There’s no denying it – the sunny, summer weather has officially arrived. For many beach bums, backyard sunbathers, or outdoor enthusiasts, summertime can also mean a risky visit from a less-than-welcomed guest: the dreaded sunburn!
It’s no secret that it is important to apply (and reapply) sunscreen when experiencing extended sun exposure. But what happens when that protection falls short? What are the most effective ways to soothe your red hot skin and minimize painful blisters?
Here’s a guide to the best ways to protect yourself during sun exposure, limit the long-term effects of sun damage, and give yourself effective sunburn relief when needed.
The Best Offense is a Good Defense
With a little research and some thoughtful preventative measures, you can effectively protect yourself from a sunburn before you hear those six awful words, “Hey, you’re getting a little red.”
Harmful UV rays that cause sunburn are strongest between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during both spring and summer months, and year-round in many parts of the world.1 When choosing a sunscreen, look for a lotion or spray with a high sun protection factor (or SPF). The higher the number, the more sunburn protection you’ll get.
If you’re spending extended periods of time outdoors, sunscreen only protects you when you remember to reapply often.
But how often is often enough? A good rule of thumb is to apply 1 teaspoon of sunscreen per body part at least every two hours.2 Another hot tip when it comes to getting the most out of sunscreen is making sure your sunscreen is mineral based versus chemical.
Additionally, protective clothing and accessories can go a long way to protect you from sunburn. Consider a wide-brimmed hat or large umbrella for a long beach day, or try to wear long sleeves while gardening – even in hot weather. Items like these are rated by UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, rather than the familiar SPF ratings found on sunscreens. You’ll often see UPF ratings on specialty beach items, like sun-shirts or popup tents.3
Natural Remedies to Heal Sunburn
Sunburn shows up hours after the damage is done – hot, red skin and fluid-filled blisters develop long after you come inside or move your beach towel under an umbrella. This makes it hard to track your level of exposure until it is too late.
Surprisingly, a sunburn can develop after only 15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure.
Since you can’t reverse the damaging effects of a sunburn, your focus can shift instead to soothing your symptoms and helping your skin recover.4
Because the length of sun exposure will vary, so too can sunburn intensities. Sunburns can range from a first-degree burn (redness, itching, surface hotness to the touch) to a second-degree burn (blisters, swelling, thickening of the skin), based on length of sun exposure and severity. With this said, it is always important to assess the damaged skin symptoms carefully before trying to minimize them.5
At-Home Sunburn Remedies
If your sunburn exhibits first-degree burn symptoms like redness and hotness, focus your efforts on cooling down your skin and moisturizing the surface. Simple remedies can offer great sunburn relief, and often involve things you already have at home.
Try using cool compresses of water or milk, or applying certain creams, to ease discomfort. Also, taking a cool bath (without soap, which can dry your parched skin even more) is a great way to round out a hot summer day and lessen the sting of your sunburn.
Even just one serious burn per lifetime can significantly raise your risk of dangerous skin issues down the road.6 To treat a more serious burn, use the same methods as a 1st-degree burn but avoid rubbing creams into the damaged skin so that the blisters stay in tact – broken or oozing skin can easily become infected or create a scar.
Don’t Forget to Moisturize
For any level of sunburn, moisturizing quickly after sun exposure is a key step to fast skin recovery. Always use a light moisturizing lotion, and avoid heavy, petroleum-based moisturizers which can trap heat inside your skin.
Applying Vitamin E oil or lotion can rapidly raise your skin’s antioxidant levels, which can, in turn, minimize burn symptoms.7 Essential oils are also an excellent alternative to thick lotions – they are incredibly hydrating, and some have medicinal properties. Try peppermint oil for a cooling sensation and as a natural analgesic, or apply the antimicrobial properties of lavender oil to promote faster skin cell rejuvenation while minimizing redness and stinging sensations.8
Added bonus: you’ll smell pretty amazing…
Always avoid additional sun exposure while your skin is healing by covering up lightly or staying indoors until the sunburn is completely healed. Keeping your sun exposure to a minimum will give your skin a chance to fully cool down (oh the sweet relief of air conditioning!) and help minimize long-term effects of sun damage.
The Mighty Hydrators: Aloe Vera and H2O
By far, the most well-known and most effective remedy for sunburn relief is aloe vera; be it straight from the plant leaf, or in a lotion, cream, or gel form.
By nature, aloe is made up of 99 percent water – but there are two very soothing qualities of this plant which make aloe vera so effective. Naturally occurring glycoproteins in aloe help minimize pain and irritation (these are the same health-boosting proteins found in turmeric and echinacea), and polysaccharides encourage skin growth and natural repair. Aloe vera can be applied regularly to both first and second-degree burns for relief, as long as blisters, peeling skin, or open wounds are not excessively rubbed or scrubbed.9,10,11
Another great way to keep skin hydrated is by misting it frequently throughout the day, like the Beverly Hills MD 24-Hour Hydrating Rose Mist.
Finally and perhaps the simplest of all remedies, drinking lots of water before, during, and after a long day of sun exposure can help heal your body from the inside out by minimizing dehydration. Drinking water will not only keep your body cool, but it helps cells repair themselves by ridding your body of toxins – an added bonus to staying healthy and happy!
“Learn From the Burn”
Each summer is another opportunity for you to make smart SPF and sun protection choices every time you head out for the beach, a BBQ, or a pool party. If a sunburn does happen, remember these options as great tactics to soothe damaged skin.