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A person may be able to treat mild sunburn at home by taking cool showers, wearing loose clothing that shields the skin, and using lotion. However, it is important to use the right type of lotion, as some may cause further irritation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aloe vera gel, moisturizing cream, or 1% hydrocortisone cream may ease the symptoms of sunburn as it heals.
In this article, we look at how to care for sunburned skin, the best types of lotion to use, and some examples.
Sunburn results from too much exposure to UV light. A person can develop it from spending too much time in the sun or using tanning beds.
Symptoms of sunburn include:
- warm, tender skin
A person with sunburn may also feel tired, nauseous, or dehydrated. People with these symptoms should drink water and stay out of the sun.
Mild sunburn typically heals on its own in 3–5 days. Certain lotions may provide some relief, reducing soreness as the skin heals. However, there is no fast-acting cure for sunburn.
While many different products are available, few ingredients have been proven to help sunburn heal.
A 2015 review in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine notes that aloe vera gel may promote the healing of skin burns, achieving results more quickly than a 1% silver sulfadiazine ointment. Other studies show that aloe vera helps with wound repair, in general.
Consequently, pure aloe vera gel, or products containing high amounts of aloe vera, may help soothe sunburn.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also recommend products that contain soy.
There are certain ingredients that people with sunburn should avoid, including:
- Ingredients ending in “-caine”: The AAD report that these ingredients, such as benzocaine, may irritate sunburned skin or cause an allergic reaction.
- Oils and petroleum: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, oil- or petroleum-based creams may make sunburn worse by trapping heat in the skin.
Please note that the statements below are based only on research. No one at Medical News Today, including the writer, has tried these products.
Seven Minerals’ Organic Aloe Vera Gel
This contains a high percentage of aloe vera, along with a few other ingredients that naturally preserve it for a longer shelf life.
The company state that their gel can help with sunburn and after-sun care, along with dry skin, itching, and irritation.
According to the makers, the thickening ingredients that they use keep the gel from being sticky. They also say that their aloe vera comes from Department of Agriculture-certified farms in the United States.
Sun Bum Cool Down Aloe Vera Gel
This product contains aloe vera gel, vitamin E, and tea tree oil to moisturize and calm sunburned skin. Vitamin E can protect the skin from some of the damaging effects of solar radiation, and the small amount of tea tree oil in this formula may be mildly antiseptic.
According to the company, this product has been approved by dermatologists and has a lightweight, non-greasy texture.
Reviewers claim that it helps reduce skin peeling and soreness after sunburn.
The company recommend keeping this gel in the refrigerator so that it cools the skin and also to prolong its shelf life.
CeraVe Hydrocortisone Cream 1%
This contains a 1% concentration of hydrocortisone, a medication that can help ease itching caused by sunburn. It also contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which add moisture to the skin to relieve dryness.
According to the company, their cream contains no fragrance and has an emollient formula that provides long-lasting relief from dry or itchy skin.
This product has the highest concentration of hydrocortisone available without a prescription. CeraVe warn people to use the cream no more than 3–4 times per day, and it is not suitable for babies and toddlers younger than 2.
In addition to applying lotion or gel, the AAD recommend taking the following steps:
- Take frequent baths or showers with cool or tepid water.
- Gently pat the body dry with a clean towel — do not rub.
- Apply a suitable lotion when the skin is still slightly damp.
- Drink extra water to prevent dehydration.
- Protect sunburned areas by keeping them covered.
- If the skin blisters, allow it to heal — do not pick at it.
While sunburn is temporary and usually heals on its own, it can cause long-lasting damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. The best way to avoid this is to prevent sunburn from occurring.
The AAD recommend:
- avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- wearing sun-protective clothing
- using a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher, even on cloudy days
- reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours
Some have a higher risk of severe sunburn, including people who:
- have very fair skin
- take medications that make their skin more sensitive to the sun
- use certain skincare products and treatments, such as acid peels
These people should take extra care to protect their skin from the sun.
In most cases, a person can treat their sunburn at home, but see a doctor immediately if any of the following occur:
- severe sunburn covering more than 15% of the body
- a high fever
- severe pain that lasts longer than 48 hours
Also, see a doctor if sunburned skin seems infected or does not respond to home care.
A person can usually treat mild sunburn at home. Lotions that contain aloe vera, soy, or 1% hydrocortisone may help relieve the symptoms until the sunburn heals.
Sunburn can cause lasting damage to the skin, so preventing it is important. If the burn does not heal after 3–5 days, or if it is severe and causes significant pain, see a doctor right away.