Here’s How to Treat Sunburn the Right Way, According to Dermatologists


These more serious symptoms usually appear a few hours after excessive sun exposure, but according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it can take a day or more before you know how bad your burn is. A few days after the burn, the top layer of skin may shed (this is your body’s attempt to heal itself using its own natural “dressing”), and the underlying layer may be an unusual color and pattern for several days.

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How long does a sunburn last?

Well, every sunburn is different, but bad sunburns can take several days or even a week to heal, says the Mayo Clinic. And does a sunburn always turn into a tan? Not necessarily.

Some sunburns fade to a tan when you’ve naturally built up some melanin, a pigment that in turn increases in your skin with stimulation from UV radiation. However, you should never Actively try to get that “first burn” of the season, then let it fade into a tan, as it’s still damaging to your skin, advises Dr. Chon). If you have a decent amount of melanin to start with, it partially blocks the UV rays and creates a slightly deeper skin coloration or tan instead of sunburn. But if you have very fair skin and essentially no melanin to protect you, you also don’t have enough to tan, adds Dr. Chon added.

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How to treat sunburn

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to magically make your sunburn go away, but you can treat sunburn with tactics that can reduce both redness and your suffering.

As soon as you realize you’ve burned, it’s important to get out of the sun and treat the burn as soon as possible, explains the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). Try some (or all) of these tips to help:

Take cool baths or showers.

The tenderness and possible redness of sunburn (you might not notice a pink or red hue depending on your skin tone) is the physical manifestation of sun damage, your skin’s response to injury, says Dr. Chon. Of course, you should cool it down as much as possible to tame the inflammation. Hot water can irritate your (already irritated) skin, but standing under a cool shower spray can help reduce inflammation, Gary Goldenberg, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells SELF. If you can plunge yourself into a cool bath, even better.

As soon as you get out of the bath or shower, gently pat yourself dry. Leave a little moisture on your skin and then apply a moisturizer, the AAD advises. This helps trap the water on your skin and can reduce dryness, which would make your irritation worse.

If you don’t have time to shower or bathe, place a cool, damp towel on your skin for relief, says Dr. Goldenberg, and then apply a moisturizer. When you’re done with your shower or bath, wear light and loose clothing rather than anything itchy or heavy to avoid extra friction from your already uncomfortable bad sunburn, adds Dr. Chon added.

Use a moisturizer with aloe vera, soy, or calamine. If that’s not enough, try hydrocortisone cream.

There seem to be a few staples when it comes to sunburn. People often turn to aloe vera for its skin-soothing effects, and its anti-inflammatory properties (thanks to a compound called aloin) may actually help with sunburn irritation, say experts at the Mayo Clinic and the AAD. Soy, found in skincare products like moisturizers and after-sun lotions (look for soybean oil or extract on the label), might be a more surprising sunburn-aftercare ingredient, but it might allow your skin to use more hydrating water accordingly include to research published in International Journal of Molecular Sciences.1 According to the Mayo Clinic, you may also want to apply calamine lotion, which can help with itching and discomfort. And if you’re really having a hard time with tons of itching, you can use a 1% over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream, says Dr. Chon.

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