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Beauty 911! I got a sunburn—what should I do?

Thumbnail for Beauty 911! I got a sunburn—what should I do?
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Photo: Stocksy/Aleksandar Novoselski

Beach season is glorious for oh-so-many reasons: Outdoor workouts are back in session, new lip-trends abound in celebration of summer beauty, and you can never eat enough watermelon (in the name of hydration , of course). But spending more time outside does come with one, not-so-sunny pitfall—major sunburn risk.

Though torching your skin is 100 percent preventable in theory (thanks to SPF best practices and warning signs), we’ve all been guilty of slacking once in awhile. Luckily, when overexposure does happen, there’s a super-simple SOS guide for minimizing damage and redness. Below, in-the-know skin experts share what to do from the second you notice the slightest sizzle.

How to care for a sunburn step-by-step, right this way.

how treat sunburn
Photo: Unsplash/Glen Jackson

Step 1: Get out of the sun. This sound like a giant no-duh, but rallying your BFFs to head home when the UV index is just reaching its peak isn’t always easy. So roll up your beach towel, and call a car service if you need to.

Step 2: Hydrate. Once you’re safely out of the sun (phew!), guzzling H2O is next up. “The first thing you do is to drink a ton of fluids because when you get a sunburn, your body actually draws the fluid to the skin’s surface to heal, and then you become very dehydrated,” explains Jennifer Kramer, a paramedical esthetician and founder of Corrective Skincare LA.

In addition to keeping your water bottle on hand, she advises grabbing a coconut water, a sports drink, or another uber-quenching beverage to prevent dehydration.

Step 3: Cool your skin down. “Sunburned skin is hot, so in order to cool it down, take a shower or a bath with cool water,” advises Kramer. Resist the urge to linger under the icy water though. As she points out, spending too much time in the shower can actually dehydrate you. Just a quick, 5-minute rinse will do the trick. 

Step 4: Double down and hydrate with cooling agents. While your skin is still damp from the shower, go ahead and slather on the classic (but still effective) sunburn remedy: aloe vera. “Damp skin absorbs moisture better,” says Kramer. “I put my aloe vera in the fridge because then when you put it on, not only does it just feel good, but it’s cool and that will also cool the skin down as well.”

If you don’t happen to have any aloe on hand, Susie Wang, expert skin-care chemist and founder of 100% Pure, has another hot—er—cool tip: “If you don’t have aloe and cucumber accessible, another thing I like to do is soak a clean facial towel in a bowl of cold, iced tea since tea has many healing properties, all while helping your sunburn.”

In the coming days, keep dousing your skin with hydrating products, and use gentle body wash (ahem no scrubs) when you do hop in the shower. To speed up the healing process a tick, Kramer says to apply a thin layer of one percent, over-the-counter cortisone cream right before your lotion, which should include barrier-repairing ceramides or hydrating glycerin—both of which help the skin retain moisture. 

how treat sunburned skin at home
Photo: Stocksy/Bonninstudio

Step 5: Focus on rejuvenating your skin. Once you’ve done damage control, both Kramer and Wang have a few recs for helping your skin return to its normal state. Kramer advises upping your anti-inflammatories. If you’re more of a DIYer, Wang says to head to your cabinet and reach for tomato paste (yes, seriously). “Tomatoes have an amazing ability to help heal sun damage,” she says. “When skin is burned, the sun rays damage the DNA of skin cells, and the lycopene in tomatoes is one of the most potent antioxidants that aids in repairing skin cellular damage.”

If your discomfort becomes unbearable, Kramer says it can’t hurt to make a visit with your physician or dermatologist, for monitor how your feeling, and make a judgement call if you think you might need help.

Step 6: Abandon your usual skin-care and beauty routine for the coming days. When you get a sunburn, your whole focus is healing,” says Kramer. That means, for the time being, go ahead and bail on your vigorous acne treatments (chemical actives, exfoliators, or anything stripping). “When the burn is gone, then you can slowly re-introduce any of your other products that you’ve been using prior to it,” she adds.

Moisturize. Hydrate. Moisturize. And if you do have to brave the sunshine, do so in your floppy hat, shades, and consistently applied layers of sunscreen. 

Next time you hit the beach, lake, or pool: These are the sunscreens derms *swear* feel more like skin care than SPF and why a seaweed-infused choice might be the most eco-friendly option.

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