How to Heal a Sunburn ASAP, According to Skin-Care Experts

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  • Sunburns can happen after sun exposure year-round, even if you're wearing SPF.
  • Sunburned skin often looks red, splotchy, and hot to the touch.
  • We asked two experts how to treat and heal a sunburn fast.

We all know that applying and reapplying sunscreen throughout the day, especially when we're sitting in the sun at the beach, by the pool, or in the park, is crucial. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, sunburns happen. When they do, the healing time immediately following the burn can best be described as painstakingly slow and miserable.

Your best defense against a sunburn is to not get one in the first place — that's where sunscreen at SPF 30 or higher, wearing protective layers, and seeking shade come in — but we all slip up every once in a while. The key to minimizing that painful healing process and, most importantly, keeping your skin from peeling off is following a intentional, gentle, and consistent skin-care routine to treat the sunburn.

Not sure where to start? Here, we tapped two skin-care experts to get their best after-care sun tips. Keep reading to learn how to heal sunburned skin fast and minimize peeling — straight from the experts.

Getty | Michaela Gunter

After-Sun Tip #1: Jump in a Cold Shower or Bath (With or Without Milk)

This won't make the burn go away, but the chill will help with the pain you're experiencing. "A cool bath or shower will help relieve the immediate pain from the burn," Ronald Moy, MD, FAAD, of MFC Facial Plastics and Dermatology, tells POPSUGAR. "You can also apply a cool compress to take the sting out."

If you want to soak away the pain, try adding milk — yes, you read that right — to the tub. "Soak in the tub with lukewarm or cool water mixed with six cups of whole milk," says celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau. "A cool bath helps to lower the internal body temperature, and milk, due to its fat, protein, and pH, can have an anti-inflammatory effect. Thus, it provides some pain relief."

After-Sun Tip #2: Take Advil For the Pain

If the pain is unbearable after a really bad run-in with the sun, you can take a pain reliever like Advil to make you feel a bit more comfortable. This won't make the skin heal faster, but it will decrease inflammation and swelling.

After-Sun Tip #3: Try a DNA Repair Cream

Most people reach for the aloe-vera products buried in the back of their medicine cabinet when they get a sunburn, but Dr. Moy has something different in mind. "There is the old wives' tale that aloe vera is the true saving grace for all sunburns," he says. "Though it may remove some redness and provide soothing of some sort, the only way to truly repair the damage done by those powerful UV rays, and to do so quickly, is to apply products with organic and plant-based DNA repair enzymes."

Research from the National Institute of Health has shown that replenishing DNA enzymes in the skin can help with the DNA damage caused to your skin by the burn. (Keep scrolling for product suggestions on this front.)

After-Sun Tip #4: Avoid Potentially Irritating Products

No matter what type of product you decide to apply to your sunburn, just make sure it doesn't have any irritating ingredients in the formula. "Do not apply alcohol, and avoid lotions with antihistamine," Dr. Moy says. Alcohol can strip the skin of moisture and cause more irritation to your parched, compromised skin.

"Many aloe products contain synthetic dyes and fragrance, which give aloe that bright green color," Rouleau says. "Artificial colorants may further irritate sensitive skin, so ensure your aloe is dye- and fragrance-free." To tell if your aloe is natural and safe to use, read the ingredients listed on the pack. You can identify natural aloe by its clear or slightly golden hue.

Getty | Barcin

After-Sun Tip #5: Stay Hydrated

In terms of treating your body from the inside out, it's a good idea to drink cold water and stay hydrated after a burn. "Since your body loses fluids when it's overheated, it's important to drink ice water to keep the body's temperature down and to internally hydrate," Rouleau says. Chances are, if you spent a lot of time in the sun, you could use the extra hydration.

After-Sun Tip #6: Steer Clear of the Sun — or Cover Up

This may seem like a no-brainer, but while your sunburn heals, you should stay out of the sun as much as possible. Due to the initial burn, your skin will be even more sensitive to the sun's harmful UV rays. "Steer clear of the sun, or make sure you are lathering up in sunscreen," Dr. Moy says. "If you do plan to be outdoors again, do your absolute best to cover up." Think: long sleeves, sun hats, staying under an umbrella.

After-Sun Tip #7: Don't Overmoisturize

While you want to keep your body hydrated and your skin moisturized, you don't want to overdo it. "Many people want to excessively apply lotion in an effort to moisturize and heal the skin, but applying too many heavy layers may create a barrier that traps heat in the skin," Rouleau says. "This may keep it red longer. While you do want to keep the skin moist to prevent it from getting brittle, it's best to use a lightweight lotion and reapply every four hours."

After-Sun Tip #8: Don't Pick or Peel the Skin

Rouleau explains that most moderate sunburns can take three to four days for the redness to go away. After the redness subsides, peeling can be the next natural step in the healing process — but don't pick. "The sunburn has already caused damage, so the worst thing you can do is start to peel off layers of skin — especially when it's not ready to come off," Rouleau says. "Doing this can scar the skin, so just let it shed naturally, and be patient."

After a week of peeling naturally, you should be able to gently exfoliate off the remaining areas of shedding skin. "You can gently rub the skin on the body lightly with a loofah to help remove some surface flakiness," Rouleau said. "Be careful when you get out of the shower, because the dry cells are very soft and will rub off easily. You could risk also pulling off live tissue, which could result in oozing scabs."

Ahead, we rounded up a few of the best products for soothing a sunburn.

DNA Regeneration Serum

DNA Regeneration Serum

If you want to try a product with DNA repairing enzymes, Dr. Moy recommends the DNA Regeneration Serum ($145) because it helps accelerate the growth of healthy skin cells, which repairs sunburned skin. Another good option is the Neova Pure DNA Repair Enzymes ($103).

Renée Rouleau Bio Calm Repair Masque

Renée Rouleau Bio Calm Repair Masque

Rouleau recommends the Renée Rouleau Bio Calm Repair Masque ($50) when you have a sunburn because the gel mask instantly cools redness and was formulated for use after chemical peels, exercise, laser treatments, and sunburns.

EiR NYC Sunset Oil

EiR NYC Sunset Oil

Eir NYC Sunset Oil ($38) is a body oil formulated with hydrating and soothing ingredients like coconut oil, jojoba oil, aloe vera, vitamin E, and geranium, which promotes cell growth.

Sun Bum Cool Down Hydrating After Sun Gel

Sun Bum Cool Down Hydrating After Sun Gel

The Sun Bum Cool Down Hydrating After Sun Gel ($10) provides your skin with immediate, cooling relief after getting too much sun. It's gluten- and alcohol-free and enriched with vitamin E.