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Try these 4 home remedies for sunburn

You spent the day outside, and despite knowing that you should wear protective clothing and apply (and re-apply) sunscreen, you lost track of time and forgot. Now you're sporting a red, itchy, painful sunburn and looking for relief – fast!

Since sunburns are common, it’s easy to think that getting one isn’t doing any damage. However, research shows that a few bad sunburns can increase your risk for developing skin cancer. That’s why it’s so important to lather up – and don’t forget to re-apply – to prevent future sunburns.

Despite our best efforts, sunburns happen. Here’s how to treat and heal a sunburn:

1. Cool off and moisturize

After you’ve been out in the sun, a cool shower can help ease the pain and help you start to heal. But don’t stay in too long — cold water will begin to dry out your skin. When you feel refreshed, pat your skin dry and immediately apply a moisturizer (while skin is wet) to start the healing process.  

“The sun drains your skin of moisture, so it’s important to moisturize to prevent itching and peeling,” says Geisinger dermatologist, Renee Mathur, MD.

Avoid oil-based moisturizers like petroleum jelly, which prevent heat from escaping your skin. You should also avoid moisturizers with lidocaine or benzocaine as they can irritate the skin. Instead, look for a moisturizer that contains aloe.

2. Reduce swelling and pain

Sunburn can be uncomfortable, especially for the first two or three days after getting burnt.

If you notice swelling, you may want to take an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen. This can help reduce swelling and your pain. Be sure to take the anti-inflammatory as directed.

3. Soothe your skin with aloe

Aloe is a natural sunburn remedy that can stop the burning sensation and help prevent swelling. 

To treat sunburn with aloe, many people simply cut open a thick aloe leaf and apply the sap directly to their skin. If you don’t have an aloe plant nearby, you can also use aloe gels and oils from your local drugstore.

“Applying aloe directly from a plant or aloe gel or oil two or three times a day can help you reduce the pain and inflammation that comes along with sunburn,” says Dr. Mathur.

While your skin heals, wear loose-fitting clothing to protect it from further damage.

4. Drink water

Sunburn causes your skin and the rest of your body to dehydrate.

The best way to replenish your skin is to rehydrate immediately after you get sunburned and for the next several days.

“Drinking water and sports drinks can help hydrate you and replenish electrolytes,” says Dr. Mathur.

Prevent future sunburns and sun damage

“The best treatment is prevention,” says Dr. Mathur. “Never leave the house without your SPF.”

The next time your skin is exposed to the sun (even on cloudy days), be sure to take steps to protect yourself. Our dermatologists suggest that you:

  • Apply sunscreen (at least SPF 15) and re-apply every two hours
  • Stay in the shade
  • Wear protective clothing, including a hat and sunglasses

And remember: if a long day in the sun leaves you with a fever, chills or dizziness, or you develop blisters across a large portion of your skin, call your doctor.

Next steps:

Request an appointment with Renee Mathur, MD
Find a dermatologist 
Learn more about dermatology care at Geisinger