No matter how much sunscreen we stockpile leading up to summer, sometimes we can’t seem to fully hide from the dreaded sunburn. According to the experts, it’s what you do immediately after that will help or hinder your healing.
“The first 24 hours are critical to how a sunburn heals,” explains dermatological nurse and celebrity aesthetician Natalie Aguilar. “Pain, discoloration, damage and length of healing can all be minimized if raw, sunburned skin is nursed properly at home.”
The next time your skin gets a little too red, rely on these expert tips to soothe a painful sunburn naturally.
New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD says a lukewarm bath or shower will help cool down the skin, but to be careful when doing so. “It is important not to scrub the skin, but to pat yourself dry to prevent irritation,” she adds.
Opt for a Soothing Mist
Dr. Peredo notes that witch hazel “is great to help itchiness and minimize pain,” but when that doesn’t cut it, she recommends one specific product when caring for a sunburn both on the face and body: PrimaSkin Nano-Formulated Skin Solution ($65). “Nano molecular glutathione is the active ingredient in the mist which is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties,” notes the doctor.
Or Make Your Own Mist
Aguilar says making your own water spray can be very beneficial. “Spraying your skin with water can aid in healing by providing comfort and external hydration—it can even be sprayed over aloe vera gel,” she says, recommending storing the spray bottle in ice water to keep it cool.
For even more soothing benefits, “oat water” can also be used. “Soak one tablespoon of oats in one cup of water for 30 minutes,” says Aguilar. “Drain the oats and save that water to fill your spray bottle.”
Get Crafty With Oatmeal
Colloidal water—which is made when soaking colloidal oatmeal in water then bathing in the murky water—is beneficial for healing, de Sousa explains. Another way to reap the benefits: grinding a cup of colloidal oatmeal and adding it to your cold bath.
“Oatmeal paste is easy to make and is a common household staple,” says Aguilar. To make a paste, blend dry oats in a blender and then add water or chamomile tea. “Once blended, the paste can be placed in the refrigerator and applied as a mask two or three times per day.”
According to Aguilar, oatmeal is beneficial to sunburns because it is rich in beta gluten. “Beta-glucans provide the skin with deep hydration, bacteria-fighting properties and the most magical process of recruiting immune cells to repair, soothe and protect our skin’s barrier.”
Rely on Cold Water
“Showering and/or washing your face with cold water will help prevent blistering and skin hardening,” says celebrity esthetician Biba de Sousa.
For extra compromised skin, Aguilar says the pressure of the shower droplets may cause further injury or end up drying out the skin further. “I recommend placing cold water cotton cloths over the burnt areas for a few minutes, then re-soaking them in cold water once the towel becomes warm,” she says. “This should be done as often as needed to soothe and control discomfort and control the heat associated with sunburns.”
When healing from a sunburn, Aguilar says heat and sweating should be strictly avoided. “Outdoor heat, hot water, the blow dryer, cooking with the oven as well as sweating should be avoided,” she says. The reason: “Unnecessary heat can worsen and interfere with the way a sun burn is healing.”
Applying soothing, moisturizing ingredients to the burn will keep pain at a minimum, but Dr. Peredo notes staying hydrated from the inside out is key. “It is important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration which can be caused by a sunburn,” she says.
Celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau recommends drinking cold water, too. “Since your body loses fluids when it’s overheated, it’s important to drink ice water to keep the body’s temperature down and to internally hydrate,” she explains.
Know Which Aloe to Use
Experts agree that the best form of aloe vera is the diluted aloe from the plant itself. However, if you don’t have access to it, an aloe gel will do the trick—but make sure it’s as natural as possible. “The gel should be clear to a slightly golden color,” says Roleau, explaining that artificial colorants and dyes are likely to further irritate our already sensitive skin.
“Try placing the gel in the refrigerator for around 30 minutes before applying a thick coat on the burn,” says Rouleau. “Apply the gel to the skin, let it dry for 15 minutes, then rinse,” she says, advising we repeat the steps every three hours. If you don’t have aloe on hand, celebrity esthetician Nerida Joy says that chilled cucumbers are your next best option.
Soak in Milk
“Soaking in milk will also help heal a burn,” says Rouleau, advising a lukewarm or cool bath mixed with six cups of milk. “A cool bath helps to lower the internal body temperature and milk, due to its fat, protein and pH, can have an anti-inflammatory effect and help provide some comfort to tight, burned skin.”
Covington, LA dermatologist Christel Malinski, MD says green tea is surprisingly great for sensitive skin. “I love to brew green tea and cool it down in the fridge to make compresses for sunburns of post-procedure care,” she says.
Know the Black List
“With any sunburn, you want to stay far away from acidic fruits, all oils and heat,” says Joy. More ingredients to stay away from include petroleum, benzocaine, or lidocaine.
Wear Loose Clothing
“Wearing tight or heavy, non-cotton clothing such as jeans, leather and wool can irritate the skin and cause friction,” says Aguilar. “It’s best to wear light and loose cotton to stay cool and avoid skin irritation.”