. Here’s your expert guide to how to get rid of sunburn fast so you can get back to your holiday ASAP.
As soon as you notice skin reddening, it's time to get out of the sun. Even if you would prefer to be back on the beach playing volleyball, it’s better to treat your symptoms quickly and give yourself the time—and shade—to heal. Camp out under an umbrella and avoid the sun until your burn is completely healed.
If you have one too many margaritas with your friends by the pool and took a little siesta under the hot sun, you may return to your hotel room looking less sunkissed and more lobster-like. When this happens, you need a full body sunburn relief. Instead of ransacking the local pharmacy for after-sun products, board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, recommends taking an apple cider vinegar bath. She suggests soaking for 10 minutes, which gives the natural solution time to restore your skin’s pH levels. Best of all, your pores will feel soothed and relaxed, even if you smell a little funky in the process. “The anti-inflammatory properties of apple cider vinegar soothe irritated skin, and acetic acid softens skin to help dead cells slough off,” she says.
One of the oldest home remedies for sunburn is aloe vera. Because of aloe’s healing properties, dermatologist Papri Sarkar, MD says it will alleviate pain, cool down your skin, and most of all, will heal your skin. Her best recommendation is fresh, cool aloe which will feel sensational on your pores and offer instant relief. If you don’t have access to aloe, she says cool compresses or a cool bath in colloidal oatmeal works just as well. Try Aveeno Colloidal Oatmeal Soothing Bath Treatment ($6.50; amazon.com). She does warn against a too-cold bath, since it can stress your already sensitive skin. When in doubt, go cool, but not icy.
Related: 6 Natural Ways to Soothe a Sunburn
Think about everything that is clogging up your pores after a beach day: sunscreen, sand, sweat, salt water, and more. Though there’s nothing you’d rather do than wash your face vigorously to get rid of all the grime, dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD says to resist the temptation if you’re suffering from a sunburn. Because your skin is already damaged, using a harsh cleanser or exfoliator will not only cause more stress, but it’ll likely be very painful too. Instead, he suggests keeping it simple with a gentle cleanser or basic body bar that also hydrates, like Dove Beauty Bar, ($13 for 12; amazon.com).
According to Dr. Engleman, sunburn is caused by powerful UV rays breaking through the skin’s barriers and causing free radical damage that turns our outer layer red. When you’re looking for ways to get rid of a sunburn, she says to load up on antioxidants, especially those found in vitamin C. They help protect our skin against free radical assaults by neutralizing the oxidative stress that can cause cell damage. “A vitamin C serum will be most effective in delivering to the cellular level,” she says. “Serums have the highest concentration of active ingredients. They have smaller molecules, which allows actives to penetrate further.” Try SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Serum ($166; dermstore.com).
Since your sunburned skin is already irritated, it’ll be dry to the touch. This feeling will naturally make you want to lather up, but it’s important to pick the right kind of formula for fast, effective relief. Dr. Engleman says you want to fight against the possibility of pronounced lines and wrinkles that sunburns can cause and choose a vitamin E-rich product. Like vitamin C, vitamin E is a free radical neutralizer and it helps to promote skin regeneration and hydration. It’s also smart to look for a lotion that has sunburn relief soothers, like chamomile and lavender. Dr. Engleman’s favorite is Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil ($20; amazon.com) which helps with all of the above, and can help to improve the appearance of new or old scars and stretch marks, too.
When treated quickly and with care, most sunburns will heal within a week or so. However, if your burn is serious or you have open, painful wounds, a stronger sunburn remedy may be required. The sun can actually cause first- and second-degree burns, which require medical assistance. Or, if a leftover sunburn that didn’t seem that serious still has a wound, Dr. Engelman recommends seeing a dermatologist who can prescribe medications to hydrate and soften skin while repairing damage. Even if you have a normal sunburn, a derm may be open to prescribing these products since they will speed up healing time.