As soon as you get out of the tub or shower, gently pat yourself dry. Leave a little moisture on your skin, then apply a moisturizer, the AAD advises. This helps trap the water on your skin and can reduce dryness that would exacerbate your irritation.
If you don’t have time to hang in the shower or bath, try placing a cool, damp towel on your skin for relief, Dr. Goldenberg says, and then follow it up with moisturizer.
Use a moisturizer with aloe vera, soy, or calamine. If that’s not enough, try a hydrocortisone cream.
People often champion aloe vera for its skin-soothing properties, including the Mayo Clinic and the AAD. And it can indeed help with irritation during a sunburn. Soy might be a more surprising ingredient for sunburn aftercare, but it could allow your skin to trap more moisturizing water, according to research published in the journal Nutrients. You might also want to apply calamine lotion, according to the Mayo Clinic, to help with the itching and discomfort. And, if you’re really having a rough go of it, you can use an OTC hydrocortisone cream, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Heads up: You’ll want to avoid products with petroleum, as moisturizing as they may seem, because they can trap heat in your skin, the AAD says.
Here are a few sunburn relief products that our editors tried and loved.
Take a pain reliever.
Your body sees a sunburn as an injury, so it responds with inflammation, Misha Rosenbach, M.D., associate professor of dermatology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, tells SELF. Cue the pain. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever, especially a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like aspirin or ibuprofen, can help calm down your dermatological fire, Dr. Goldenberg says.
Avoid using pain relief products with ingredients ending in “-caine.”
There are plenty of pain-relieving creams and sprays out there with ingredients ending in “-caine,” like lidocaine and benzocaine. Take a pass on using them for your sunburn. They can irritate your tender skin or even cause an allergic reaction, the Mayo Clinic says.
Drink a lot of water.
Everyone’s fluid needs are different, but most women should drink around 11.5 cups of liquids a day, according to the Mayo Clinic. (This includes fluids from drinks like coffee and the foods you eat.) Aim to have a few extra cups of liquid per day if you’re sunburned, Dr. Goldenberg says, but don’t push it to the point where you’re uncomfortable. Alternately, don’t stop there if you still feel parched. Listen to your body.
What to do if your skin is peeling or blistering
If you have blisters, don’t even think about popping them. Blisters, which are your skin’s way of trying to heal and stave off infection, mean you have a second-degree burn that has gone past the outer layer of your skin, the AAD says. Though it’s super tempting to pop them, don’t. You might just be signing up for an infection, or at the very least, a world of pain.
If a blister breaks on its own, the Mayo Clinic recommends cleaning it with mild soap and water, dabbing on some antibiotic cream, then applying a non-stick gauze bandage.