How To Treat Sunburn, Fast

Follow our pro tips to calm, soothe and treat sunburnt skin

how to treat sunburn

by Emma Stoddart |
Updated on

If your skin is feeling somewhat scorched from the sunny weather, don’t panic. While we have faith that all of our readers are SPF-savvy and apply it on the daily, even the most avid SPF users are not completely immune from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Forgot to reapply? Missed an area? Used expired sun cream? (To find out more about sun cream expiry dates click here). There are multiple reasons for why sunburn and sun-induced skin inflammation occurs. To help soothe and treat it, follow our guidance from the skincare pro’s below.

What Is Sunburn?

Sunburn is an inflammatory reaction to ultraviolet (UV) exposure and indicates damage to the skin’s outermost layers. Typical signs of sunburn include redness, tightness and after a day or two, peeling. 'The strong erythema (redness, inflammation) of a sunburn only shows the UVB damage (+B for Burning) but gives no information about the UVA damage with regards to premature skin ageing and damage in the connective tissue (A for ageing),' explains Linda Blahr, head of Education and Science at SkinCeuticals. 'However, if sunburn occurs your skin literally “screams” as the damage due to UVB is already massive. The amount of sunburn cells will be huge and visible in the skin shedding afterwards.'

'Although the body has mechanisms to repair DNA damage caused by the sun, repeated sun exposure and multiple sunburn will increase the risk that some DNA damage cannot be repaired,' says Cosmetic Dermatologist, Dr Justine Hextall. The theory is, this DNA damage could in the longer-term lead to the development of skin cancer.

How To Treat Sunburn

First and foremost, always ensure you've applied a high factor, broad spectrum SPF (choose from our favourites here). And if you do burn, follow our expert's 5 tips below:

1. Cool the skin down

Cooling the skin is the first step to try and limit skin damage and also help the discomfort. 'Avoid extremes of temperature and pat the skin dry after bathing,' advises Hextall. 'A cooling gel or lotion will soothe the skin and also help to protect the damaged skin barrier reducing the risk of water loss and skin irritation, and potentially infection.' Try SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Masque, £60, to instantly cool and calm down redness with its botanical and hyaluronic acid blend. Avoid petroleum –based creams as they can occlude the skin and trap heat.

2. Apply aftersun

'Apply a soothing gel or lotion that is going to both cool and hydrate skin,' recommends Hextall. 'Look for anti-oxidants such as vitamin E to aid skin repair and protect the skin from longer term damage. Aloe Vera and chamomile are naturally soothing and anti-inflammatory.' We love La Roche-Posay's Posthelios Soothing After Sun Melt-in Gel, £13.50, packed with hydrating thermal spring water to soothe sunburn.

'Avoid heavily perfumed lotions if skin is sensitive or significantly burnt as this can irritate and in some cases cause allergy.'

3. Take painkillers

Ibuprofen can be a very effective anti-inflammatory pain killer. 'Be cautious with topical pain relieving gels,' warns Hextall, 'as the sun damaged skin is vulnerable to irritation and allergy, and some of these products contain well known skin sensitisers such as lignocaine and benzocaine.'

4. Seek advice

'If the sunburn is so intense that skin blisters I advise seeking medical help. The main risk here is secondary infection. If medical help isn’t available then I advise gently cleaning the skin, applying antiseptic cream and a non-adhesive dressing,' says Hextall.

'Keep the area covered until the skin starts to heal over, intermittently bathing the area and re-applying a clean dressing. Try to leave blisters intact as this will speed healing a reduce the risk of infection.'

5. Apply antioxidants

'The application of a daily topical antioxidants such as vitamin C can reduce the amount of sunburn cells as the skin is more protected,' says Blahr. 'Use a topical antioxidant such as SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic, £140, followed by a broad-spectrum sunscreen - this power couple provides a powerful protection against photo-ageing and the appearance of skin ageing.'

Shop our favourite SPF's below:


Best SPF 2021

Vichy Idu00e9al Soleil Solar Protective Water SPF30, £191 of 8

Vichy Idéal Soleil Solar Protective Water SPF30, £19

A non-greasy lightweight formula that feels comfortable on your skin and doesn't stain clothes. This one's a great all-rounder and a Grazia beauty team favourite.

Filorga UV Bronze SPF30 Body Oil, £302 of 8

Filorga UV Bronze SPF30 Body Oil, £30

A dry body oil formula that mists on like a dream and affords superb protection from the sun. This one was tried and tested by beauty editor Annie Vischer in the sun-drenched valleys of LA and it passed with flying colours.

Piz Buin Hydro Infusion Sun Gel Cream SPF30,  £123 of 8

Piz Buin Hydro Infusion Sun Gel Cream SPF30, £12

Despite the title this one is definitely more of a cream than a gel, but it's incredibly hydrating, light, non-greasy and hydrating to boot. It smells like summer too; this one's a box-ticker.

Lancaster Sun Beauty Sublime Tan Velvet Milk SPF30, £244 of 8

Lancaster Sun Beauty Sublime Tan Velvet Milk SPF30, £24

Lancaster is many a sunbather's go-to SPF and for good reason. The brand is Monaco born so it has that glam factor, and the formulas always do their job, whilst absorbing quickly.

Soltan Once Advanced 8Hr Protect Suncare Spray SPF50+, £105 of 8

Soltan Once Advanced 8Hr Protect Suncare Spray SPF50+, £10

Soltan is the mini most of us will pick up in the airport if we've forgotten our SPF, it's an absolute go-to, so we know the quality is there. This 8 hour option promises longer protection, though we'd still advise topping up applications just in case.

Caudalie Milky Sun Spray SPF 50, £216 of 8

Caudalie Milky Sun Spray SPF 50, £21

This sun lotion not only affords incredible protection but looks out for the environment too. The biodegradable and non-toxic formula was made to preserve the ecosystems of the sea and protect reef life.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Hydrating SPF50+ Sun Cream for Body, £227 of 8

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Hydrating SPF50+ Sun Cream for Body, £22

This lotion is a go-to for those with dry or sensitive skin. The formula is both hydrating and water-resistant. Use it once and it's likely to become a summer staple.

Ultrasun SPF30 Family, £468 of 8

Ultrasun SPF30 Family, £46

Ultrasun is one of those sun care brands that once found, incites loyalty for life. This pump bottle houses a sensitive-skin-friendly formula suitable for the entire family.

What should you do if your sunburn is severe?

'Severe cases of sunburn require emergency medical treatment,' says Consultant Dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. 'If you develop blisters that affect up to 20% of your body surface area or other symptoms such as fever, nausea, chills, severe pain, headache, fainting or dizziness it is vital you seek medical attention. Severe sunburn can be associated with heat exhaustion or heat stroke which are life-threatening.⁣'

READ MORE: 16 Of The Best Ultra Light SPFs To Prepare Your Skin For Summer

READ MORE: The Very Best Body SPFs: It's Time To Find Your Perfect Sun Lotion

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