I'm A Holistic Derm: This Is The One Thing You Should *Never* Do To A Sunburn
In case you didn't know: You can't heal sunburned skin. Sure, you can slather on soothing hydrators and emollients to relieve some of the discomfort, but once the skin is burned, there's nothing you can do to revive the dead skin cells. (That's why your best bet is to prevent burns in the first place by practicing safe sun care.)
The good news is that your skin heals itself—the damaged skin cells naturally slough off during this process, which is why sunburns tend to peel. To speed up said process, you might think to pick at the flakes with your fingers or reach for an exfoliator (or in the case of this TikTok user, a dermaplaning tool). Best to scrub the dead, damaged skin off and jump-start the healing process, right?
Wrong! Oh-so-wrong! "Please don't use your dermaplaning tool to help scrape away at your sunburn," says board-certified dermatologist and mbg Collective member Whitney Bowe, M.D., in a duet video. Here's why dermaplaning does more harm than good and what you should use instead.
Why you shouldn't dermaplane a peeling sunburn.
Short answer? Exfoliating that vulnerable skin will only cause more irritation, and it can even delay healing. You don't even want to manually peel the flakes with your fingers, let alone a razor-sharp blade—even if the result looks smooth and satisfying on the surface. See, as you tug the skin, you run the risk of tearing off delicate patches before they're ready to come off, which can irritate the skin and require even more healing (meaning the peeling process goes on for longer).
As Morgan Rabach, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical in NYC, once told mbg about peeling sunburns: "It's best to let the dead skin peel itself off naturally without pulling it, as you can tear further into the skin." Bowe even says the added inflammation can increase your risk for scarring or hyperpigmentation, especially if you're scraping away with a dermaplaning tool.
What to use instead.
While you can't necessarily "heal" the damaged skin, you can soothe the area with certain moisturizers to ward off inflammation and pain. Bowe is partial to the classic aloe vera (it contains aloin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that aid in the skin-healing process), but you can also opt for moisturizers with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or colloidal oat to calm the skin.
You can also use a cool compress if a fresh burn feels tender and tight—see here for all of our sunburn relief remedies. Other than that, "Leave this baby alone," says Bowe. Simply let your skin do its thing without agitating it further, and do your best to stay out of the sun while it heals.
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As satisfying as it looks to dermaplane a peeling sunburn, it can do way more harm than good in the long run. Not only can it delay healing time and cause more irritation, but it can also cause scarring and hyperpigmentation—the scraping is just not worth it. The best thing you can do is to let it heal naturally with time, and remember to protect your skin the next time you're exposed to the sun's rays.
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