How to Heal a Sunburn

We’re told time and time again to apply sunscreen, especially when spending time outdoors. But, we’ve all experienced a sunburn at least once whether it happened because you forgot to apply sunscreen altogether or missed certain areas of your body. Thankfully, there are easy and effective ways to heal a sunburn. So, what should you use for sunburn? Today, we’ll dive into all the effective remedies and best practices you can take to ensure your sunburn heals as quickly as possible.

It’s worth noting, there is no miracle cure for healing sunburns overnight, but these tips will help optimize your body’s healing process. So, if you’re ready to find some relief and soothe that painful burn, check out these 10 ways to heal a sunburn.

Hydrocortisone Cream

Itching, swelling, and irritation are just a few of the annoying symptoms you may experience from a severe sunburn. Luckily a topical ointment may be able to help manage the swelling and pain.

Prevention says to look for an ointment that contains 1-percent hydrocortisone. Hydrocortisone cream contains anti-inflammatory properties which may help reduce the redness of your sunburn as well as the pain associated with it. Depending on the severity of your burn, use it 2 or 3 times per day, or better yet, read the manufacturer’s directions.

Aloe Vera

Similar to hydrocortisone cream, aloe vera can also help reduce inflammation. This is all thanks to an extract called aloin. But reducing inflammation isn’t the only benefit. Aloe vera can also keep your skin moisturized and may even help prevent your skin from peeling.

One of the best forms of aloe vera is straight from the aloe vera plant. Simply cut a leaf off your plant and cut the leaf open to access the aloe vera gel. You can apply the gel to your sunburn a few times per day. For even more soothing effects, place the leaf in the fridge for a few minutes before applying the gel. The cold gel may feel even better!

Oatmeal Bath

What better way to unwind than with a bath. But as it turns out, a cool bath may help soothe your sunburn. Want even more soothing effects? Add oatmeal to your bath to soothe your skin and to help reduce irritation from your sunburn.

To make an oatmeal bath, mix 1-cup of oats and a few tablespoons of baking soda into your cool bath. Hop in the tub, sit back, and relax. After your bath, don’t forget to moisturize while your skin is still damp to help retain moisture on your skin.

Avoid Soap When Bathing

Before you take your bath there is one important thing to remember! Avoid using soap. While your first instinct after spending a day out in the sun is to rinse off, you’ll want to steer clear of soap. But why is that?

Some soaps can actually cause your skin to dry out which, in turn, can irritate your sunburn even more. Simply enjoy a cool bath or shower but skip the suds. If you insist on using soap, reach for something mild.

Cold Compress

After your cool bath or shower, you can continue to cool your sunburn with a cold compress. Cold compresses can help reduce heat from your skin and reduce inflammation.

Just be sure to not apply ice directly to your burn. Instead, make a compress by either cooling a wet cloth in the fridge, or placing ice water in a bag covered with cloth, and then apply the compress to your burn.

Avoid Sun Exposure

Along with remedies to help soothe your sunburn, there are some other preventative steps you should take to help heal your sunburn. For starters, once you have a burn, you’ll want to avoid further sun exposure. The sun’s UV rays can continue to damage your skin.

If you must go out in the sun, be sure to cover your sunburn. Wear loose clothing and make sure you apply sunscreen with the appropriate SPF.

Avoid Tobacco Use

Avoiding tobacco products is also recommended if you want to help heal your sunburn. Healthline explains smoking tobacco or using other forms of tobacco can impair the natural healing process. This is because it can encourage inflammation in your body.

Unfortunately, quitting smoking is no easy feat. If you need help quitting, talk with your doctor to make a plan.

Stay Hydrated

If you want to heal your sunburn, one key thing you can’t forget to do is to replenish your fluids. Dr. Brackeen explains to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “Burns draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, so you may become dehydrated.”

Tops signs of dehydration include dark-colored urine, fatigue, headache, lightheadedness, muscle cramping, and more. It’s important to drink water regularly, but especially when you have a sunburn. So, drink up!

Take a Pain Reliever

To help relieve pain and inflammation, you may benefit from a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Some examples include ibuprofen and naproxen.

Read the label and take as directed until your burn feels better. Make sure you don’t take more than directed. Finally, if you already take medication for another condition, you should consult your doctor to make sure the NSAIDs don’t interfere with your current medication.

Get Plenty of Rest

Getting plenty of good quality sleep is essential for your overall health. But it turns out, sleep also plays a role in how your body heals a sunburn.

Healthline says, “Sleep restriction disrupts your body’s production of certain cytokines that help your body manage inflammation.” So, if you’re not getting enough good quality sleep, it may negatively impact your body’s ability to heal the sunburn.

Can You Cure a Sunburn Overnight?

Perhaps you have a special event tomorrow and you’re wondering, can you cure a sunburn overnight? The answer is, unfortunately, no, it’s unlikely.

While there’s no miraculous way to heal your sunburn in 24-hours the remedies we just discussed will certainly support your body’s natural healing process.

So, how long does a sunburn take to heal? A mild sunburn typically takes about 3-days to heal while a moderate sunburn can take up to 5-days and is often followed by peeling skin. However, if you have a severe sunburn, it may last for more than a week.

When to See a Doctor

Thankfully if your sunburn is mild to moderate, it will likely heal without the need for medical treatment. That said, if you have a severe sunburn it’s a good idea to visit your doctor. If your baby or toddler develops a sunburn you should take them to the doctor too. Your doctor can look it over and recommend the best treatment plan for you.

Signs of severe sunburn include:

  • You develop blisters.
  • You develop a fever or feel excessively hot.
  • You feel sick, fatigued, or dizzy.
  • You have a headache.
  • You develop muscle cramps.

Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler, RN

Patty is a freelance health writer and nurse (BSN, CCRN). She has worked as a critical care nurse for over 10 years and loves educating people about their health. When she's not working, Patty enjoys any outdoor activity that she can do with her husband and three kids.