According to Bailey, sunburn is the result of inflammation, which is why she first and foremost recommends using aspirin to help reduce redness and ease some of the pain. “It will help fight some forms of inflammation, but it needs to be taken prior to or immediately after the sun exposure before the redness has gotten really bad,” she says.
This requires supervision and a prescription from your personal doctor, but Bailey says that when applied within six hours of the sunburn, prescription topical cortisone creams (which she notes are only to be used on certain areas of your skin) can help provide some relief.
If you’ve ever suffered a sunburn before, chances are you’ve used aloe vera to help cool down your skin and subdue some of the pain. Bailey says that it can reduce inflammation and help to relieve some of the discomfort but that you should never use an aloe product made with topical anesthetic ingredients like benzocaine or lidocaine. “They can cause an allergic skin rash that will make your skin both hurt and itch at the same time,” she says.
Obviously you don’t want to expose your irritated skin to the very thing that caused your sunburn in the first place, but you should probably avoid long periods of direct sun exposure for a few weeks while your skin heals. “The durability of skin after a sunburn depends on the extent of the burn,” say Bailey. Normally, the stratum corneum, a healthy layer of dead skin cells, helps to protect your skin from the sun. But Bailey says that after suffering a sunburn this layer peels for about one week and then takes at least another two to rebuild. “The soonest your skin could be back to normal is about three weeks. If the sunburn was severe it could take even longer,” she says.
“Cucumbers are rich in natural botanical compounds that have both antioxidant and analgesic properties,” says Bailey. She suggests chilling and then blending cucumber slices to create a cool paste that you can apply to your skin that will help relieve the pain and naturally reduce inflammation. “Remember to use a cool gel or paste, as the coolness also speeds recovery by constricting your skin’s capillaries, which are bringing in the building blocks of pain and inflammation,” she says.
Similar to the effects of lathering up with a cool paste, a cold compress will also help aid recovery by constricting your skin’s capillaries. “When skin is red, like when it’s sunburned, the skin capillaries are ‘wide open’ and flowing with blood circulation,” says Bailey. Open capillaries make way for increased pain and inflammation, but when they’re constricted pain and inflammation will be lessened. “The idea is to gently cool your skin, so don’t apply the ice pack directly to your injured skin, it would be too harsh,” says Bailey. “Instead, use a thin towel to separate the ice pack and your sunburned skin.”
Perhaps since it’s so painful to take a hot shower or bath when suffering from sunburn, this tip is quite obvious. However, Bailey recommends avoiding hot water at all costs because it will open up your skin’s capillaries and, as mentioned before, increase inflammation. Until the redness is reduced and your sunburn is almost healed take cool water showers and baths instead.
Bailey recommends that sunburn sufferers moisturize religiously, but the key to using hydrating lotions is applying them within three minutes after drying off from a shower or bath. She notes that although this will help soothe and hydrate your skin, depending on how bad your burn is you may still experience peeling after a week or so.
If your daily skincare routine includes products like acne medications, anti-aging products that contain alpha hydroxy acid, retinol or tretinoin, or any other “harsh” chemicals, Bailey recommends removing them from your regimen until your skin has completely healed. “Sunburned skin is more vulnerable to irritation than normal skin,” says Bailey. “This means that it’s porous and fragile and needs to be ‘babied’. If you don’t baby it you may cause even more injury.”