Ditch redness, inflammation, pain, and peeling.
by Jessica Toscano Aug 1, 2022
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You don’t need us to tell you that sunburn sucks. Between redness, inflammation, pain, and peeling, you’re likely feeling the wrath of not wearing enough sunscreen or any at all. That’s because your skin is recovering from irreversible damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV). You know, the kind of damage that causes premature aging like wrinkles, dark spots, and leathery skin. In case you need yet another reason why applying and reapplying SPF is extremely important, sunburn significantly increases your risk of developing precancerous and cancerous cells. In fact, a 2014 longitudinal study of 108,916 vagina-havers, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, discovered that just five blistering sunburns in your teens and 20s ups your odds of developing melanoma later in life by nearly 80%!
While you can’t go back in time and undo the damage that’s already been done, you can make your healing process a tad more comfortable (and obviously, take better precautions for next time). Here’s how to treat sunburn fast.
First, you should know…
“[Sunburn happens when] ultraviolet rays, both UVA and UVB, reach the skin and create free-radical damage as well as radiation burns,” Audrey Kunin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of skincare brand DERMAdoctor, tells Intrigue. How bad your sunburn becomes depends on factors like whether you have sensitive skin, the number of SPF you use and how often you reapply, and the amount of time you spend in the sun. Although most sunburn cases are first- or second-degree and heal on their own within about a week, yours could theoretically classify as third-degree, in which you should seek immediate medical attention.
Here’s how to rate your sunburn:
First degree: This is damage to the skin’s most superficial layer. You’ll likely turn pink in color and experience mild discomfort. This type of sunburn can last up to three days.
Second degree: Damage reaches the dermis or the skin’s second layer. Redness intensifies, discomfort becomes more painful, and blisters may occur. This type of sunburn can last a week or longer. You might also experience symptoms of heat illness, including headache, muscle cramps, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. If symptoms become severe, seek immediate medical attention.
Third degree: All layers of skin and underlying fat are severely damaged. This is what Dr. Kunin describes as a “leathery-looking burn.” Skin may feel numb or appear white, and you could experience symptoms of heat illness, plus shock or heat stroke. Immediate medical attention is needed.
If your sunburn doesn’t require medical attention, you might decide to tend to it on your own. Just know that at-home treatments are meant to reduce pain, discomfort, and swelling and not heal damaged skin. That said, consider a pain reliever like Tylenol, Motrin, or Aleve to minimize pain and swelling the moment you feel sunburned, says Dr. Kunin. Applying cooling compresses (like a clean, damp towel) to the skin directly following sun exposure can also soothe immediate discomfort. If you’re extra like us, products that help with sun damage relief are a must! Here are nine of our favorites.
Suds up with this cooling gel wash immediately post-sun for instant sunburn relief. Coconut oil gently soothes, while menthol delivers an immediate chill that intensifies with colder water temperatures.
Pop these globes in the freezer before you head outdoors for an all-over chill the moment you step inside. Because they’re metal, you can expect them to freeze quicker and stay colder for longer. Run over your face, neck, shoulders, and chest to alleviate sting and reduce inflammation ASAP.
Keep peeling to a minimum with this super lightweight balm infused with skin-soothing aloe. Its scent-free (not to mention, paraben-, phthalates-, denatured alcohol-, SLS-, and SLES-free) formula is a godsend for those with everyday skin sensitivities.
Trade in your sticky aloe for this non-greasy spray that offers up to 48 hours of hydration, mess-free. Best part? One simple spritz covers hard-to-reach spots without strain.
5. PURR Skincare Face Serum, $68
Restore moisture to your face, neck, and chest with four or five drops of this luxurious serum featuring hempseed, rosehip, and camellia oils. This tactical trio offers the ultimate protection against inflammation and oxidative stress caused by damaging UV rays for continuously plump skin.
If you suffer from eczema, dermatitis, general irritation, or dryness pre-sunburn, this repair balm is a post-sun exposure dream. “The ceramides will help repair the skin’s natural barrier, and the 1% oatmeal is a maximum strength, over-the-counter medication that helps reduce redness, irritation, discomfort, dryness, and flaking,” says Dr. Kunin.
For skin that’s seriously dehydrated, slather on this intensive treatment to both restore moisture and prevent future water loss. Its rinse-free, jelly-like formula means seamless applications pre- or post-shower. Store in the refrigerator between uses to enhance its cooling effect on the skin.
8. Thrive After Sun Recovery Lotion, $14.95
Heal sunburn fast with this unique plant-based moisturizer meticulously formulated with Costa Rican regenerative extracts juanilama, fierillo and coralillo to repair skin’s barrier and lessen the immediate discomfort of sunburn.
9. Project Reef Cooling Lotion, $18
Formulated with skin-nourishing ingredients for a cool-down that’s family- and reef-friendly, Project Reef’s Cooling Lotion ensures a lasting difference in skin and environment. Its promise to you is quality skincare, while its commitment to sustainability means one pound of plastic is removed from our oceans with each purchase.