Here’s How to Treat a Bad Sunburn, Fast


No matter how serious you are about SPF—as we all should be—chances are you’ve found yourself lobster red and googling “how to get rid of sunburn fast.” Sunburns happen, even when we try to be diligent, and there’s not much you can do once you’re burnt to a crisp. When you find yourself in a sunburn fix, it’s best to treat your burn like a pimple that’s decided to pop up right before a big event: Don’t panic, don’t pick, and treat the situation gently. While there’s no such thing as getting rid of a sunburn overnight, you can reduce sunburn redness according to our experts, board-certified dermatologists Flora Kim and Amy Ross. Both agree that prevention—i.e., not getting sunburned in the first place— is the best way to get rid of a sunburn fast, but they also both have tips on treating sunburns once they happen from covering up skin discoloration and reducing inflammation to speeding along the sunburn healing process. Here, expert tips on undoing the damage caused by too much time in the sun and too little SPF.

In this article: 

Is it possible to get rid of sunburn redness overnight?

Sorry, folks, the answer here is pretty much a resounding no, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore sunburnt skin. Even though you won’t see immediate results from tending to your skin after a burn, you should still take steps to heal your skin according to Ross. “If left completely untreated, a sunburn can appear worse in the morning,” she says. This is because sunburns work on a timeline we’re not necessarily aware of. “Initial redness associated with sunburns can start as soon as 10 to 15 minutes after sun exposure, but can take up to 12 hours to peak and produce the intense and painful redness that anyone who has been sunburned has experienced.” With that in mind, start treating your sunburn ASAP.

How to treat a sunburn fast: 

While it’s not possible to get rid of sunburn redness overnight, there are things you can do to start minimizing a sunburn as soon as you notice you’ve got one. You can work against a sunburn internally and externally.

First, pop an ibuprofen.

“As an anti-inflammatory medication, it can really make a difference in limiting the inflammation, which is associated with the intense redness of a sunburn,” explains Ross. 

Focus on staying cool. 

“Keeping the burn cool immediately with ice or other cool compress will help minimize the extent of the burn, if done acutely,” shares Kim, who also recommends applying “copious amounts of pure aloe vera gel,” as often as every hour on the first day you’re sunburned. Another pro tip? “Keep the aloe vera gel in the refrigerator so that it is cooling and extra soothing when you apply it.”

Babo Botanicals After Sun Soothing Hydrating Organic Aloe Gel

How to get rid of sunburn redness quickly: 

While your skin is sunburned, gentleness is key in all your treatments. Burned skin is extra sensitive, so make sure that you’re steering clear of potential skin irritants.

Use gentle products.

Ross cautions, “be careful the products [you apply to a sunburn] do not contain alcohol, which will further dry and irritate.” Other ingredients to steer clear of include retinols or retinoids or any type of acids (AHA, BHA, etc) or peels, Dr. Kim shares.

Look for healing ingredients. 

Instead, Kim recommends you “use super-gentle, repairing, healing, hydrating body wash and body moisturizer. My favorites are Bioderma’s Atoderm Ultra-Nourishing Anti-Irritation Cleansing Oil and Bioderma’s Atoderm Ultra-Soothing Balm.”

Bioderma Atoderm Cleansing Oil

Bioderma Atoderm Intensive Balm

In terms of what specific ingredients to look for, “antioxidant ingredients like vitamin C, ferulic acid, and vitamin E could help combat the free-radical damage and help with post-sun damage,” says Ross. “I like Monat’s Be Gentle Nourishing Moisturizer because it has ingredients like hyaluronic acid and plant stem cells that help hydrate and replenish the skin.”

Monat Be Gentle Nourishing Moisturizer

How to prevent a sunburn from peeling:

While there’s no magical treatment that guarantees your skin won’t peel, there are steps you can take to minimize peeling. 

Act fast. 

“If you can start to treat a sunburn immediately upon noticing you have started to get burned, there is a good chance you can prevent peeling,” explains Ross. First, get out of the sun as soon as you notice a burn. “Sun exposure has a lot to do with duration of exposure,” Ross shares. “The shorter the duration, the better the outcome.”

Stay hydrated. 

After a burn occurs, keeping the skin hydrated and avoiding irritants is key. Ross suggests cool baths and patting, not rubbing, your skin dry. She also recommends you “apply hydrocortisone cream immediately after the bath, followed by a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy.”

Keep your hands off. 

Treating your sunburn gently also means no scratching at or attempting to exfoliate it away. As Kim points out, sunburned skin is injured skin and should be treated delicately.

How to conceal a sunburn: 

If you’re not about that tomato look, it is possible to keep a sunburn under wraps—you just need the right products.

Color-correct the redness. 

Perhaps to your surprise, foundation isn’t one of them. Even if it’s hard to do so, fight the urge to put it on, and instead begin with a light application of green-tinted color-correcting primer. Because green neutralizes redness on your skin, dab it onto the places that burned the most (most likely the bridge of your nose and under your eyes). Just don’t layer it on too thick. Sheer is the way to go; otherwise, it’ll look caked-on.

Conceal strategically. 

Take a step back and look at where your burn is the most noticeable. That’s where you’ll be applying a light layer of tinted moisturizer to further help tone down redness. Celebrity makeup artist Pati Dubroff says to stick with cream-based makeup instead of powders, since powders are mattifying and could draw more attention to the areas you’re hoping to hide. “A sheer tinted moisturizer with luminosity properties that’s one shade darker than your original skin color, pre-sunburn, works much better than any full-coverage foundations,” she says.

If your sunburn is less of an allover situation and more of a spot-treatment job, dab concealer onto only the reddest parts of your face. “Use a concealer with a yellow undertone on parts that are super burned to help blend it in,” Dubroff says. Translation: If you fell asleep with sunglasses on at the beach, dab concealer around the red ring surrounding your eyes to blend it into the rest of your skin color.

Amber Rambharose is a culture and beauty writer based in Philadelphia. Follow her on Instagram @amberdeexterous


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