How To Get Rid Of A Sunburn Fast, According To Experts

Must-know advice and product recommendations from the experts.

Woman with Sunburned Face
Photo: Getty Images

There's no doubt about it: Dealing with a slight or severe sunburn is never fun. Repeated bouts of sunburn are not only painful but can also increase your risk of skin cancer. Below, we ask two board-certified dermatologists (a.k.a. skincare experts!) for their advice on how to get rid of a sunburn fast so that you can get on with your day pain-free.

How To Avoid A Sunburn

The easiest way to get rid of sunburn is to avoid it in the first place. "Diligent adherence to sun-protective measures is critical and, first and foremost, begins with the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen that shields skin from both UVA and UVB rays," explains Dr. Rachel Maiman, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical. "The sunscreen should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and ideally, the formulation should be water-resistant, and the sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or sooner if swimming or exercising." 

Additional protective measures include protective clothing and accessories, like hats (particularly crucial for men with hair thinning or balding) and UV-blocking fabrics (rated by a system known as UPF).

For folks with red hair and quick-to-burn type skin, you must be much more rigorous than those who tan easily. "An excellent study conducted in Vail, Colorado proved that sunscreen with an SPF of 100 is significantly more effective than SPF of 50," explains Dr. Anar Mikailov, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of KP Away. "So for those who burn easily, SPF of 100 is a must—if used regularly (about every 2-3 hours), then I can guarantee you will not have a sunburn."

Also, apply sunscreen about 10-20 minutes before sun exposure to allow the sunscreen to settle. If you stay out in the sun, reapply after being in the water or after 90 minutes. "You want to make sure you apply a liberal amount of sunscreen all over your face and body, including often-missed spots like the back of neck, top of ears, and your feet, too," says Dr. Mikailov.

How To Get Rid Of A Sunburn Fast

There are multiple steps to take to get rid of a sunburn fast. First, you want to use a moisturizer containing aloe vera or soy to soothe burned skin. "If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you can apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream," says Dr. Maiman. "Although it may be tempting to use over-the-counter topical anesthetics to relieve pain (these products typically end with "-caine," like benzocaine), they should be avoided, as they have the potential to irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction."

Another option is taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce swelling, redness, and discomfort. "Cool the skin with a cool bath or shower to reduce the heat in the skin," suggests Dr. Mikailov. "In areas of significant burn, 'slugging' with a thick layer of Vaseline or 100 percent petroleum jelly will help the skin heal."

If and when your skin starts to peel, avoid anything rough to slough off the peeling skin—Dr. Mikailov advises avoiding fragrance-free, non-irritating body washes and using no exfoliating products. Additionally, you'll want to drink extra water to compensate for insensible water loss. "This occurs because a sunburn draws fluid to the skin's surface and away from the rest of the body and puts you at risk of dehydration," explains Dr. Maiman.

Finally, while sunburned skin is healing, be extra cautious to protect it from further damage. "Wear clothing that covers your skin when outdoors, with tightly-woven fabrics being preferred," says Dr. Maiman.

When To Seek Medical Help For Your Sunburn

According to Dr. Maiman, seek medical attention if the sunburn blisters and covers a large part of the body. "Further, it should be sought if the sunburn is accompanied by a high fever, headache, severe pain, dehydration, confusion, nausea, or chills," she says. "Another indication for seeking professional medical help includes evidence of a superimposed skin infection, such as swelling, pus, red streaks, or extreme pain out of proportion to the skin's appearance." If your sunburn isn't responding to conservative at-home care, a medical opinion is an appropriate next step.

What Not To Do After Getting A Sunburn

Do not stay in the sun. Avoid subjecting the injured skin to direct sunlight if repeat exposure is unavoidable. "Do not pop any blisters, as the fluid inside blisters is there to help the skin heal," explains Dr. Mikailov. "Avoid any exfoliation, both physical and chemical (no AHAs), avoid tretinoin or retinol, and avoid products with dye or fragrance."

It's also best to avoid putting ice or ice packs directly on sunburnt skin, as this can exacerbate the burn by cold-induced injury, suggests Dr. Maiman. Also, you don't want to scratch or try to remove peeling skin.

Best Products For Sunburn

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Sasha Suncare Mineral Sunscreen Spray SPF 30

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Badger Aloe Vera Gel

aloe gel
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Cetaphil Soothing Gel Cream with Aloe

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KP Away Lipid Repair Emollient

kp cream
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Burt's Bee After Sun Soother

burts bees
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