Dermatologists Share What to Do When Your Skin Peels After a Sunburn

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We all know sunburn is a major no-no in the world of skin and sun protection, but it still happens sometimes. Regardless of the countless SPF formulations on the market, a nap gone wrong or too much time in the water without reapplying, and suddenly you can feel a sunburn coming on. The damage and discomfort are enough to make a burn unpleasant, but the most unsightly side effect is certainly the peeling, which can also leave permanent marks. We asked experts what to do if you start peeling post-sunburn.

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Take an anti-inflammatory painkiller

Nanuet, NY dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD gave a proactive tip. “If possible, even before you peel, if you know you may have gotten a sunburn, take a regular aspirin or 400 to 800 mg of ibuprofen immediately to reduce the inflammatory cascade that leads to damage,” says Dr. Waldorf.

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Photo Credits: Bogdan Sonjachnyj / Shutterstock
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Use a cool milk compress

Yes, you read that right. Dr. Waldorf says a cool milk compress can be soothing. She suggests that the concoction is one part whole milk and one part water.

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Use an antioxidant topical product

Applying an antioxidant can help keep your skin healthy following the sun damage. “After the initial acute phase, use SkinCeuticals CE Ferulic ($169),” advises New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD. She says this can help “prevent sunburn cell formation (precursors to skin cancer cells) and repair the DNA damage.”

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Apply hydrating products

Both Dr. Russak and Fresno, CA dermatologist Kathleen Behr, MD say they love the SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective mask ($60) to calm and hydrate skin while it’s peeling. Dr. Behr also suggests Skinmedica HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator ($184) for further hydration. 

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Use a chemical-free sunscreen

While your skin is peeling, Dr. Behr suggests using a chemical-free sunscreen, like Colorescience with EnviroScreen. Using a mineral sunscreen rather than a chemical sunscreen will “protect the injured skin and help repair it.”

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Use a soothing topical

Dr. Waldorf suggests applying over the counter hydrocortisone before the peeling even begins and continuing this throughout the peeling process to further reduce the inflammation. Alternatively, Dr. Russak recommends applying triamcinolone and aloe.

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Don’t peel the skin off

You’ve definitely heard this one before. Although it may be tempting, don’t touch your peeling skin. Dr. Waldorf warns that if you peel your skin, “you may pull off skin that is not yet ready to peel and is still covering underlying damage.”

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Use a simple moisturizer to keep skin hydrated

Dr. Waldorf says that keeping the area well moisturized is critical to healing. She specifically advises using “a bland heavy moisturizer.”

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Be gentle

“When peeling after an unexpected sunburn, it’s important to treat your skin very gently,” says Dr. Behr. “Your skin is very sensitive to dryness and dehydration since the barrier has been disrupted.”

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Photo Credits: LStockStudio / Shutterstock

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