How to Get Rid of a Sunburn Quickly

Bye, bye, burn.

It's happened to all of us: You forget to reapply your sunscreen, and then lounge the day away in the sun — only to encounter a red, painful sunburn by sunset. While sunscreen, which defends skin ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun, is the best protector against sunburn, it's not entirely foolproof.

While you might not need a reminder, the typical symptoms of a sunburn include redness, itching, and pain; severe sunburns can cause the skin to blister, swell and even ooze. That’s why it’s best to speed up the healing process without compromising your skin. 

If your skin gets scorched by the sun, here’s how to get rid of sunburn fast, replete with insight from top dermatologists.

How to Get Rid of a Sunburn Quickly

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How Long Does a Sunburn Last?

Sunburns manifest differently from one person to the next. While some sunburns appear after a few minutes of sun exposure, others may take hours to surface. Cameron Rokhsar, MD, a double board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in New York City, says skin color affects how quickly a sunburn's effects transpire. "Lighter skin burns faster because it lacks the melanin content to protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays."

Most sunburns run their course within a few days, although more severe ones can last a few weeks. Once the skin begins to peel and flake off, the new, fresh skin emerges.

Can You Make a Sunburn Heal Faster?

You can't control the skin's response to a sunburn, but you can shorten the duration of its symptoms so the skin heals faster. Dermatologist-approved remedies help the skin to heal more quickly.

Stefani Kappel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Corona Del Mar, CA, suggests products that contain ceramides, such as CeraVe and Cetaphil. "Ceramides retain moisture in the skin and restore the barrier post-sunburn," she says. "You can also apply aloe vera, which is soothing and anti-inflammatory, to lessen a sunburn by supporting the skin barrier." Cold-pressed organic coconut oil and probiotic-rich Greek yogurt also relieve inflammation.

Keeping the skin moist with emollients is also advantageous, shares Dr. Rokhsar. Just steer clear of oil-based hydrators and anything with petroleum, which can trap heat in the skin. "Apply a bland moisturizer right after showering or bathing to seal in moisture," he says. And, while aspirin and NSAID won't hydrate the skin, they may shorten the sunburn's lifespan.

Anti-redness creams, such as Lancer Redness Relief Intense or Eucerin Advanced Hydration After Sun Lotion, can also help ease redness. Both contain a bevy of skin-comforting ingredients that reduce inflammation and irritation.

While a bath may sound heavenly for alleviating itchy, inflamed, and burning skin, it's best to bathe in cool or tepid water to keep the skin cool and calm. Another fix: A colloidal oatmeal bath using Aveeno Soothing Oatmeal Bath Treatment, which can help decrease inflammation and speed the recovery process of a sunburn.

Another sunburn-healing bath hack is to add black or green tea bags, which are rich in antioxidants, to lukewarm water to comfort the skin. "The tea acts as a vasoconstrictor and reduces inflammatory mediators to decrease discomfort and redness," Dr. Kappel explains. Then, apply ice wrapped in a damp towel to the sunburn to absorb heat from within the skin.

If all else fails, Dr. Rokhsar says a prescription topical or oral steroid can be beneficial. Prescription medication like Silvadene can also speed up healing since it's known to re-epithelialize the skin after a burn wound. "There's some evidence that LED treatments may diminish skin inflammation," he says. "However, this modality has not been scientifically studied for sunburns specifically."

Are There Any Skincare Products to Avoid?

Steer clear of acne treatment products and active ingredients like vitamin C, alpha hydroxy acids, and retinol until the sunburn resolves. The same rule goes for exfoliators and harsh or abrasive cleansers. "The goal is to decrease skin irritation, not increase it," says Dr. Kappel. Mild face and body washes, such as Kiehl's Gentle Hair & Body Wash, are hydrating and comforting to compromised skin. 

Ultimately, "a sunburn disrupts and inflames the skin barrier, so it is important to give the skin what it needs to heal," says Dr. Kappel. And whatever you do, don't force the damaged layer of skin off, especially if it's peeling or blistering — which only ups the risk of infection and skin damage and prolongs healing.

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