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woman applying a home remedy on sunburn

Sunburn remedies: The best ways to soothe sunburn at home

What’s the best thing for sunburn? There are no sunburn remedies that can magically make scorched skin vanish. But there are a few things that can ease your suffering.1 Does an afternoon lazing in blazing sun mean you’ve spent an evening typing ‘best treatment for sunburn’ anxiously into Google? Unfortunately, even the most loyal SPF users aren’t totally immune to the sun’s harmful rays. In fact, according to the British Skin Foundation, 85% of Britons confess to suffering with sunburn three or more times in their lifetime.2

Preventing sunburn is obviously a priority, but if you get caught out this summer, here are some sunburn saviours that can soothe your red patches.

What happens to skin in the sun?

You already know too much exposure to the sun is harmful and can cause damage to your skin. But do you understand what’s happening to your skin? Before we delve into sunburn soothers, first we explain what causes sunburn.

First of all, it’s not the heat of the sun that causes sunburn. The damage is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The UV rays from sunlight comes in two types: UVA and UVB. It’s UVB rays that cause sunburn. Your skin produces a coloured pigment called melanin to protect you from these rays.  When exposed to sunlight, your skin produces more melanin. This causes your skin to darken (what we call a tan.)

But melanin can’t offer full defence from UVB rays. If your skin is exposed to more sun that it can manage, you can end up with sunburn.

The first sign of sunburn is usually your skin changing colour – anything from slightly pink to raging red. The affected skin can also feel warm to the touch and sore. Over subsequent days, the pain and redness reduce, but can be replaced by itching, dryness, and peeling skin.

What’s good for sunburn?

Here's 4 things to do if you experience sunburn:3,4
  1. Find some shade

As soon as you realise you’re getting burnt, the best thing for sunburn is to get out of the sun. Go inside or find some shade, and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. And then continue your sunburn treatment.

  1. Cool and calm the skin

Too soothe the burning sensation, take a cool shower or bath to calm your skin. Over the next few hours continue this cooling process, using a damp towel as a compress, or a bag of ice wrapped in a towel. This drains the heat from the skin. As well as soothing the sunburn, this can also help to reduce further redness.

  1. Hydrate

To support the repair of the skin barrier as quickly as possible, hydration is essential. The use of aloe vera for sunburn is widely recommended. The common plant extract is well known for being refreshing, hydrating, soothing and has antioxidant properties that can help soothe red, inflamed skin.5 You’ll probably find the best lotion for sunburn contains aloe vera as a key ingredient. However, soy-based moisturisers can also offer effective sunburn relief. Continue to use a sunburn cream for a few days to keep burnt areas moist and hydrated.
  1. Prevent further sun damage

Cover your sunburn from direct sunlight and avoid exposure to sun until the skin is healed. And wear a high factor SPF to help limit further damage to the skin.

A few things to avoid when you’re looking for sunburn remedies

How to treat sunburn is not only about the things you should do, it’s also about what to avoid.

First of all, although cooling the skin is important, resist the temptation to apply ice directly to the skin. And pick your sunburn cream wisely. Some ingredients in moisturisers, such as fragrances, can further irritate sunburnt skin. In addition, avoid products containing petroleum, thick creams, butters and oil-based balms as they could trap heat in the skin. These creams could potentially make your sunburn even worse.6,7

Face sunburn treatment

In general, the same advice applies to your face as any other areas of sunburnt skin. However, you may want to simplify your skincare regime while your skin is recovering. Bland is definitely better when it comes to treating sunburn on your face.

Sunburnt skin is highly sensitive and more susceptible to irritation, so avoiding exfoliants and fragranced skincare is advised. In particular, substitute products such as retinols and alpha hydroxy acids with gentle moisturisers until your skin heals.

But most importantly, keep your sunburnt face out of the sun. As one of the most exposed parts of your body, this can feel a challenge. But applying high factor SPF and wearing a hat when outdoors are essential parts of face sunburn treatment.

What happens if your sunburn is severe?

These home sunburn remedies can be effective when managing mild and moderate cases. But be alert to signs it could be severe. For example, blisters, swelling, a high temperature, nausea, feeling dizzy or tired, headaches and muscle cramps can all signal your sunburn may be more serious. In these cases, seek advice from your doctor or pharmacist on the best sunburn treatment.

Last updated: 15 July 2020