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Knowing go-to sunburn remedies is a summer essential, especially as the weather is hotting up and the sun is finally out for 2021.
We all know that, ideally, the best way to deal with sunburn and heat rash (opens in new tab) is to prevent it in the first place. But even though we spend plenty of time and money scouting out the best suncreams (opens in new tab) every year, it's not always that simple. Forgetting to reapply sunscreen after a dip in the pool is easily done, it's hard to know when suncream is out of date (opens in new tab) and unexpected sunny afternoons are a sure-thing in British summertime.
Luckily, sunburn is easy to treat using natural remedies you’ll probably already have at home and affordable over-the-counter treatments.
The best sunburn remedies to try at home
"As soon as you realise that your skin may be starting to burn, you should move into a cool, shaded area as soon as possible," Lloyds Pharmacy (opens in new tab) pharmacist Pareena Patel says.
Once under cover from the sun, try these tips to ease your sunburn.
1. Drink lots of water
"To ease the burning sensation, try a cool compress on the affected area and stay hydrated," Pareena says.
Staying hydrated when you've been sunburnt is especially important as when you're dehydrated, your body doesn't have what it needs to heal. Sunburn brings liquid to the surface of the skin and away from the body. So for it to heal properly, it needs to be constantly replenished (opens in new tab) with lost liquids and electrolytes.
This is also one of the ways to prevent sunburn in the future, as dehydration can make you more vulnerable (opens in new tab) to the sun's ultraviolet light.
2. Apply moisturiser
"You should ten apply a cooling moisturiser or after-sun," Pareena says. "Unscented products are best to use as they won't cause further irritation to the skin. There are a number of key ingredients to look out for."
Products containing aloe vera are also the ones to go for, as they're "rich in vitamins A, C and E and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties which can calm the burn."
But this is an important step in after-sun skincare, whether or not you've been sunburnt. As our expert says, "Using an after-sun or rich moisturiser will help reduce and prevent sun damage whilst rehydrating dry, damaged skin. You should use after-sun after any sun exposure, whether you have signs of damage or not.”
3. Use Sudocrem to treat soreness
One of the genius uses of Sudocrem (opens in new tab) is to treat the soreness that often accompanies sunburn. While it hasn't been proven to soothe sunburn specifically, it's helpful at reducing discomfort.
Sudocrem is made up of three ingredients: zinc oxide, benzyl alcohol and lanolin. The first helps to calm down the sunburn and help the burn to heal, benzyl alcohol soothes the pain, and lanolin has been proven to prevent water loss (opens in new tab) so it works to prevent skin peeling by holding in moisture.
While a heavy moisturiser works in a similar way to prevent water loss, Sudocrem is especially good for moderate burns as it targets pain and helps the wound to heal.
4. Apply Bio Oil to prevent further skin conditions
If it's not dealt with properly, sunburnt skin can turn dry and lead to lines and wrinkles in the future. This is especially true around the face, which is why experts recommend a tablespoon of facial suncream (opens in new tab) on the face and neck before going out in the sunshine.
"It's important to treat the sunburn with products that have ingredients like vitamin E, which helps the skin heal and neutralise free radicals," Dr. Dendy Engelman (opens in new tab), dermatologic surgeon at Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, says. "Bio-Oil Multiuse Skincare Oil is packed with vitamins A and E - which work with the skin to promote cell regeneration - and lavender oil, chamomile oil, calendula oil and rosemary oil, which invigorate and condition the skin.”
5. Soak in an oatmeal bath
Oatmeal is one of the oldest sunburn remedies out there and for good reason, Pareena explains. "Moisturisers containing colloidal oats may also help reduce inflammation of the skin and soothe irritation."
Research (opens in new tab) over the years has shown that soaking in the oats or applying a colloidal oat mixture to the affected area can dramatically reduce inflammation from sunburn and in turn, dampen the soreness of the burn.
To apply the mixture to your skin, grind up rolled oats in a blender and add to a cool bath. Soak for up to 20 minutes, then gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel. Avoid rubbing the skin as this will only irritate your skin further.
6. Place teabags over your eyes
There are multiple properties in green and black tea that can help heal a sunburn, research (opens in new tab) suggests. The tannic acid pulls the heat from the skin, while the antioxidant compounds in tea called catechins a repair skin damage.
This way to heal sunburn at home is particularly useful for those who've been sunburnt around the face and eye areas. To utilise the tea properties, soak two tea bags in cool water and place them on the top of closed eyelids to help bring down the swelling and reduce the pain.
7. Wear lightweight fabrics while the sunburn is healing
To prevent the burned area turning into long-term skin damage, it's vital not to peel the burnt skin away yourself. The blisters that result from sunburn are a clear sign of severe skin damage and have to be treated with as much care as possible.
Peeling the top skin off comes with the chance of further painful skin irritation and a danger of infection, especially if tight clothes prevent the air from getting into contact with the skin.
If in doubt about the severity of your sunburn, consult your GP or a dermatologist who will be able to give further help and advice on treatment.
8. Apply a cucumber mixture to the burnt skin
This is another old wives' tale for sunburn remedies - but it really works!
"Cucumbers are rich in natural botanical compounds that have both antioxidant and analgesic properties," Dermatologist Dr Cynthia Bailey (opens in new tab) explains, "The best way to use cucumbers on sunburned skin is to make a paste of chilled cucumber. Chill your cucumbers, then use your kitchen blender to create a paste. Apply the paste to sunburned skin to help soothe sunburn pain and inflammation naturally.
"You can add some of the aloe vera juice or gel to your cucumber paste to combine the healing properties of both. Remember to use cool gel or paste as the coolness also speeds recovery by constricting your skin's capillaries, which are bringing in the building blocks of pain and inflammation."
9. Avoid using coconut oil on the burn when it's healing
Another one of the common sunburn remedies is to slather the burn with coconut oil. However, this has never been proven to actually work. Some oils are in fact known to do the opposite of healing burns and actually trap in heat from the skin.
The idea that coconut oil helps to heal sunburn comes from multiple studies, including a report conducted in 2012 (opens in new tab) that suggests applying lotions high in fats to a first-degree burn may help speed up healing time and reduce skin dryness.
Another study in 2014 (opens in new tab) found that lauric acid, one of the components of coconut oil, has antibacterial properties. So in theory, coconut oil should help to prevent a sunburn from becoming infected.
If you're thinking of applying coconut oil to a sunburn, it's better to be safe and only apply it after the burn has fully healed.
10. Apply honey to the sunburnt area
Honey has been used to treat burns and cuts since Roman times and possibly before. But an up-to-date review of the uses of honey (opens in new tab) to treat ailments was conducted in 2014 and confirmed that this spread is ideal for healing burns - even severe ones.
The review found that honey is effective in cleaning wounds that have become infected, as it acts as a barrier between the air and the wound itself, but also honey works to cleanse burns quickly and can prevent dead tissue (opens in new tab), otherwise known as eschar, from forming on the top of the burnt area. Honey has also recently been shown (opens in new tab) to accelerate the burn's natural healing process with minimal scar formation at the end, which is especially important if it's a severe sunburn. This is because the sweet liquid contains properties that improve wound nutrition (opens in new tab), blood circulation (opens in new tab) and reduce inflammation (opens in new tab).
11. Take paracetamol before going to sleep
Heading to bed with a sunburn - particularly if it's on your back - is a truly uncomfortable experience. While there's not much you can do to totally prevent the pain apart from sleeping in a different position, painkillers will certainly go some way to help.
Both ibuprofen and paracetamol are known for helping to reduce swelling and inflammation, so they should help you get a better night's sleep than you otherwise would have. However, ibuprofen has been proven (opens in new tab) to increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun. So if you're planning to spend more time in the sun on the days following your sunburn, opt for paracetamol instead. Another advantage of paracetamol is that it can be taken on an empty stomach (opens in new tab), unlike ibuprofen.
When should you go to the doctors for sunburn?
While it's easy to find sunburn remedies at home, even the most minor burns can become infected and require medical treatment in the wrong conditions. If you experience any of the following symptoms, it's important to consult a medical professional as soon as possible:
- Chills or fever
- Extensive blistering
- General weakness
- Patches of purple discolouration
- Intense itchiness
- New burnt areas in the hours/days following the initial burn, suggesting that it could be spreading
It's especially important to consult your GP if you have any or all of these symptoms as particular medications, including those used to treat acne scars (opens in new tab) or fungal infections, can increase your sensitivity to the sun and cause severe allergic reactions.
How long does sunburn last?
Sunburn can last anywhere from three days to more than a week, depending on how severe the condition is.
- Minor sunburn lasts for about 3 days.
- Moderate sunburn will last for about 5 days and then the skin begins to peel.
- Severe sunburn will likely last for more than a week with skin peeling within the first three to eight days.
These timings begin from when the skin begins to feel hot and sore and looks red under the naked eye. It then progressively will get worst in the following 24 to 36 hours, which is also when the pain is likely to be at its worst.
How to get rid of sunburn fast
While there's no step-by-step routine for how to immediately get rid of sunburn, there are some things you can do to stop the discomfort and start the healing process.
- Get out of the sun: Going indoors where there's air conditioning or cooler temperatures will stop the skin from overheating even further.
- Drink lots of water: Water helps to rehydrate the skin as when it's burning, water is pulled to the surface of the skin.
- Take paracetamol: This will almost immediately help with any pain resulting from the burn. It can also help to bring down swelling and inflammation.
- Moisturise the burnt area: Using products with aloe vera, vitamins A, C and E have been proven to help rehydrate the skin and bring down the redness.
This won't get rid of the sunburn as the skin heals on its own, but they should work as good sunburn remedies to help to bring down the redness and inflammation, as well as help the skin heal in the longer term.
Grace Walsh is a Features Writer for Goodto.com, covering breaking news health stories during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as lifestyle and entertainment topics. She has worked in media since graduating from the University of Warwick in 2019 with a degree in Classical Civilisation and a year spent abroad in Italy. It was here that Grace caught the bug for journalism, after becoming involved in the university’s student newspaper and radio station.
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