How to treat a sunburn
A sunburn affects the skin in a similar way that a burn from the oven does, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "The skin barrier becomes disrupted and inflamed, and there is injury to skin cells themselves." So, if you develop a sunburn, you actually want to take care of the skin from the outside in and the inside out, he adds.
The first step is to gently wash your skin with a hydrating cleanser to remove sunscreen, sand, dirt, and oil without further disrupting the skin barrier, Dr. Zeichner tells ishonest. Take care to avoid harsh scrubs and exfoliators, since this could further irritate your skin. After, gently apply a moisturizer-dry-skin' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >light moisturizer to help repair the damaged skin barrier and replace lost hydration. Steer clear of heavy ointments since they tend to trap heat and prevent the skin from cooling down, Dr. Zeichner says, and choose products that contain soothing ingredients like aloe-vera-benefits-that-dermatologists-and-researchers-want-you-to-know' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >aloe vera instead.
For individual red areas, apply 1% hydrocortisone cream to calm inflammation, he suggests. "The quicker you soothe inflammation, the less potential damage the skin will experience." As for any open wounds or raw skin, treat it the same way you would treat a thermal burn: Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment like bacitracin ($5; amazon.com) to the individual areathis will form a protective seal and prevent it from getting infected, says Dr. Zeichner. But if you develop a blister, make sure to leave the roof intact because it protects the underlying raw skin from the environment and acts like a natural bandage, he adds.
Whatever you do, don't pop blisters or peel your skin, as this can lead to infection and scarring, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. If your blisters are making it uncomfortable to wear clothes, sleep, or walk, contact your doctor about draining them or treating them safely, she adds.
The best at-home remedies for sunburn relief
While it may seem obvious, it's worth noting that you need to stay out of the sun or wear sun protective clothing if you have to be outdoors while your sunburn is recovering. Keep your skin cool by taking cold showers and applying moist, cool compresses. You can also take ibuprofen to decrease inflammation, and be sure to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. "Sunburned skin is not able to maintain moisture as well, so there's a higher risk of dehydration," Dr. Nazarian explains.
Cucumber slices, milk, and yogurt can also be applied to the skin to help soothe a sunburn. Applying cold milk compresses or soaking in a milk bath will help pull heat away from your body, while the vitamin E in yogurt can help minimize inflammation, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City.