5 Best Remedies For Sunburn Relief: Derm-Approved Ways To Soothe
You've likely heard it thousands of times: Practicing safe sun is a nonnegotiable. And while most of the focus zeroes in on preventing sun damage (and rightfully so), sometimes sunburns happen, especially as we enter the throes of a scorching summer. Plus, burns and sun damage come in some obvious and not so obvious ways, too. For fair- and medium-skin-toned individuals, burns can be barely there pink to red, tender to the touch, and feel dry. On darker-toned individuals, skin may feel hot, overly sensitive, or simply itchy. Any skin tone may also experience peeling after the fact.
If you get burned, don't beat yourself up. Just find yourself a good aprés-sun routine. Here, we've named five of the best natural remedies for sunburn relief: skin tested and derm-approved:
There's a reason aloe's known as the original sunburn soother: Not only does the goop provide a lovely cooling sensation, but its natural anti-inflammatory properties can even spur sunburn healing. Research has shown that aloe vera may help heal first- and second-degree burns on the skin due to its antioxidant content. One antioxidant protein, in particular, called metallothionein, has been found to have a protective effect on skin that's been exposed to and damaged by UV rays. Not to mention, aloe is incredibly hydrating and moisturizing—perfect for relieving sunburn pain, as well as helping combat any skin peeling you may face post-sunburn. Slather on the gloop and feel the bliss—just make sure you're purchasing (or harvesting) 100% natural aloe. As holistic dermatologist Cybele Fishman, M.D., tells us, some aloe gels can have chemicals or synthetic fragrance, which can actually make burns worse.
Another age-old remedy for soothing the skin, oatmeal has some pretty impressive anti-inflammatory properties. "Extracts of oatmeal have been shown to lessen inflammatory mediators in the skin, giving significant clinical improvements in skin dryness, scaling, roughness, and itch intensity," board-certified dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, once told us about using the ingredient in skin care.
Those skin-soothing properties make oatmeal a well-rounded natural sunburn reliever. After all, not everyone experiences red skin when it comes to sunburns; those with darker skin tones may not notice any redness, but they still experience other symptoms of burns (like heat, skin sensitivity, and itchiness). Oatmeal can help relieve all those symptoms and then some, providing soothing relief and ultra-hydration. (To enhance those benefits even further, Ciraldo also suggests brewing an oatmeal bath to cover more surface area and spur even better hydration.)
It may sound obvious, but a cool compress can work wonders for sunburn relief. Cooler temperatures can provide that instant ahhh-inducing relief you're looking for; because cooler temperatures constrict your blood vessels (a process known as vasoconstriction), it can help that sunburn-induced inflammation subside, "the same way that applying ice water to a burned area lessens redness and discomfort," Ciraldo teaches us.
A simple cold cloth does the job just fine, but feel free to chill your skin care products for a one-two punch. Toss those items in the fridge for a hot minute, and they'll give you a nice cooling sensation post-sun. Just make sure your products are chilled, not frigid: A too-cold sensation can shock the skin and actually cause broken capillaries after the sunburn subsides.
Grab your green tea moisturizers and lotions: Green tea is another great vasoconstrictor, and decreasing those blood vessels can help decrease redness and swelling. That's why it's an ingredient of choice for board-certified dermatologist Zenovia Gabriel, M.D., FAAD, when it comes to soothing the skin: It "has been shown to have short-term effects that help reduce inflammation," she notes about using caffeine in skin care.
If you really want to take the relief up a notch, try tossing a few green tea bags into your bath (minding water temperature, of course). "Adding green tea bags to a cool bath can help a sunburn because of its anti-inflammatory properties, which can help calm and soothe inflamed skin," she tells us about sunburn relief.
Manuka honey offers benefits aplenty (it's a top DIY ingredient, from exfoliation to hair masks), but some of note are its ability to soothe inflammation and help wound healing. First, Manuka honey can "decrease redness and inflammation, [which] helps promote a smoother complexion," Elena Villanueva, D.C., founder of Modern Holistic Health, says regarding the ingredient's many benefits. It adds up: Research has shown that Manuka honey can improve inflammatory skin lesions, due to compounds in the honey that helped control multiple inflammatory pathways.
And according to Kelcie Harris, N.D., licensed naturopathic physician, Manuka honey’s anti-inflammatory properties can help "pull fluid out of tissues and decrease swelling." All of which can help an angry, inflamed sunburn start to ebb. And in terms of the relief itself, Manuka honey has a soothing, gentle texture—you'll be able to feel its anti-inflammatory effects as you slather on, knowing it's doing the work at the molecular level.
While these tips are great for giving you that much-needed relief, be sure to take necessary measures to help those burns heal long term. And we'd be remiss not to mention sun care as the most important tip of all: To avoid those painful burns in the first place, be sure to slather on proper sunscreen.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.