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Say no to sunburn — dermatologists share tips on how to treat this summer woe

Put an end to irritated skin with these affordable solutions.
Woman holding a bottle of sunscreen and squeezing
TODAY / Vivian Le

Backyard adventures and sunbathing are fun summer activities, but when it comes to sun exposure, your skin can feel the burden in a hot beat. Between the heat, humidity and sunshine, environmental factors can cause skin problems that are hard to prevent and even harder to tackle later on. One of the most immediate problems? Sunburn!

Even if you are conscious about regular sunscreen application and wearing UPF clothing, many people (especially those with sensitive skin) fall victim to the sun's harmful rays. With the help of two dermatologists, we've compiled a guide on how to combat sunburns and skin irritation with a few helpful tips and products to relieve skin soreness.

How to stop sunburn peeling

While there isn't a 100 percent sun defense method, the best way to protect your skin is by applying sunscreen and using garments that protect against UVB rays.

"Peeling from a sunburn is the result of damage to the skin," mentioned medical chief officer of Ideal Image, Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D. "Peeling is the body’s natural defense at ridding the skin of the damaged skin cells.

One way to minimize inflammation from sunburn peeling is to take a pain reliever "such as ibuprofen, cool baths/cold compresses, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoid alcohol. It’s also important to avoid topical occlusives (i.e. Aquaphor, Vaseline) and oils, which can trap heat in the skin and make your sunburn symptoms worse," said Robinson.

Additionally, you can soothe the peeling effect by protecting yourself with mineral sunscreen, UPF clothing and avoiding the sun until your skin has healed.

How to treat sunburn blisters

Some sun damage can be irreversible or accelerate photoaging, resulting in the appearance of wrinkles, hyperpigmentation and brown spots. But if you notice other signs of sun damage, Robinson advises seeking the help of a professional.

"See a doctor if you have open blisters or peeling over large areas of your body which can be prone to infection and long-term scarring," Robinson said. "Fever, chills and feeling nauseous are signs of sun poisoning for which you should seek medical care. "

Additional tips to treat a sunburn

Board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist Dr. Amy Wechsler shared in a 2020 segment that a good amount of sleep, the right sun protection and a proper skin care regimen can help in diminishing skin damage caused by radiation. Here are a few other steps to adopt in your daily lifestyle to avoid sunburn.

Get more sleep

Between work, juggling kids at home and trying to develop a stable routine, it can be hard to get enough sleep throughout the week. Wechsler recommends getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep each night. She says this will allow your brain to heal, which eventually helps your skin heal.

Use sunscreen

It's also important to remember that being outside can come with the risk of sunburns.

Wechsler says that if there's one thing people should be doing more, it's putting on sunscreen. While she also recommends sitting in the shade and wearing clothing with more coverage, she says that buying a quality sunscreen is the first step to prevention.

Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen

According to Wechsler, a zinc-based sunscreen is great because it protects against both UVA and UVB light rays. This one from Aveeno comes in a travel-friendly size, gentle enough for sensitive skin and can be used under makeup.

Coppertone Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion

If you'd like to avoid a zinc oxide sunscreen, Wechsler recommends a broad-spectrum option. The Coppertone Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion is water-resistant and also formulated for sensitive skin.

Bliss Block Star Invisible Daily Sunscreen

Bliss's non-greasy formula will protect your sensitive skin while delivering a dewy finish. With its sheer formulation, your skin will show a blurring effect on the pores and a no-makeup look.

"It blends in perfectly and leaves a nice matte finish," shared one reviewer.

EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 44

If you can't give up your makeup, this tinted facial sunscreen from EltaMD blends the right amount of zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and hyaluronic acid to protect your skin. The moisturizing base will hydrate your complexion and save it from skin-aging free radicals.

Create a DIY home treatment

You can easily create your own hydrating skin care product at home. Wechsler likes using this simple solution as a moisturizing mask that gently exfoliates and soothes sunburnt skin:

  • Mix 1/2 cup of yogurt or whole milk with 2 teaspoons of honey.
  • Microwave the mixture for 15 to 20 seconds on high.
  • Spread the solution on your face and leave it to dry before rinsing off.

Wechsler says that whole milk has lactic acid, which acts as a gentle, natural exfoliant. The honey is also antibacterial and moisturizing.

Use aloe vera

Although Wechsler didn't mention it on the show, aloe vera has long been commonly regarded as a tried-and-true solution to sunburn. The plant contains several properties like vitamins A, C and E, enzymes and minerals. A review from the Indian Journal of Dermatology lists the benefits of each of these properties including anti-inflammatory action, antiseptic effects and moisturizing and anti-aging effects.

Sun Bum Cool Down Aloe Vera Gel

According to Robinson, this refreshing Sun Bum formula is great for soothing irritated skin.

"This cool-down hydrating after-sun gel is a great choice that combines aloe and vitamin E."

Seven Minerals Organic Aloe Vera Gel

This organic aloe vera gel is a top bestseller in After Sun Skin Care on Amazon, with over 42,000 five-star ratings.

Solimo Sunburn Relief Gel

For another affordable option, try this sunburn relief gel from Amazon's Solimo brand. It's made with aloe vera to soothe and relieve your skin after a rough day in the sun.

Which products should you to avoid when you have a sunburn?

Aside from avoiding occlusive like Vaseline and Aquaphor, Robinson recommended steering clear from "products with skin irritants in them, as the healing skin will be more sensitive: specifically alcohol, fragrance and parabens in particular. Also, avoid exfoliants both physical (scrubs) and chemical (AHAs, retinols)."

Other post sun care products recommended by shoppers

Cetaphil Redness Relieving Daily Facial Moisturizer

If you still end up with a sunburn, you can cleanse and moisturize your face with gentle products like this daily facial moisturizer from Cetaphil.

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion

This CeraVe lotion is formulated to provide you with all-day hydration and protection. It's formulated with SPF 30 so it can be your daily moisturizer and sunscreen in one!

Sand & Sky Tasmanian Spring Water Wonder Body Lotion

If you're looking for long-lasting hydration and a lightweight lotion, this Australian favorite will add some glow to your skin. The refreshing formula combines mineral-rich Tasmanian spring water, hyaluronic acids and age-defying antioxidants to deliver plumper skin.

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