As much as we apply sunscreen and reapply (and then reapply again), a sunburn is sometimes inevitable when you're spending the whole day outside. You don't have to feel super guilty about it, though. When you get one, there's no time machine to take you back to apply more sunscreen, so take care of it and promise yourself that you'll be more vigilant next time because the damaging effects of the sun are no joke.
To anticipate dealing with a sunburn, we reached out to two dermatologists to get their advice on treatment and recommendations for products that will provide some relief. But remember, these products won't completely fix the situation. "It may take a couple days for the severity of sunburn to become evident, and several more days for your skin to begin to heal," says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in private practice. "Sunburn treatment doesn't heal the skin, but it can offer relief by reducing pain, swelling, and discomfort."
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When you get sunburned, there are a few steps you should take. "First and foremost—remove yourself from sun and heat. Sunburned skin is extra sensitive, and so you must eliminate the risk of further damage," recommends Julie Karen, MD, FAAD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. You should ideally exit the sun at the earliest sign of pinkening (erythema) of the skin., as this is the first indicator that damage has occurred, but it progresses for several hours beyond, even without additional sun exposure.
Hydrating well and cool compresses can help to calm the skin down, cool the skin, and prevent dehydration or heat stroke. A cool shower or bath can be helpful. Advil or aspirin can be taken for anti-inflammatory effect (and can be continued according to standard dosing for the subsequent two to three days for severe burns)."
For more remedies, take a look at our list of best sunburn relief products below.
Lotions and Creams
You can use Burt's Bees' after-sun product on your face or body—wherever the affected area is located. It contains aloe vera and coconut to hydrate and soothe your skin after a long day at the beach or pool.
"Topical DNA repair enzymes, such as Neova DNA Repair, are likely of value in reversing some of the DNA damage that inevitably accompanies a medium (or bad sunburn)," Karen says.
"Once two to three days have passed and the skin turns dry, my favorite restorative balm is Dr. Rogers Restore—an all-natural healing balm that contains only two plant-based ingredients, castor bean oil and glycerin, and abets healing from all injury, especially burns," Karen recommends. "It can be used multiple times a day, but it's greasy and does not protect against the sun (and likely attracts sun) so it should not be used when you will be outside. I also really like Lifeline night moisture serum—a light serum that is loaded with antioxidants and peptides and helps restore skin's barrier."
Not only does this lotion smell nice (it has a Monoï scent), but it also soothes and hydrates irritated skin. Reviewers on Sephora say it doesn't leave your skin greasy or sticky.
Packed with ingredients like organic agave, aloe vera, rosemary extract, and lavender, sunflower and orange oils, this after-sun lotion will bring some relief to damaged skin.
This one's literally yogurt for your skin (yes, yogurt is an ingredient). Apply the gel to reduce redness and cool the skin. Pro tip: Keep it in the fridge—it will feel amazing on annoying sunburns.
You really can't go wrong with aloe vera for sunburn relief. Both Karen and Badreshia-Bansal recommend aloe vera lotion or gel to soothe.
The gel contains ingredients to soothe and repair your sunburned skin. It also works well even if you haven't been sunburned and just need some hydration post-beach or pool day.
This new gel from one of our favorite brands, Beautycounter, contains aloe and California poppy extract to provide instant relief and hydration. Reviewers say it smells amazing and feels so refreshing after a day in the sun.
To make this cooling gel even more refreshing on sunburned skin, put it in the fridge. Ingredients include aloe vera, menthol, rose hips, and rosemary.
We already love Ouai's hair products, so this cooling spray is a no-brainer. It comes out as a foam (with aloe-infused bubbles and rosehip oil) and is easy to apply to the affected area. Reviews say it smells good and it dries quickly.
This light formula contains aloe lotion, tea tree leaf oil, cocoa butter, jojoba oil, and vitamin E. Since you can spray the product instead of rubbing it in, it's great for those red, painful sunburns.
The spray contains aloe, cooling mint, lavender, and witch hazel, which will provide some cool relief to hot skin. Some reviewers say they have even added this product to their regular skincare routines, too.
Not only can this medicated spray be used for sunburns, but it can also provide relief for insect bites—another annoying summer hazard.
The water-based spray contains aloe vera, vitamin E, lotus flower extract, and menthol to moisturize your hot, sunburned skin. You can even keep it on hand if you're not at the beach or pool—it's a great refresher when you're running errands on a hot summer day.