9 Sunburn Remedies that Actually Work
These sunburn remedies might be a little unorthodox, but consider giving them a try the next time your sunburned skin aches.
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Treating a sunburn
Summer is lovely, sunburns are not. And yet, somehow so many of us manage to scald our poor skin during a long day by the pool or on the boardwalk. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one out of three Americans report being sunburned each year. Luckily the majority of those sunburns are mild, falling into the category of a first-degree burn—bright red skin that’s painful to the touch. A first-degree sunburn involves only the outer layer of the skin, explains Rina Allawh, MD, a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
No doubt you already know about the healing properties of aloe vera when it comes to sunburn—but what if you’re all out and you need relief fast? You can treat this kind of burn with things you probably already have in your medicine cabinet or pantry. Here are some of the best at-home remedies for sunburn that actually work.
Soak in milk
“Soaking in milk will have a drawing effect on a burn—it’s due to the pH, fat, and cold temperatures,” says Francesca Fusco, MD of Wexler Dermatology in New York City. If you don’t have enough milk handy to fill up an entire basin, simply soak a washcloth in a bowl of cool milk, then gently lay the milky compresses on the burned areas of your body. The milk will help create a protein film along your skin that reduces heat, pain, and sensitivity.
Refrigerate a tub of Vaseline
“When you have a sunburn, it is important to keep your skin well-hydrated and moisturized, as it will improve the pain and accelerate the healing process,” says Samer Jaber, MD of Washington Square Dermatology in New York City. “A great trick is putting Vaseline in the refrigerator for a few minutes so it goes on cold. The cold will soothe your sunburn, and the Vaseline will help restore your skin barrier, improving the healing process.” (Find out the sunscreen myths that make dermatologists cringe.)
Take an oatmeal bath
One of the worst side effects of a bad sunburn is the insatiable urge to scratch peeling skin. Taking a bath in lukewarm water is one sunburn remedy that can quell the itch and soothe the burn, notes Joshua Zeichner, MD, New York City-based dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. Add at least one cup of finely ground oats to your bathwater, using your hand to swirl the water to evenly distribute the oatmeal. Soak in the bath for 15 to 20 minutes. You can repeat this oatmeal bath a few times a day for relief from itching.
Create your own topical cream
“For an isolated area like a finger or your lips, dissolve an aspirin in a tablespoon of cool water and make a paste. Apply to the affected area,” advises Dr. Fusco. (Be careful not to lick your lips because it’s super bitter.) Rinse off the paste after allowing it to sit on the affected area for five minutes. While you’re waiting for it to absorb, you could also take one of those aspirins to ease your pain and inflammation.
Use yogurt as an antibacterial cream
You’ve likely heard that aloe makes a great sunburn remedy. But don’t worry if you don’t have aloe handy; there are plenty of kitchen ingredients that can work as highly effective substitutes. Yogurt, in particular, is useful in treating a damaged skin barrier, according to Dr. Zeichner. “First, high levels of lactic acid may have antimicrobial properties, lowering levels of harmful bacteria on the skin,” he says. “Yogurt also contains natural probiotics that help restore a healthy skin microbiome.”
Press tea bags onto your burn
“Black tea contains an ingredient called tannic acid, which helps to calm down skin irritation, soothing benefits and has the added benefit of maintaining skin’s pH,” explains Dr. Allawh. You can brew chamomile tea, thoroughly chill it, then use the tea bags or a towel compress to apply it to your burn.
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Break open a few vitamin E capsules
“Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps to decrease skin inflammation,” explains Dr. Allawh, who suggests “utilizing the oil in a vitamin E capsule and rubbing it gently into the wound as vitamin E helps protects the skin from further damage from the UV rays—and it may also help with the burning and itching.” To prevent these free radicals from stealing electrons from your healthy molecules, vitamin E is one of the best sunburn remedies that can provide electrons for them, thus preventing your healthy molecules from depleting, she says.
Take a baking soda bath
You may be noticing a trend in these sunburn remedies: Soaking is often a great way to heal and moisturize your burn. One way to accomplish this is to take a baking soda bath.
“Baking soda has basic properties and will help balance the pH of the inflamed sunburn skin,” says Dr. Allawh. “It will help reduce the burning, skin irritation, and is overall soothing.” She recommends creating a mixture of baking soda and water (1 cup of water: 4 tablespoons of baking soda) and then blotting the sunburned area with the mixture every three hours. You also can create a soothing baking soda bath and soak for 10-15 minutes. After the bath, she suggests gently patting your skin dry. Then apply a thick moisturizer that you’ve kept chilled in the refrigerator. The coolness should help ease the burning sensation.
Create a cucumber paste
Cucumbers are anti-inflammatory; that’s why people place a slice on their puffy eyes. Cukes contain natural antioxidants, and they have analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. To take advantage of these benefits, chill and then blend two cucumbers to make a raw paste. Apply the creamed cucumber to any burnt or peeling areas on your body to soothe and heal them more quickly.
Next up, besides a nasty sunburn, learn about the other weird ways the sun affects your body.
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- Rina Allawh, MD, dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania
- Francesca Fusco, MD, of Wexler Dermatology in New York City
- Samer Jaber, MD, of Washington Square Dermatology in New York City
- Joshua Zeichner, MD, New York City-based dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital
- Journal of Young Pharmacists: "Free Radical Scavenging and Analgesic Activities of Cucumis sativus L. Fruit Extract"