Best home remedies for sunburn, according to dermatologists

Dermatologists say simple things you have at home — like yogurt, aloe and oatmeal — can provide quick, soothing relief.
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By Vivian Manning-Schaffel

Too much fun in the sun isn't just incredibly painful in the moment, sunburns can do lasting damage and increase your risk of skin cancer. Your risk doubles with a history of five sunburns or more, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

What causes that pain and damage? “Ultraviolet radiation energy damages DNA in the skin, leading to an inflammatory response with the synthesis of prostaglandins and cytokines and swelling of skin blood vessels,” explained Dr. Samer Jaber, board certified dermatologist, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. “This causes redness, swelling and pain. Sometimes involved skin cells are destroyed.”

To start the sunburn healing process as soon as possible, it is important to begin treating sunburn as soon as you notice it, advises the American Association of Dermatology. If the sun did a number on you, the good news is you probably have some of the best home remedies for a sunburn in your pantry, fridge or medicine cabinet right now.

7 home remedies for sunburn relief

Feeling the burn? Dermatologists say to go ahead and grab these common household items for cooling, soothing relief.

1. Make a cold compress

Soak a clean washcloth with cool water and apply to the burn five times daily for 5-10 minutes to cool off your skin, Jaber recommended.

2. Take a cold shower

The American Association of Dermatology explains that cold water can actually help put out the fire you feel on your skin. Take a cool shower and carefully pat yourself dry, but leave your skin a little moist to absorb any moisturizer you apply.

3. Slather on some aloe

To help a sunburn heal, the key is to keep it moisturized. Aloe vera is a time-tested sunburn healer that cools skin on contact. Jaber recommended slathering some on onto sunburns a few times a day, or making cool compresses with aloe stashed in the fridge.

4. Take aspirin or ibuprofen

Most people have one or or the other of these medicine cabinet staples around. “Anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen reduce the inflammation and pain of sunburn by blocking the action of prostaglandins,” says Dr. Adnan Mir, Society for Pediatric Dermatology Committee Chair. “Prostaglandins are pro-inflammatory molecules that your body releases to help manage the DNA damage caused by UV light and have the unfortunate side effect of causing pain, which can sometimes be quite severe,” he explained.

5. Bathe in oatmeal

A colloidal oatmeal bath can ease painful sunburns with its anti-inflammatory properties, said both dermatologists. To draw an oatmeal bath, grind one cup of unflavored oats in a food processor, and add them to two cups of warm water. Dissolve until milky and they’re ready to use. Draw a warm bath and add the oat mixture to the bath and soak for 20 minutes.

6. Slather on some dairy

Jaber says dousing a washcloth with cold milk and using it as a compress can help ease the pain of sunburn and kickstart the healing process — so can plain yogurt. “Apply every 20 minutes and repeat for several hours,” said Jaber.

7. Hydrate like crazy

Sunburns draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, according to the American Association of Dermatology. “Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration,” their website noted.

Use these tips to avoid sunburns in the future

Of course, the best way to ease the pain of sunburn is not to get one in the first place. Mir suggested looking up the daily UV index first thing in the morning to get an idea of how high the danger of a sunburn is, and how often you’ll need to reapply sunscreen to prevent one. “Below 3, and the risk (of sunburn) is quite low,” said Mir. “Above 6, and anyone with lighter skin starts to be at risk for a rapid sunburn. UV intensity increases in the middle of the day, at higher altitudes, and closer to the equator. Cloud cover means less intense sun, but it is still possible to get a sunburn on a cloudy day.”