Summer is in full swing, and try as we might, sometimes we fail to avoid getting sunburned. We all know that wearing sunscreen daily, reapplying as needed, and seeking shade in the midday are the best ways to avoid sunburn (learn more about how important sunscreen is here) , but what can you do once you’ve already gotten a sunburn? Here are some tips for caring for your sunburned skin to minimize damage, peeling, and to shorten your skin’s recovery time!
Use sunscreen over the following days.
Even if you aren’t planning on sunbathing, it’s a good idea to slather on some sunscreen on the days following a sunburn. Even normal sun exposure can further damage and inflame skin that has already been compromised by a sunburn. Try using baby sunscreen or another gentle formula to avoid putting any harsh ingredients on your raw skin.
Wash off the right way.
After a long day in the sun, the first thing you probably want to do is wash off. But you should think twice before sudsing up: soap and bubble bath can dry and irritate sunburned skin. A cool bath—sans soap—is a better option. For added relief, try adding 2 cups of baking soda to your bath, which has been shown to help relieve inflammation and itching. It works best when it dries on the skin, so plan to air-dry instead of toweling off. Afterward, gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel. Rubbing your skin to dry off will only irritate it further. If you really want to use soap to clean off, reach for something mild like a baby wash and carefully rinse it all off—leftover soap residue can be extremely drying.
Moisturize your skin.
Sunburned skin is very dehydrated and needs moisture to help in the healing process. After you wash off, try using a gentle bath oil or skin oil. Allow that to soak in for a minute or two then follow it up with a moisturizing cream.
Aloe. Aloe. Aloe.
Aloe vera is one of the go-to sunburn relievers, and for good reason! Aloe Vera gel has been shown to speed up skin healing, and has a nice cooling effect that can feel good on sunburned skin. Keep it in the fridge before slathering it on for even more relief!
Again, after sun exposure and sunburn your body is dehydrated and needs help getting back to normal. Be sure to drink plenty of water and reach for water-rich fruits like watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew.
Ice it up!
Sunburns hurt! Follow your urge to reach for something cold, just make sure to do it right. Wrap an ice pack in a damp cloth and hold it over the burn. This will absorb some of the heat from your skin, constrict blood vessels, and reduce swelling. Just make sure you wrap the ice pack so you aren’t holding the icy package directly on damaged skin.
Reach for OTC relief.
Over-the-counter pain relievers like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can help relieve sunburn pain and inflammation. Topical over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream may help relieve sunburn symptoms such as pain, itch, and swelling.
Know when to see a doctor.
Some burns are simply too severe to be treated at home: consult a doctor if you experience nausea, chills, fever, faintness, extensive blistering, general weakness, patches of purple discoloration, or intense itching. Be aware that if the burn seems to be spreading, you could have an infection compounding the problem. You should also contact your physician if you’re taking prescription medications, as there’s a chance that they may be making you photosensitive. Certain drugs, like antibiotics, tranquilizers, and antifungal medications can increase your sensitivity to the sun and cause reactions.