Sunburn is a right royal pain. No matter what you do or how much advice you take, it's annoyingly easy to get to the end of your holiday red raw and trying to avoid any sunlight whatsoever. With so much waffle online, it can be hard to find a hack that actually works to relieve the burning sensation. So I contacted a bunch of experts to find sunburn remedies that work and which ones should remain in the "do not try ever" folder.
First of all, what actually is sunburn? According to dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation (BSF), Dr. Anjali Mahto, it is "an acute reaction in the skin that follows excessive overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It causes direct damage to DNA resulting in inflammation and death of skin cells."
While it's fine to list off a bunch of sunburn prevention methods (the main one being a sunscreen with SPF 30 or more, says Dr. Mahto), you're guaranteed to sit out in the sun for too long at least a handful of times throughout your life. But what do you do when you've overdone it and now resemble a ripe tomato?
Searching "how to get rid of sunburn" online brings back everything from soaking in yoghurt to rubbing yourself with teabags. I have official word from the experts: If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Paula Begoun, founder of skincare line Paula's Choice, says that applying a number of products claiming to heal burns "is just silly. They won't hurt but in terms of being helpful, it's more of a why bother?"
Here are nine tried and tested methods that will heal that sunburn in no time at all. (And only two of them involve some kind of food or drink.)
1. Stay Out Of The Sun
This may sound incredibly obvious but you'd be surprised "how many people just continue sitting in the sun burning away more and more," says Begoun. Think what you would do with any other type of burn. You wouldn't stick your hand back on top of the offending item, so why continue lounging around in the sun? "Get in the shade or inside immediately," advises Begoun.
2. Buy Some Over-The-Counter Pain Relief
Over-the-counter painkillers are an ideal way to reduce inflammation and reduce that awful burning sensation, says Dr. Mahto. While your first thought may be to reach for the paracetamol, this will only help with pain "but has little effect on inflammation." It's best to use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen instead. Dr. Mahto advises continuing to take the painkiller for at least 48 hours after the burn if possible.
3. Soak In The Tub (With A Little Magic Ingredient)
"A good soak with lukewarm water will help lower your internal body temperature," says aesthetician to the stars and skincare expert Reneé Rouleau. However, you don't have to stick to water. Rouleau admits that the addition of whole milk to the bath can bring inflammation down and "help to comfort the burned skin."
4. Ice Ice Baby
Most of us will naturally turn to ice as soon as sunburn rears its ugly head. Begoun says that this is the right thing to do but recommends a method known as indirect icing. This is where you apply an icy compress for 10 minutes and then leave it off for a further 10 minutes. "Depending on the depth of the burn, it can take a couple of days for the pain to go away. So keep indirect icing with just more space in between," she adds.
5. Time To Moisturise
The last thing you want to do is irritate your burnt skin. But it is a good idea to moisturise after taking a quick bath or shower, says Dr. Mahto, adding: "Use an unperfumed cream or lotion (perhaps containing aloe vera or soy) to soothe the skin." You may need to keep moisturising for several weeks in order to prevent peeling and should avoid anything containing petroleum, benzocaine, or lidocaine as these can cause further irritation. Fellow dermatologist and BSF spokesperson Dr. Emma Wedgeworth recommends keeping your moisturiser in the fridge to give the skin that extra cooling sensation.
6. Rub On Some Oatmeal
I sent Dr. Wedgeworth a list of sunburn cures recommended by the online world. Ranging from potatoes and vinegar to tomatoes and baking soda, the only one she would advise as a potential sunburn treatment is oatmeal. "It's the only one I would use as a soothing agent. Put it inside a muslin cloth in the bath," she states. "As for the rest, they could potentially irritate." Don't believe everything you read on the Internet, guys.
7. Stick A Gel Mask On
Although sunburn can affect any part of the body, it always seems to hit you square in the face. To get rid of it fast, Rouleau suggests applying a cooling gel mask that can "lower the temperature and hydrate thirsty skin cells." Whichever one you buy (La Roche-Posay and Peter Thomas Roth are both great options), stick them inside the fridge for 30 minutes before each use.
8. Invest In Some Oils
After the gel has been removed from your skin, Rouleau advises applying a few drops of oil containing antioxidants. "Using topical antioxidants may help encourage repair deep within the skin," she adds. "Since the skin has essentially been fried, it can feel extremely stiff. Oil will lubricate the skin to lessen the tug and pull effect." Look out for oils containing pomegranate seed oil, cranberry oil, and rosehip oil.
9. Stay Hydrated
Last but not least, it's important to keep your body hydrated — even when you'd rather drink a cocktail over another glass of water. "Sunburn can encourage fluid loss through the skin," says Dr. Mahto. "Drinking plenty of water will prevent dehydration and help your body recover." And yes, you should really avoid alcohol during this painful time.
Sunburn no longer has to be the enemy with these easy-to-try hacks. Don't raid your kitchen cupboard looking for a wonder ingredient. Just slather on the oatmeal, bathe in ice, and keep on moisturising, and it'll be bye bye burn and hello summer.
Saying that, it's important to remember that sunburn can cause long-term damage to the skin and prevention is the keyword to think about. If you're ever worried about your skin, contact a doctor or dermatologist.