“When you get a sunburn, UV light causes inflammation in the skin similar to what you might get from a thermal burn from the oven,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “That’s why it’s important to hydrate the skin and help repair the skin barrier as quickly as possible.”
The easiest way to do that is from the outside-in. For the most skin-soothing effects, look for a moisturizer containing aloe, like Vaseline Intensive Care Aloe Soothe Lotion, which helps calm burned skin.
2. Reduce your skin’s inflammation with pills and topicals.
You can also treat a sunburn by reducing inflammation from the inside-out, Dr. Zeichner explains. Popping an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pill like Advil can help reduce swelling and redness, plus help you deal with any pain.
Dr. Neda Mehr, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Pure Dermatology Cosmetic & Hair Center in Newport Beach, also recommends applying an over-the-counter cortisone cream to help reduce the inflammation. “The UV light causes inflammation and damage to the melanocytes and the keratinocytes, which are the top layer skin cells, and so when you put on a cortisone cream, it calms down that inflammation,” she says.
She prefers Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength, which also contains aloe vera.
3. Do not even think about peeling your sunburn.
Similar to the oft-repeated dermatologist advice of never pop a pimple, be sure to leave those sheets of peeling skin alone. (It’s a toss-up which no-no is more tempting.)
“Our skin constantly goes through a very subtle, invisible shedding process where dead cells fall off the skin’s surface,” says Loretta Ciraldo, MD, a Miami-based board-certified dermatologist and the founder of the skin care brand Dr. Loretta. “But when we are exposed to UVB it kills off top layers of skin cells prematurely, so that these damaged cells die and start to shed out in more massive, visible amounts and we experience skin peeling,”
When you pry off dead skin cells prematurely, Dr. Ciraldo says, living skin can come with it. “[Peeling your skin] can you set up for a poor or prolonged healing, increased irritation and inflammation and even possible infection,” she says. Sit on your hands, apply more aloe, whatever it takes to stop yourself from peeling.