How To Recover From A Sunburn: Skin Experts Explain

Photo: Andrey Pavlov

It’s the unofficial first weekend of summer, which means we’ve officially entered the season of sunburns. No one is immune to the excitement that accompanies a sunny three-day weekend—for many, it means a little too much time spent in the sun without enough protection or vigilance. Boom—you wake up with a sunburn that’s far worse than it looked the night before.

There is plenty of information online that focuses on prevention, and rightfully so. Sun damage isn’t just an aging concern—it’s scary. In addition to feeling painful, itchy, and uncomfortable, sunburns can cause sun poisoning and can increase your risk of getting skin cancer. That’s reason enough to reapply on the hour! But let’s assume you did all the prep work you could in good faith, and yet the damage has been done—how do you remedy a sunburn?

1. Take an oral anti-inflammatory.

Holistic dermatologist Cybele Fishman, M.D., said she advises her patients to take an oral anti-inflammatory at the first signs of a bad burn. Try ibuprofen, or if you want something more natural, Zyflamend by New Chapter, she said.

2. If you think it’s verging on severe, give your derm or doctor a call.

You might need to take different measures if you’re at risk for worse burns or sun poisoning. If you and your medical professionals have determined over-the-counter care is strong enough, over-the-counter cortisone will help.

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3. Wear loose clothing.

There’s nothing worse than the rub of tough denim or form-fitting leggings on a bad burn. Jun Lee, avid surfer and founder of EiR NYC, a line meant to remedy skin after time spent outdoors, will go the extra mile to wear loose clothes if she’s feeling any heat from a sunburn. It’s a good idea to think about this if you’re packing for a sunny vacation!

4. Stay hydrated—not just with water.

This may seem obvious, but after spending too much time in the sun, you should put extra effort into staying hydrated. Dr. Fishman said it’s important to drink water, but it’s even more important to add in hydrating fluids that contain electrolytes, “which get out of whack with a sunburn,” she explained. Harmless Harvest coconut water is a great, organic, fair trade, replenishing option, but in a pinch, a low- or no-sugar Gatorade will do the trick.

5. Take a lukewarm bath with colloidal oatmeal.

A particularly holistic tip is to take a bath with colloidal oatmeal, an ingredient that’s proved to be particularly helpful in repairing a compromised skin barrier. As noted by Dr. Fishman, a regular old cereal oatmeal bath won’t work—when added to water, colloidal oatmeal creates a jellylike, viscous substance that soothes irritated skin. Pro tip: Dial down the temperature of your bath if you’re suffering from a sunburn! Dr. Fishman recommends Aveeno Eczema Therapy moisturizer as well, which contains colloidal oatmeal.

6. Apply aloe gel without any added chemicals or fragrance.

Aloe vera is a powerful plant-based medicine that’s been used to heal cuts, burns, and sunburns for ages. Dr. Fishman warns against using a store-bought gel that has chemicals or synthetic fragrance added because they can actually make the burn worse. Try to find a gel that is made of 100 percent pure aloe fillet. Herbivore Botanicals’ after-sun soothing aloe mist is a great option for mild burns.

Lee added that she’s included lavender in some of her after-sun products, which has been shown to help severe burns in some cases.



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