The Best Ways to Treat a Sunburn, According to a Dermatologist
Get instant relief with these top tips.
Although the official start to summer is a few weeks away, temperatures are rising, and the sun is staying out longer, which means you're probably spending more time outside. (Even if you're just gardening or lounging in the backyard.) As you're enjoying the beautiful weather, you should be applying sunscreen liberally and frequently, but sometimes, even the most careful people can get a sunburn. If you fall into the recently sunburned category, there are a few things you can do to soothe your skin. Tiffany Libby, M.D., a dermatologist at Brown Dermatology in Providence, Rhode Island, reveals her top tips on how to relieve your burn, including product recommendations and a simple DIY remedy. (Plus, what to avoid to prevent any further damage.)
How to Treat a Sunburn
"Because sunburn is essentially a first-degree burn to your skin and results in damaged cells, redness, and swelling, the first tip I recommend is to take frequent cool showers or baths to help relieve discomfort," Libby says. "Immediately after bathing, apply a moisturizer to hydrate and seal in moisture to protect the skin." Try Curél Daily Moisture Lotion ($7.99, Target), which is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, so it's safe for sensitive skin. She also suggests a DIY remedy that includes soaking a washcloth with skim milk, wrapping it around ice cubes, and applying it to your burn. "The proteins in the milk help soothe the skin," Libby explains.
If you need even more relief, Libby says you could apply an over the counter hydrocortisone cream, such as Walgreens Hydrocortisone Cream ($3, Walgreens), to decrease inflammation. "Oral meds like aspirin ($4, Target) or ibuprofen ($4, Walgreens) will help alleviate pain, discomfort, inflammation, and swelling as well," Libby says.
What Not to Do for a Sunburn
"Obviously, you want to avoid worsening your burn by refraining from going back out in the sun and exposing your skin to more UV radiation," Libby says. If you need to go outdoors, or even if you're just hanging out inside, apply an SPF. A few of Libby's favorites are Cetaphil DermaControl Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30 ($19, Ulta), and Coola Full Spectrum 360° Mineral Sun Silk Moisturizer Organic Sunscreen SPF 30 ($42, Sephora). Libby warns not to use lidocaine or benzocaine sprays. "Although they may be intuitive to use to relieve pain and discomfort, they may make already sensitive and irritated skin even more irritated, which may lead to an allergic reaction," she says.
To prevent another burn, which can cause skin cancer and early aging, be sure to always apply an SPF. "Sunscreen use is important every day," Libby says. "One of the biggest myths is that you do not need to wear sunscreen on cloudy days, and this is entirely wrong. UV rays still penetrate clouds [and] penetrate glass, so you are not entirely safe indoors either. I always recommend just building it into your morning routine so that you are protected daily."