This is the best remedy for sunburn, according to experts

Dermatologists weigh in on the best remedy for sunburn.

Portrait of woman with sunburn
(Image credit: Getty Images / Ralf Nau)

If you sense you’ve got a blistering sunburn coming on, you’ll want to act fast. Without the right treatment, you may be stuck with sizzled skin that won’t stop throbbing and peeling for days on end. But what’s the best remedy for sunburn?

We spoke with two East Coast skincare experts to brush up on the dos and don’ts of dealing with sunburn. As it turns out, most of these are solutions you can start right away, whether you’re at home or on a beachy getaway.

Whether you forgot to bring along your best sunscreen for face coverage—or you missed the vital step of reapplying every few hours in the sun—here are some useful tips to follow.

Get out of the sun and rehydrate 

What immediate steps should you take if you sense a sunburn coming on? 

“Be sure to hydrate and avoid further sun exposure!” says Dr. Renée Moran, owner of Dr. Renée Moran Medical Aesthetics in Boston and Newton, MA. Dr. Moran has developed RM Skincare, a medical-grade skincare line designed to help with just these kinds of sun protection issues.

Hydrating is important as fluids are pulled toward the sunburned skin and away from other parts of the body, per the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). This process—combined with water loss from sweating in the heat—can quickly lead to dehydration. 

So, after you step out of the blistering sun to a cooler indoor environment, experts recommend drinking lots of water to keep yourself hydrated.

Soak your sunburned skin in cold water

Once you’re away from the heat, give your skin the chance to cool down. 

“Apply ice packs or take a cool bath with a few tablespoons of added baking soda,” suggests board-certified dermatologist Noreen Galaria, M.D., F.A.A.D. of Galaria Plastic Surgery & Dermatology. Dr. Galaria has more than 20 years of experience in keeping her clients safe from the sun’s harmful effects. 

You’d be surprised how soothing a cool bath can be on raw, red sunburned skin. The added sprinkle of baking soda will help calm itching and reduce inflammation while you soak. 

But if your hotel room doesn’t come with a claw-foot tub (or any tub at all!) try a cold shower, then a cold compress or an ice pack wrapped in a soft towel. These solutions may sound simple, but they can all provide quick relief.

A woman is pictured close up with the shadows of palm trees cast on her face, she is standing on a beach

(Image credit: Getty Images / Jasmin Merdan)

Apply aloe vera gel

After soaking in cold water, gently pat your skin dry to avoid irritating the sore spots. Leave a bit of moisture on the surface of the skin and follow up with some aloe vera moisturizer on the affected areas.

Both Dr. Moran and Dr. Galaria suggest aloe vera—which is known to reduce inflammation, moisturize sunburned skin, and prevent peeling. If you’re lucky enough to have your own aloe houseplant, you can certainly apply aloe straight from the leaves. But a storebought aloe vera gel or moisturizer will offer a similar cooling, calming effect.

Use a hydrocortisone cream

If all that’s not providing the relief you need, Dr. Galaria suggests trying an over-the-counter treatment. But not just any topical pain reliever, “Avoid any product ending in -caine, like benzocaine. Allergic reactions are more likely.” 

Instead, Dr. Galaria recommends choosing a hydrocortisone cream in a low dose (0.5% to 1%). This will, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alleviate the burning sensation and reduce inflammation while speeding up the recovery process.

A young woman is seen applying sunscreen to her shoulder

(Image credit: Getty Images / Jonathan Storey)

Keep sunburned skin covered

If you absolutely must go outside while your sunburned skin is still healing, keep it out of the sun’s harmful rays. “Don’t expose the burned area,” says Dr. Galleria, advising that you wear “sun-protective clothing the next day.” That means covering up your skin with soft, lightweight layers that won’t be itchy or irritating.

“A wide brim hat is also helpful,” Dr. Moran adds, to provide shade cover around your face and neck. So, envoke your inner Jacquemus because nothing says safe summer fun like a floppy hat.

Apply high-SPF sunscreen

"Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me."

While your sunburned skin is in recovery mode, let this be your mantra.

In other words, keep creaming up with a high-SPF sunscreen. “Women should aim to wear an SPF of 50—and do not forget to reapply every two hours,” says Dr. Moran. Grab your favorite face and body sunscreens and apply them all over, on both the sunburned and un-burned spots.

See a doctor if you have severe sunburn

Blistering skin signals a second-degree sunburn, according to the AAD. If your sunburn blisters aren’t healing or, if they become infected, it’s best to speak with your doctor. “If you develop a severe burn, make sure you see a physician to guide you in your care,” says Dr. Moran.

Keep in mind that it may also be helpful to seek medical attention right away if you’re experiencing symptoms of heatstroke, serious dehydration, or intense discomfort.

My Imperfect Life thanks Dr. Renée Moran of Dr. Renée Moran Medical Aesthetics and Dr. Noreen Galaria of Galaria Plastic Surgery and Dermatology for their time and expertise.

The My Imperfect Life team is all about helping you navigate your world. We bring you the latest on fashion, beauty, travel and wellness so you can live life on your terms.