How to Soothe Sunburn Pain

by Christine Yu
August 6, 2020

It happens to even the most avid sunscreen users. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you come home from a day out in the sun with a painful, red sunburn — the result of a little too much exposure to burning UVB rays. Ouch!

Although you can't reverse all of the damage that burns do to your skin's DNA over the long term, you can learn how to soothe sunburn pain with these five quick and easy tips.



How to Soothe Sunburn Pain in 5 Steps

While there's no magical solution for sunburn pain relief, it helps to treat your burned skin as soon as you can. Here are five tips from the skin and sun experts at the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation.



1. Cool Off

Whether it's a cold bath or shower or a dip in a lake, cooling off your skin can help soothe the sizzle and relieve some of the pain. If you don't have time for a bath or shower, you can use a cold compress or towel.



2. Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize

Since sunburns drain your skin of moisture, rehydrating will make your skin feel better. If you've just stepped out of the shower, gently pat yourself partially dry before you moisturize, as applying lotion to damp skin locks in extra hydration. Keep swiping on lotion over the next few days until your sunburn has healed.

Use products with ingredients like aloe vera and soy, which soothe skin, or hyaluronic acid, which helps your skin retain moisture. While it might seem like a good idea to slather on a thick petroleum-based product, that kind of formula can actually trap heat in your skin and make your sunburn feel worse.



3. Drink Up

You probably drink more water during a day out in the sun anyway (hopefully), but keeping your water intake up is especially important when you have a sunburn. Since your skin is already dehydrated, it draws water from other parts of your body to rehydrate, so you need to be extra vigilant about refilling that water bottle.



4. Don't Pick!

It's super tempting to pick at peeling skin or pop a blister. But, according to the Mayo Clinic, both of those annoyances are your body's way of naturally shedding damaged skin and healing infections.

When you notice your skin is asking for help, treat it gently and apply more moisturizer as needed. If your skin is blistering a lot or is super painful, on the other hand, call your dermatologist for a professional opinion.



5. Protect Your Skin While It Heals

As your sunburn heals, take extra good care of it when you head outside — sunburned skin is super sensitive to acquiring more UV damage. Cover up with clothing made of tightly woven fabrics that keep light from shining through. And, of course, wear sunscreen. Opt for Zinc oxide sunscreens for sensitive, sunburned skin.

Sunburns are not only painful in the short term, they also cause premature aging skin and can put you at risk of developing skin cancer later on. Rather than risk a sunburn, get that sun-kissed glow by using a self-tanner and apply (and reapply!) a broad-spectrum sunscreen to your bronzed skin every time you're outside.



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I'm a New York City-based freelance writer covering health, science, and all things wellness who has finally embraced oil-based cleansers.

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