How to Heal Sunburn Fast – 15 Tips from Top Dermatologists

Heal Sunburn

Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can lead to premature aging. And without careful skin preparation, the sun’s harsh rays can also lead to sunburn. Next time you’re in trouble, turn to these top tips to heal your sunburn, fast.

Although you can see the sunlight and feel the heat, you can’t see or feel the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Sunburn is a radiation burn to the skin caused by these UV rays. When exposed to the sun at peak UV levels, sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes.

You’ve no doubt experienced sunburn at some point in your life. Not only is it uncomfortable, it also increases your risk of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Council, over the past three decades, more people have developed skin cancer than all other cancers combined.

While the best advice is to avoid sunburn, we’ve brought in four expert dermatologists to share their top tips on healing sunburn to get your skin bouncing back to beautiful.

Sunburn symptoms

“If you have been in the sun and your skin is pink, red, painful, itchy and hot to touch, you are officially sunburned,” says South Florida dermatologist Dr. Todd Minars. These signs will become apparent within approximately four to six hours of sun exposure and continue to develop for the next 24 to 72 hours. For more severe sunburns, bumps, swelling and blisters may become apparent on the following day.

As for how long it will take your skin to heal, “that will depend on your skin type and the degree of damage,” says dermatologist Dr. Tanya Kormeili from Santa Monica, CA. “The lighter you are, and the more you are burned, the longer it will take. Generally, the first few days are redness and itching, following by a week of skin sloughing called desquamation.”

For more severe sunburn, it may take a few weeks to reach full recovery.


Sunburn treatment


#1: Take a cool shower or swim.

When you burn your hand, your first instinct is to run it under cold water. And according to Dr. Minars, with sunburn it’s no different — you may instinctively want to jump in the pool or take a cool shower.

While this is a good first step, it’s important to avoid further sun exposure. You also want to avoid long showers, as this can dry out your already dry and damaged skin.

#2: Draw a soothing bath.

To allow your skin to heal to its best capacity, “try a tepid bath incorporating soothing oils like chamomile or lavender,” says Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Harold Lancer. “Soak yourself from head to toe for about 10 to 15 minutes. This helps to ease the dry, dead skin cells so they dissipate faster and more invisibly. Following the oil bath, use coconut oil and apply it gently to the skin, as it will help soothe and restore the skin’s barrier. This will also allow any peeling skin to sort of slide off, as opposed to flake.”

#3: Use a milk compress.

New York City dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz suggests you “use milk and water compresses topically on the skin because both provide effective relief. The evaporation of the milk and water causes a cooling sensation, and the protein in the milk buffers the irritated skin and makes it feel much better.”

To create a milk compress, soak a clean cloth in a bowl with equal parts milk and cool water. Then apply the cloth to the affected area for five minutes, repeating three times. You can do this two to three times per day.

#4: Make use of over-the-counter medications.

Both Dr. Minars and Schultz advise that if you have discomfort, redness, swelling or a burning sensation, over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, Aleve or Advil help with inflammation and provide pain relief.


#5: Use the power of stem cells.

“One of the best methods to speed up the healing process is to harness the healing power of stem cells,” informs Dr. Lancer.

“The stem cells stimulate epidermal (the outermost layer of skin) regeneration at the cellular level, in addition to improving cellular barrier function. I’d recommend Lift Serum Intense, a product created with plant-based stem cells from the Criste Marine plant – a uniquely resilient maritime plant found in coastal regions of France, which is able to survive both the harsh sunlight and drying salt water conditions of its natural habitat. Applying the Lift Serum to parched, toasty skin signals the body to send healthy, new cells to replace those that were burned or dried out. It also helps the skin regain its moisture balance and prevents or reverses free radical damage.”

#6: Rely on eggs and antioxidants.

“If your sunburn is a little deeper, you might want to use egg whites and rub them on the affected area, as the albumin helps with wound healing. I’d also recommend taking vitamins E and C orally as antioxidants. And you might want to take fish oils to help with the oxidative damage that’s been caused from the sun,” says Dr. Kormeili. Fish oils can also be applied directly to the skin to promote healing.

#7: Moisturize.

Your skin will be extra dry, therefore you need to moisturize, and moisturize often. Dr. Minars advises, “the old-fashioned remedy of butter is a bad idea. So is Vaseline, as these both trap moisture. Instead, use aloe vera gel, which is very effective at soothing and moisturizing mild burns.”

#8: Hydrate.

Dr. Minars also recommends sufficient hydration. Naturally, sunburn will lead to dehydration. In the days following sunburn you need to increase your liquid intake. “While water is good, Gatorade or Powerade are better because they replenish the body’s electrolytes,” he says.


#9: Consult with a dermatologist.

“If you have access to a dermatologist, call your doc!” suggests Dr. Kormeili. “I give my patients prescription cortisones to help with the healing. You can also try 1% hydrocortisone over-the-counter and rub a thick layer over your sunburn, then cover the area with Saran Wrap so it penetrates the skin more effectively.”

#10: Take severe sunburn seriously.

Dr. Kormeili emphasizes, “if you are blistering, have a fever, chills or feel incredibly uncomfortable, get medical help! While you can manage milder sunburn on your own, severe sunburn might scar or lead to infection. Please take it seriously!”

Dr. Schultz suggests that you monitor your condition closely for progressive worsening of symptoms and to seek professional help when necessary. “If you have a fever over 101 degrees, if you have chills, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or if your sunburn is actually getting worse after the first 12 hours – these are all signs that you need medical attention,” he says.


#11: Watch your bath heat.

“If your sunburn is over a widespread part of your body, you may want to take a bath over a shower because the pressure of the shower water often hurts,” says Dr. Schultz. “Make sure you draw cool or lukewarm water in your bath – avoid ice cold or hot water, as both can make your condition worse.”

#12: Avoid vigorous rubbing.

“After a bath or shower, don’t rub your skin dry – pat it dry,” says Dr. Schultz. And you should always apply topical agents gently to avoid damaging the skin further.

#13: Avoid scratching.

With more severe sunburn that causes blistering or peeling skin, “whatever you do, do not scratch or pop your blisters,” advises Dr. Minars. “The itching caused by your skin peeling can be extremely uncomfortable, but an infection can make a bad situation worse.”

“Be sure to avoid topical anesthetics like benzocaine and lidocaine, as these can cause irritation,” advises Dr. Schultz. “Also avoid the topical antihistamine benadryl cream, which can also create an irritation like the topical anesthetics.”

#15. Avoid the sun.

All our dermatologists agree that if you have any kind of sunburn, do not expose yourself to the sun as it will only make your skin condition worse.

Sunburn prevention

Of course, the best advice is: avoid getting sunburn in the first place!

To do so, Dr. Schultz suggests the following four sun-smart rules:

  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen liberally and often.
  • Reapply every 2-3 hours and immediately after swimming or sweating.
  • Don’t forget the “forgotten areas,” the top of ears, back of neck and tops of the feet.
  • Obey the shadow rule: When your shadow is shorter than you, the sun is the strongest, so beware!

» Learn more on the benefits of mineral sunscreen vs. chemical sunscreen and which brands are best

Best Aloe Vera Gels for Sunburn

Sunburns can be terribly hot and sore — not to mention flaky and unattractive. Using either one of these aloe vera gels will help soothe your skin and keep it hydrated.

Natur-Sense Organic Aloe Vera Gel

Natur-Sense Organic Aloe Vera Gel

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Cruelty-free, gluten-free, fragrance-free, and of course 99.75% organic, Natur-Sense Organic Aloe Vera Gel is one of the purest aloe vera products available. Its high potency of vitamins, minerals, and proteins formulation is free of harsh chemicals, making it great for children or those with sensitive skin. It also lasts up to two years, and does not need to be refrigerated.

Amara Organics Aloe Vera Gel

Amara Organics Aloe Vera Gel

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Another all-natural gel, Amara Organics Aloe Vera Gel is cold-pressed with no added color or fragrance. Unlike other aloe formulations, this gel is very thin and goes on extremely light, making it great for those who don’t like the sticky and heavy texture of aloe vera. If you’re at all hesitant, Amara is so confident in the quality of their product that they offer a 100% money-back guarantee.

Lily of the Desert Aloe Vera Gelly

Lily of the Desert Aloe Vera Gelly

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This aloe vera gel is popular not only as a sunburn aid but also as a hair gel and acne treatment. While all aloe vera formulations can be used for these properties, if you want to soothe your burn while improving your skin’s overall health, Lily of the Desert might be right choice for you.

Seven Minerals 100% Organic Aloe Vera Gel

Seven Minerals 100% Organic Aloe Vera Gel

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This made-in-the-USA product is the only aloe vera gel to be USDA certified organic — it’s actually 100% (not 99%) organic, with zero preservatives or thickeners. Using this gel is as close as you can get to cracking open an aloe leaf, which means it’s ultra-soothing and toxin-free. Of course, because it is completely organic, Seven Minerals Aloe Vera is more watery than you might be used to and must be kept refrigerated.

Banana Boat Aloe Vera After Sun Gel

Banana Boat Aloe Vera After Sun Gel

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A great offering from the classic sunscreen brand, Banana Boat Aloe Vera After Sun Gel is a back-up plan if you forgot to reapply your sunscreen. While not as concentrated as the above-mentioned organic options, Banana Boat’s version still receives very high satisfaction ratings. It’s also reef safe, meaning that it’s free of chemicals that damage coral reefs, so you can wear it on your next beach vacation guilt-free.

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