How To Treat a Sunburn Quickly

Look, I’m not gonna sit here and shame you or lecture you for not wearing sun-protective clothing, or not reapplying your sunscreen a dozen times a day, or not avoiding excess sun exposure during peak hours—but, I’m guessing you could have used a little lecturing a few hours ago, because looks like you’ve now got yourself a sunburn. Woof.

If you did, however, follow all of the rules and still ended up with a mild sunburn (i.e., red, warm, painful-to-the-touch skin—not the blisters of a severe, seek-medical-attention sunburn), try not to beat yourself up. Accidents happen, and your skin will recover, especially if you follow the below expert advice below from Morgan Rabach, MD, dermatologist and cofounder of LM Medical in NYC.

I would say to save this article for a rainy sunny day, but hopefully next time you’ll be better about your sunscreen application, and this will be the only time you’ll need these sunburn relief hacks.

How can I make my sunburn less painful?

To instantly relieve the pain of a sunburn and reduce the swelling and redness, Dr. Rabach says to take the recommended dosage of an anti-inflammatory medicine, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If your sunburn is also itchy, Dr. Rabach says you can use an over-the-counter steroid cream (like 1 percent hydrocortisone) mixed with an emulsifier, like Vaseline, to soothe your skin. Oh, and go ahead and change into dry, loose, comfortable clothes that don’t rub or chafe your skin for instant relief.

What do you do for a really bad sunburn?

Very serious for a sec: If you’re experiencing a severe burn, blisters, raw skin, or open wounds, get off the internet and get yourself to a doctor. Seriously. You absolutely cannot treat a severe sunburn at home without risking infection or scarring, and it’s also possible you’re dealing with sun poisoning, too.

What is the fastest way to get rid of a sunburn?

A sunburn takes time to heal, like anything else, so the best way to encourage that process is by doing all the right things. First, stay out of the sun to avoid exacerbating the burn. Keep your skin moisturized with one of Dr. Rabach’s above product recs, and keep your body hydrated with fluids. Because you can lose a lot of water when your skin is sunburned, Dr. Rabach says drinking extra water is v. important, so fill up that Hydro Flask and start chugging.

Is milk good for sunburn?

Dr. Rabach says one way to take the heat or sting out of a sunburn is with a cool compress (aka a cool wet rag). But instead of just soaking it in water, use cold milk to not only help with inflammation but also protect the skin. Thanks to its natural fat and protein, whole milk can soothe a sunburn by creating a protective film over the skin.

Is it better to put lotion or aloe on sunburn?

Dr. Rabach says the best thing to put on a sunburn to heal it quickly is a thick moisturizer, like Aquaphor or Vaseline (hack: Chill it in the fridge before applying it to your warm skin for extra relief). But what about aloe? Using it as a sunburn remedy is probs the oldest trick in the sunburn book of hacks, but Dr. Rabach says despite the fact that people swear by it for healing a sunburn anecdotally, there is no evidence that aloe vera gel actually helps. I know! The shock! The horror!

If you do choose to use the natural remedy, Dr. Rabach recommends going with pure aloe vera as opposed to ones mixed in an alcohol-based gel, which could cause even more burning. Oh, and go ahead and throw it in your fridge, too.

What should you not put on a sunburn?

While we’re on the topic of things you shouldn’t put on a sunburn, add witch hazel, strong cleansers, exfoliators, and loofahs (leave peeling skin alone, K?) to that list right below alcohol. Also, take a break from your skincare products with active ingredients (like retinol), which could irritate the skin. “In a few days, after the redness and pain subsides, I would go back to using antioxidants on the area to help reduce the free radical damage from the burn,” Dr. Rabach adds.

What do I wear to bed with a sunburn?

If you thought getting comfortable in your bed was hard enough as-is, you’ve never tried laying down with a sunburned back. I don’t care how high your thread count is, even the softest sheets feel like paper on burnt skin, so try this hack for how to sleep with a sunburn: Sprinkle corn starch on your sheets to create a barrier against the fabric and stop painful friction.

Yes, it’s weird, and yeah, you’re going to need to change the sheets in the morning, but trust me—it’ll be so, so worth it. And as far as treatment, Dr. Rabach says the same goes for healing a sunburn overnight as it does during the day. Apply a thick emollient, OTC hydrocortisone or a steroid prescribed by a dermatologist, and wear loose clothing (though you might want to choose one or the other—corn starch + Vaseline aren’t a clean combo).

Does a hot shower help with sunburn?

In general, hot water is not good for your skin, so the same goes when you’re sunburned (and I can’t imagine it would feel nice anyway). Probably not surprising, but Dr. Rabach says to take cool showers while burned. Once you hop out, apply all your creams to help soothe the inflammation and keep your skin moisturized. If baths are more your thing, try an oatmeal bath instead. Speaking of which…

Can oatmeal help sunburn?

Yup, oatmeal baths are great for soothing itchy skin and keeping your skin protected, and Dr. Rabach is totally down with you trying this sunburn hack. Use a pre-made oatmeal bath product, or DIY it by grinding a cup of old-fashioned oatmeal in the blender or food processor and pouring the oatmeal in a bath full of lukewarm water. Once you get out, put on your thick moisturizer, OTC hydrocortisone, and loose clothes—you know the drill by now.

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