According to the National Cancer Institute, about a third of American adults experience a sunburn each year, and more than 33,000 of these burns require emergency room visits.
There are no magical cures for sunburns, but there are a number of ways you can support your body’s natural healing process. Let’s take a look at the most effective ways to heal a sunburn faster.
Sunburns are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. The longer you’re exposed to these rays, the more likely your skin will burn. People with darker skin don’t burn as quickly as people with paler skin because they produce more of the pigment melanin that protects skin from UV damage.
The more severely you burn, the longer it will take for your body to replace the damaged layer of skin. Mild sunburn symptoms usually alleviate in
The rate that your body can heal may be genetically determined, but other factors like your age and overall health also play a role.
Conditions and lifestyle habits that weaken your immune system can also slow down your body’s ability to heal from a sunburn. Some of these include:
To heal from a sunburn, you need to give your body time to replace the skin that was damaged. There’s a limit to how fast your body can heal itself, but you can maximize the healing process by getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and moisturizing your skin.
- Get lots of sleep. Sleep restriction disrupts your body’s production of certain cytokines that help your body manage inflammation. This disruption can negatively affect your body’s ability to heal itself.
- Avoid tobacco use. Smoking or using other forms of tobacco can impair your body’s natural healing process by promoting inflammation throughout your body. Quitting can be difficult, but a doctor can help you create a cessation plan that works for you.
- Avoid additional sun exposure. Exposing a sunburn to more UV rays can further damage your skin. If you have to go out, try to cover your sunburn with clothing and wear sunscreen.
- Apply aloe vera. Aloe vera contains a substance called aloin that
reduces inflammation. Aloe vera can also moisturize your skin and prevent peeling.
- Cool bath. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends taking a cool bath or shower to soothe your skin. Afterward, leave a little moisture on your skin when you dry off and then apply a moisturizer to trap in water.
- Apply hydrocortisone cream. Hydrocortisone creams are used to treat swelling, irritation, and itchiness. The Mayo Clinic recommends applying hydrocortisone cream to severe burns to manage swelling and pain.
- Stay hydrated. Sunburns draw moisture away from your skin. Drinking plenty of fluids and electrolytes can help rehydrate your skin.
- Try a cold compress. Applying a cold compress to your skin shortly after your burn may help draw away excess heat from your skin and reduce inflammation.
- Try an oatmeal bath. An oatmeal bath may help soothe your skin and reduce irritation. You can make an oatmeal bath by mixing a few tablespoons of baking soda and about a cup of oats to a cool bath.
Some people claim applying chamomile or diluted apple cider vinegar to your skin can help heal sunburns. However, these methods haven’t been scientifically proven.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get rid of your sunburn overnight even if your burn is relatively mild. Most burns take at least 3 days to heal completely even when properly treated.
All sunburn treatments work by supporting your body’s natural healing process, which has a limit to how fast it can work.
If your sunburn is mild, it will likely heal by itself without medical treatment. However, you may need to visit a doctor if your burn is severe.
If any of the following are true, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor:
- your sunburn blisters or becomes swollen
- you develop a fever or feel excessively hot
- you feel dizzy, sick, or tired
- you have a headache
- you develop muscle cramps
- the sunburn is on a baby or toddler
The only surefire way to heal a burn quickly is to avoid getting one in the first place. Some of the ways you can prevent sunburn include:
- Seek shade. When in the sun for a prolonged period, it’s a good idea to seek shade or to make your own by bringing an umbrella with you.
- Avoid the sunniest part of the day. UV rays are strongest in the late morning and early afternoon, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Wear a hat. A hat with a wide brim can protect your face, ears, and neck from sun exposure.
- Sunglasses. Sunglasses protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes from UV rays.
- Sunscreen. The
CDCrecommends wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 even on cloudy days. Reapply at least every 2 hours and check the expiration date before you use it.
Sunburns are caused by overexposure to UV rays. There’s no miracle cure to heal a sunburn, but you may be able to optimize your body’s healing process by getting plenty of rest, staying hydrated, and applying aloe vera or other moisturizers to your skin.
If you have a severe sunburn that’s blistering or causing you to feel sick, it’s a good idea to visit a doctor to see if you need additional medical treatment.