You’re usually really good about protecting your skin, but it only takes one time. You were outside enjoying yourself, maybe playing an outdoor sport, and you forgot to use sunscreen, or maybe you forgot to reapply when you should have.
Whatever the reason, you ended up with a nasty sunburn. Now what? It hurts and it’s probably going to peel and look horrible. Plus you’re worried about your skin cancer risk. What can you do?
1. Cool Down Immediately
A sunburn is a sign of inflammation in the skin. That means you need to cool it down immediately. The best way to do that is to submerge the area in cool water. If you’re near a natural body of water like the ocean, lake, or stream and you can’t get home right away, get into the water to cool your skin down. (Avoid pools as the chlorine can further irritate the skin.) If you’re at home, jump in a cool shower, or run cool water over the affected area.
If you can’t get home and there’s no water around, turn to our Rescue + Relief Spray. It instantly soothes, cools, and repairs, pulling heat out of the skin and diminishing redness. It includes water lily, which has potent regenerative affects while valerian and comfrey help reduce inflammation.
Finally, if you don’t have water or our Rescue + Relief Spray, cover up your skin and stay in the shade until you can tend to your skin.
2. Apply Aloe Vera
When you get out of the water, pat yourself dry, leaving the skin somewhat damp, and immediately apply some aloe vera gel. Aloe vera has natural burn-relieving properties and is one of the best ingredients you can use on sunburned skin. (By the way, all CV Skinlabs products contain aloe for its amazing hydrating, soothing, and healing benefits.)
If you don’t have any aloe, use a moisturizing lotion or cream. (Our Body Repair Lotion has natural anti-inflammatory ingredients that will help.) If you’re in pain, try a calamine lotion. For more severe discomfort, use hydrocortisone cream.
There are sunburn gels available that contain pain-relieving lidocaine. These may also work well, as long as you’re not allergic to the lidocaine. The Mayo Clinic notes that “-caine” products like benzocaine can irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
No matter what, avoid products with petroleum ingredients (like mineral oil) as they can trap heat in your skin, making your burn worse.
3. Use Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers
If the skin is still uncomfortable, use over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and provide relief. These medications can not only help you feel better, but they can reduce the swelling and redness in the skin.
4. Drink Water
A sunburn draws fluids away from the body to direct toward the wounded skin, so you’ll want to rehydrate at your earliest convenience. Then continue drinking water throughout the day to hydrate from the inside out.
5. Treat Blisters
Blisters signal a deeper level of damage on your skin. If your burn was bad enough to cause blisters, be extra careful with them. Do not rupture, peel, or pop them, but do everything you can to leave them intact.
Open blisters can lead to other problems like infections and scarring. Treat the area gently and continue to apply aloe throughout the day. If the blister breaks, clean it with mild soap and water and then use an antibiotic ointment on the wound and cover it with a bandage.
If the burns are severe or if the skin is raw, see your dermatologist immediately to avoid infections and scarring.
6. Continue to Take Cool Showers and Baths
Cool water soothes inflammation, so until the redness and inflammation go away, continue to take cool showers and baths. Avoid hot water on the affected area. After every bath or shower, pat dry and apply your aloe lotion.
If you don’t have time to get in the shower, place a cool damp cloth on the burned area for 10-15 minutes. For more cooling relief, wet a washcloth and leave it in the freezer for a while. For extra care, soak the cloth in milk instead—the natural fat and protein can soothe the sunburn and create a protective film over the skin.
If you’re feeling dry and itchy, try an oatmeal bath. It will naturally soothe the itch while calming the inflammation. You can also soak in a milk bath for relief and protection. Finally, apply our soothing Body Repair Lotion to help skin stay hydrated and encourage repair.
7. Protect the Burned Area
The last thing you want to do is exposed the burned area to the sun, so be sure to wear clothing to protect it until it has healed. Sunscreen is not enough—it only partially protects the skin. It’s much better to use clothing. If your skin is too raw to put clothing over it, be sure to use umbrellas and shade or simply stay out of the sun until your skin heals.
Meanwhile, avoid harsh products like strong cleansers, exfoliators, scrubbers, and hydroxy acids. Stick to moisturizer only.
8. Apply, Apply, Apply Moisturizer
For the first day, it’s best to apply an aloe gel at every opportunity. Once the inflammation goes down a little, you can switch to a gentle moisturizer with healing properties. Remember that your skin has been damaged, so what you want is something that will help encourage the skin to heal and regenerate itself. Look for ingredients like aloe, beta-glucan, chamomile, ginger, and turmeric.
Then be sure to apply your moisturizer frequently throughout the day. Moisture is your friend when it comes to treating a sunburn. Apply before you go to bed, too, so your skin stays moisturized overnight.
9. Treat Peeling Skin Gently
Within a few days, your sunburn may start to peel. This is how your body gets rid of the dead, damaged skin. Try not to pull on the peeling skin, as you can create wounds that will take longer to heal. Simply continue to moisturize over the peeling area. You can also wash it gently with a cloth to slough off the dead skin.
10. Always Keep an Eye on Your Skin
It’s unlikely one burn will lead to skin cancer, so don’t worry. Usually, skin cancer develops because of a combination of factors, so as long as you protect your skin, eat a healthy diet, exercise, and take care of yourself, you can increase your odds of avoiding it.
It’s wise to keep an eye on your skin, though, even if you haven’t recently suffered a burn. Watch for unusual moles or marks that change in appearance over time, and get yearly checkups with your dermatologist.
How do you soothe a sunburn?