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- Best gels and lotions
- Best body wash
- Best for pain and inflammation
- Best for face and lip care
- Best all-natural options
- Best for babies and kids
- Best supplements
Once beach season arrives, even those who religiously slather on the SPF can get burned from time to time. Maybe you miss a spot at the edge of your bathing suit, forget to do your back, or end up spending more time in the sun than you intended. It happens. More than 1 in 3 U.S. adults gets sunburned each year.
But once you’re burnt, you’ll need to properly care for your skin and the aftermath of the sunburn. From peeling to blisters and itchiness to redness, sunburns can wreak havoc on your skin and cause dehydration.
Here’s what you need to know about sunburns and what products you need to soothe your skin ASAP.
When you get sunburned, your skin and your skin cells undergo various processes after being overexposed to the sun’s strong rays.
“Physically, we observe redness and pain that are directly proportional to the severity of sun exposure,” says New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Macrene Alexiades, the founder of MACRENE actives. “Your skin will feel warm to the touch. If severe, you may experience nausea, fever, and chills.”
Underneath the skin, however, there’s even more going on. According to Alexiades, ultraviolet B (UVB) rays directly damage DNA by inducing the formation of mutations. In response, the skin generates a DNA repair response, which causes pain, dilated blood vessels, and swollen, blistered skin.
Over the long term, sunburns may cause skin cancer. Board certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King explains that 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about
“UV radiation is a proven human carcinogen,” King says. “On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if they have had more than five sunburns, but just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.”
Be sure to talk with your doctor or a dermatologist about your risk of developing skin cancer. They can also do a physical exam to screen for any warning signs and provide you with steps for how to do a regular self-exam at home.
If you get a sunburn, you want to take care of your skin as best as you can to relieve any pain and discomfort you feel. King suggests the following do’s and don’ts for treating a sunburn:
- Do take a tepid bath or shower to cool the skin.
- Do apply moisturizer that contains aloe vera to help soothe the burn and support the skin barrier as much as possible.
- Do use an over-the-counter or prescription-strength topical cortisone cream to provide relief.
- Do drink liquids to replace lost body fluids.
- Do stay out of the sun until the burn fades.
- Don’t pick at or pop any blisters.
- Don’t peel your skin, as the old skin provides a layer of protection as your new skin underneath matures.
- Don’t use products with petrolatum during the active stage of a burn, as this ingredient can trap heat in the skin.
Our list of recommended products is based on a mixture of high 4- or 5-star ratings, bestselling items, and recommendations from healthcare professionals.
By scouring reviews from customers and chatting with healthcare professionals, we rounded up our favorite 15 products to help relieve sunburns.
- $ = under $20
- $$ = $20–$64
- $$$ = over $64
Best gels and lotions
- Price: $
- Best for: mild to moderate sunburns on your face or body — reviewers say they have used it all over with consistent results
This gel contains sunburn soothing aloe vera, which is known for its anti-inflammatory, skin protection, antiseptic, and wound healing properties.
It also includes coffee extract and green tea extract, both of which Alexiades says can significantly reduce redness. In particular, the tannic acid and theobromine in green tea are known for healing damaged skin when applied topically.
However, some reviewers say that their burns didn’t actually turn into tans as the product name suggests.
- Price: $
- Best for: painful or itchy sunburns, as well as a skin protectant to potentially stave off peeling
This lotion is formulated with aloe vera and coconut oil, which work in tandem to soothe a sunburn and moisturize the skin. It also contains glycerin, a humectant that King says can help bind water to the outermost layer of the skin, locking in even more hydration.
That being said, some reviewers don’t particularly care for the smell. Some also think the lotion is too sticky.
- Price: $$
- Best for: instant cooling and pain relief post-sunburn
This aloe vera gel contains 1 percent lidocaine, which is an anesthetic used for pain relief. It’s ideal for easing discomfort after a sunburn, especially while you sleep if you’re having trouble relaxing in bed with your sheets touching your sensitive skin.
However, some reviewers say the gel is sticky and may stain your clothes. Some suggest letting it dry first before getting dressed or crawling between the sheets.
- Price: $
- Best for: peeling sunburns that need extra moisture and repair as skin heals
This hydrating lotion is made with ceramides — fatty acids found in skin cells that make up 50 percent of the outer layer of our skin — which help strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier. This cream also contains amino acids that work to prevent dryness.
Some reviewers say they were hoping for a thicker cream and found this one to be too light and liquid-y for their taste.
Best body wash
- Price: $
- Best for: painful skin that needs extra moisture and gentler ingredients than what’s in traditional body washes
This body wash contains avena sativa (oat) kernel flour, which Alexiades says can help soothe sunburnt skin. The fragrance-free formula makes it a milder cleansing option for sensitive, just-sunburnt skin.
Something to note is that some reviewers say that, even though the product is marketed as fragrance-free, it still has a scent. So, it may not be sensitive enough for all skin types and conditions.
Best for pain and inflammation
- Price: $$
- Best for: super painful and itchy burn areas, like the edges of your burn line
This topical anti-inflammatory is dermatologist recommended for reducing pain and itchiness. It contains 1 percent hydrocortisone, which is the maximum strength available without a prescription.
That being said, this topical cream is more for targeted areas than for your whole body. You may also need a lotion that can provide more coverage for the rest of your sunburn.
Best for face and lip care
- Price: $$
- Best for: severely dry and sensitive post-sunburn facial skin
This face cream locks in moisture with aloe vera and squalene, an emollient that King says can help the skin barrier through hydration and by improving the overall texture of the skin.
This product is a favorite for post-chemical peel relief, making it a good option for moisturizing the layer of new skin underneath a sunburn.
However, one reviewer says that the lotion is greasy and thick, so it may be better suited for nighttime application only.
- Price: $$$
- Best for: restoring an even skin tone and brightening skin as a sunburn heals
King recommends this serum for its potent antioxidant properties, noting that vitamin C can help neutralize free radicals from UV radiation. Reviewers say that a little goes a long way, so you don’t have to use a lot to get the benefits.
But one reviewer says the serum caused breakouts, while another says it made her fine lines more pronounced.
- Price: $
- Best for: overly chapped or sunburnt lips
This lip balm doesn’t contain petroleum like many other advanced lip care products, which King says you should avoid post-sunburn. The formulation of aloe, coconut oil, shea butter, and jojoba oil locks in moisture and promotes healing.
Reviews also say this lip balm has a just-right consistency, and it won’t melt in your pocket on a hot day.
Since this lip balm doesn’t contain SPF, you’ll need to keep your lips in the shade or slather sunscreen on over this product. (But you shouldn’t be out in the sun post-sunburn anyway, right?)
Best all-natural options
- Price: $
- Best for: alleviating redness and that tight post-sunburn sensation while you relax in the tub
King recommends soaking sunburnt skin in milk or plain yogurt to cleanse and moisturize, plus she says the enzymes in dairy products can provide gentle exfoliation. The proteins, vitamins, and minerals are anti-inflammatory, too, she adds.
This bath soak provides these same effects with just three natural ingredients: goat milk powder, honey powder, and baking soda.
Many reviewers say they thought the price point was too high for the size of the bottle — especially since many people use a sizable amount of product in each bath.
- Price: $
- Best for: hard-to-reach sunburnt areas and for full coverage relief with easy application
With vitamin E, lavender, sesame, calendula, and chamomile, this all-natural spray contains soothing ingredients and is easy to apply. Reviewers say it also helps sunburns fade quickly.
This spray won’t stop blistering or peeling, so if you have a severe sunburn, you may need something stronger.
Best for babies and kids
- Price: $
- Best for: kids, babies, and anyone with super sensitive skin
This cream doesn’t just ease sunburns. It can also soothe diaper rash, bumpy skin, bug bites, and eczema with certified organic aloe vera, jojoba oil, and shea butter.
While the formula is pretty clean — it’s fragrance-free, dye-free, paraben-free, gluten-free, and doesn’t contain petrolatum or mineral oil — some reviewers don’t like that the product contains alcohol, which may cause irritation.
- Price: $
- Best for: healing a sunburn from the inside out to supplement topical lotions or gels
According to King,
This supplement provides 5,000 international units of vitamin D3 per serving, and reviewers like that the capsule size is small, making the pills easy to swallow.
That being said, certain prescription medication can interfere with the absorption of vitamin D, while others can increase vitamin D levels. Always talk with your doctor before taking any new supplements or vitamins.
- Price: $
- Best for: regaining hydration and staying hydrated while your skin heals
According to Alexiades, oral electrolyte supplementation is key to reversing fluid loss that occurs after a sunburn, and her favorite product for this comes from Pedialyte. Reviewers love these packets because they’re easy to add to glasses of water or a portable bottle for quick hydration.
Not everyone loves the taste of Pedialyte, even when you have a variety pack like this one that lets you sample all the flavors.
A sunburn is in need of medical attention if:
- The sunburn is severe — with blisters — and covers a large portion of your body.
- The sunburn is accompanied by a high fever, headache, severe pain, dehydration, confusion, nausea or chills.
- You’ve developed a skin infection, indicated by swelling, pus or red streaks leading from the blister.
- Your sunburn doesn’t respond to at-home care.
They suggest a corticosteroid cream for your sunburn, or a short course of prednisone for severe cases involving large areas of your body.
That being said, visiting a dermatologist should be routine at least once a year. Even if you don’t have a skin condition, getting a dermatologist to thoroughly examine your body’s skin for irregular skin growths, asymmetrical moles or lesions could be a key step in preventing skin cancers, like melanoma.
How can you get rid of sunburn fast?
There’s no quick remedy for getting rid of sunburn. Mild sunburn will typically heal on its own within a few days. Severe sunburn will require medical treatment.
There’s no miracle cure to heal sunburn, but you may be able to optimize your body’s healing process by:
- getting plenty of rest
- staying hydrated
- applying aloe vera or other moisturizers to your skin
Should I use gel-based or cream-based products on my sunburn?
If both types contain ingredients for sunburn relief, like aloe vera, choosing a lotion or gel is a personal preference. You may find the lotion feels more hydrating to the skin and the gel may feel more cooling when first applied.
In the end, sunburns can happen to anyone — even if you’re trying to be careful about applying sunscreen or taking other precautions. While you don’t want to make a habit of spending too much time in the sun, treatments are available if you do get a burn.
Take care of your skin after the fact, and make a plan for what you need to do to prevent a sunburn in the future. For example, check that your sunscreen isn’t expired, invest in sun protective clothing, and bring an umbrella to the beach.
If you’re getting burned routinely or if you experience rashes or irritation from the sun or sun-care products, talk with your dermatologist so you can make a plan to keep your skin healthy.
Natasha Burton is a freelance writer and editor who has written for Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Livestrong, Woman’s Day, and many other lifestyle publications. She’s the author of What’s My Type?: 100+ Quizzes to Help You Find Yourself ― and Your Match!, 101 Quizzes for Couples, 101 Quizzes for BFFs, 101 Quizzes for Brides and Grooms, and the co-author of “The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags.” When she’s not writing, she’s fully immersed in #momlife with her toddler and preschooler.