Look, summer can lead to lots of beautiful things — rooftop dinners, beach getaways, maybe even half-days on Fridays if you’re lucky. I’m never going to tell you not to bask in the feeling of the sun on your skin (hello, mood boost), but I’m going to warn you that if you’re not strict with SPF, things could get ugly.
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Cetaphil Face Wash, Hydrating Gentle Skin Cleanser for Dry to Normal Sensitive Skin
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Aveeno Fragrance Free Soothing Bath Treatment
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La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
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I know it, you know it, everyone knows it: A sunburn is horrendous. The discomfort, the peeling, the redness — it’s just not a place you want to be. However, things happen, and in addition to urging you to wear sunscreen every day, I’m going to tell you exactly what to do to heal your sunburns as quickly as possible.
To deliver the highest quality gems, I chatted with board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green about the steps you can take and the products you can use to breeze through sunburn hell. Be warned, though, even the mildest sunburns can take up to five days to heal. So, if things are more severe, you’re looking at two weeks of recovery, says Dr. Green.
So, now that we’ve managed our expectations (and pinky sworn to wear sunscreen all day, every day), scroll on for seven simple steps you can take to get rid of a sunburn fast.
Step 1: UV Protection
Once you notice you’ve been burnt, it can literally feel like all hope is lost. But quickly moving into the shade and lathering on some (more) sunscreen are easy steps you can take to protect your skin from further UV damage and start the healing process ASAP. Dr. Green suggests reaching for mineral sunscreens (especially ones with zinc oxide) because they’re super gentle and won’t worsen dryness.
Step 2: Cool and Cleanse
Lots of things will start to kick in once you get past the initial burn, including redness, inflammation and, honestly, just a lot of regret. You can tackle the first two by getting under some cold water, whether that’s using a damp washcloth, taking a shower, or even just getting into the ocean at the beach.
Cleansing your skin may seem daunting at this point, especially if a large portion of your body is burnt. However, Dr. Green says that sticking to ultra-gentle products (like this Cetaphil cleanser) will help you avoid discomfort as well as any further irritation.
Step 3: Pain Relief
If cold water isn’t enough to relieve that my skin-is-on-fire feeling, you can take treatment to the next level with some anti-inflammatory meds you likely already have in your bag (hello, Advil and Tylenol!) But if you don’t have a stash with you, just look out for anything that says NSAID (that’s a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, BTW) on the bottle.
Another soothing step you can take (especially if you’re dealing with full-body burns) is preparing yourself a super luxurious colloidal oatmeal bath. “Oats have the ability to hold a lot of moisture, helping to keep the skin hydrated and prevent dryness and flaking,” says Dr. Green, and colloidal oats specifically contain lots of anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
But if you have open wounds or blisters as a result of your sunburns (I’m really hoping you don’t, friend), Dr. Green suggests avoiding soaking in baths like this until you’re further along in the healing process.
Step 4: Moisture, Moisture, Moisture
You’ve probably heard that aloe is your best friend when it comes to sunburns, and I’m here to set the record straight: It’s true. Yes, it’s cooling and soothing, but it’ll also help speed up the healing process. How? “Keeping the skin moisturized facilitates the repair process by preventing peeling and maintaining the skin’s protective barrier,” says Dr. Green.
The same principle goes for your daily moisturizer, which should actually be your several-times-a-day moisturizer during your sunburn healing process. This cooling La Roche Posay Double Repair Moisturizer has been a godsend whenever I’ve dealt with serious skin irritation, plus it contains glycerin — a gentle and hydrating ingredient that Dr. Green recommends seeking out when dealing with sunburns.
Step 5: Add Antioxidants
You’ve seen cleansers, moisturizers, and now a serum — what about the rest of your skincare regimen? Well, according to Dr. Green, “potentially irritating ingredients like exfoliants and retinoids should be avoided on sunburns until they’re healed, [including] acids like AHAs and BHAs, as well as exfoliating tools like loofahs.” Basically, you don’t want to do anything that can mess up the body’s natural healing process (read: keep your sunburn around even longer).
If you’re craving a little something extra, though, you’re in luck! “Antioxidants are great for protecting the skin from further UV damage and stress,” says Dr. Green.
Step 6: Let It Breathe
While you’re in your healing era, Dr. Green recommends avoiding all of your (very cute) form-fitting summer clothes to “avoid friction and further damage to the skin.” Instead, opt for breezy, button-down shirts that’ll let your sunburn breathe.
Step 7: Drink Up
The visibility and discomfort of your burns may make skincare your top priority (totally get it), but I bet you didn’t know that sunburns cause your body to push water to the surface of your skin, which can lead to major dehydration. Basically: fill up, drink up, and repeat to help your entire body bounce back.
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