You did everything right: you wore a hat, you reapplied your sunscreen, and you tried to favor the shade. But you still got a sunburn. For those of us with lighter skin, it can feel inevitable: no matter how many precautions we take, we end up with a sunburn that first big weekend of summer. So, assuming that it’s happened and you can’t time machine reverse it, what’s the best way to treat your sunburned skin?
Pop a Pill
First thing to do if possible is take an over the counter anti inflammatory medication. Ibuprofen, Aleve, or aspirin are all good for reducing inflammation, but time is of the essence. You want to take them as soon as possible after you get burned to reduce the damage. These meds will also be helpful for combatting any pain that comes along with your burn.
Assuming you’re indoors - and seriously, it’s now time to get inside!- get into a cool bath or shower. Make sure it isn’t freezing water though- that can actually be damaging for burned skin.
The cool water will keep the swelling at bay and soothe your skin. Plus, if you’ve been out in the ocean or pool, water will wash away any remaining salt or chlorine on your skin- which are both drying and damaging to your already stressed out skin.
Sunburned skin makes you dehydrated. Thanks to your burn, your internal temperature has risen, you’ve sweated out much of your body’s’ water supply, and you’ve dried out your skin cells. Even if you’re at a post-beach BBQ, it’s now super important that you pound some water- not beer. Make it your job to down as much water as possible for the rest of the evening. Throw some fruit in there if you want to make it fancy.
Slather it On
Finally, get some hydrating and antioxidant rich ingredients unto your skin, stat! Ingredients like aloe, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C and B are all wonderful for that purpose, so look for moisturizers and after sun products with these ingredients. But be careful: many of the traditional aftersun products on the market- think fluorescent green jelly looking products-have alcohol in them, which is actually horrible for a sunburn. So read the ingredients list carefully, or buy from a brand you can trust.
Pro tip: while I would never advocate for this on the regular because it would get expensive, when I get sunburned I like to use Alder New York’s Everyday Face Serum on my body. The mix of potent hyaluronic acid and vitamin B3 works like a charm to soothe, hydrate, and fight sun damage on a cellular level. So while I usually save my face serum for my face, when it’s a sunburn emergency, I put it wherever it needs to go.