You've spent the day outside, and despite knowing you should cover your skin and apply sunscreen regularly, you somehow forgot. Now you're sporting a red, itchy, painful sunburn and looking for fast relief.

Here’s how to calm the burn and start treating sunburn.

1. Cool off

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 to start the healing process.  

“The sun drains your skin of moisture, so it’s important to moisturize to prevent itching and peeling,” said family medicine physician Enrique Samonte, MD, Geisinger Hazleton.

Avoid oil-based moisturizers like petroleum jelly, which prevents heat from escaping your skin. Similarly, moisturizers with lidocaine or benzocaine can irritate the skin.

2. Reduce swelling and pain


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

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

3. Sooth your skin

Aloe is a natural sunburn remedy that stops the burning sensation and prevents swelling. The plant contains over 150 vitamins, minerals and elements, none of which irritate the skin or dry it out.

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.

“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,” said Dr. Samonte.

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,” said Dr. Samonte.

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, you should see your doctor.

But remember, the first rule in treating sunburn is to prevent it in the first place. The next time your skin is exposed to the sun, be sure to take steps to prevent sunburn. Applying sunscreen regularly and protecting your skin with clothing and a hat when you’re out in the sun can help you prevent skin damage and even cancer.