you're sunburned. now what?

It happens to the best, most well-intentioned of us. You either thought you applied sunscreen everywhere but missed a spot or you just didn't think you needed it to begin with. (PSA: You ALWAYS need sunscreen or some other sun protection. Check out my faves here!).  Now you're crimson red, have vowed to never, ever, ever forget sunscreen again, and wondering how you're going to survive the next few hours, days, and week. 

In celebration of my upcoming jaunt to the beach, I shared my top tips for dealing with sunburn at Be Well Philly along with two other skincare experts  salon. I also included a day-by-day approach below if you're curious. You'll find out what to do (apply yogurt?), what not to do (no picking!), and what it means long-term for your skin.

Check the Be Well Philly story out here.

Immediately After: Pain Relief Phase

You know you’re burned, but you can’t quite tell how badly until you step into that hot shower.

Drink up. Skin cells are the body’s natural defense to moisture loss, but UV rays impede this function, putting you at risk for dehydration. To make your eight glasses of water more palatable, add in a squeeze of fresh lime or lemon juice. I’m a fan of True Lemon’s True Citrus packets in a pinch. Avoid dehydrating sippers like alcohol and coffee.

Cool down. A cool bath or gentle shower, followed by a light application of aloe vera gel is super therapeutic. If your sunburned area is on the neck or décolletage, soothe the area with a thin mask of plain dairy yogurt for 10 minutes.

Limit the inflammation. Injury to the skin leads to an inflammatory response as the body goes into protect and repair mode. Ibuprofen or aspirin can reduce the swelling and pain more immediately, but consuming foods rich in healthy Omega-3 fatty acids like wild salmon, walnuts, and flaxseeds offer a long-term inside-out approach.

Next Few Days: Repair Phase

You’re as red as a lobster and everything hurts.

Cover up. Protect your fragile skin from further damage so it can repair itself. Avoid the sun completely, but if you must go outside, be extra vigilant. During the day, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB blocking properties like EltaMD (with a minimum SPF 30) and wear a hat to protect the face. Clothing with built-in sun protection, marked by a UPF tag for ultraviolet protection factor, will be your new best friend. I love Mott50 and Kastel Denmark for their chic designs.

At night, gently moisturize the skin with an unscented lotion like Cerave or Cetaphil and cover up with loose clothing to allow it to penetrate more deeply. The skin’s moisture-locking capabilities are compromised so it needs all of the help it can get.

Go (mostly) bare-faced. Makeup laced with fragrance and other chemicals inhibit the healing process. If you absolutely must use a cover-up, use a tinted moisturizer rich in antioxidants and free of synthetic fragrances and other irritants like Juice Beauty’s Stem Cellular CC Cream. It also contains SPF for added protection.

Eat your fruits and vegetables. When UV rays hit the skin, they produce damaging free radicals that impede normal cell function. I’m a big believer in beauty from the inside out and antioxidant-rich foods like fruits and veggies capture these rogue atoms and prevent premature aging. Summer berries and tomatoes are my favorite ways to boost my antioxidant count.   

Several Days Later: Peeling Phase

You’re dry, flaky, and all you want to do is exfoliate.

Don’t touch. It’s tough to resist peeling away flaky skin, but your skin will thank you in the long-run if you let it run its course. Our skin has a natural repair process, and when it’s ready to shed damaged skin, it will. Exfoliating or sloughing it off prematurely will expose immature and vulnerable skin that is more sensitive to further damage. Pat in moisturizer to prevent rubbing off skin unintentionally.

Week or Two Later: Recovery Phase

Your burn is now a golden tan, or you’ve returned to being pasty white.

Moisturize. Whether you’re sun-kissed brown or back to being pale, the underlying skin has been compromised. The skin is still delicate, so it’s of utmost importance to continue to apply gentle, non-irritating sunscreen morning and moisturizer at night to any sensitive areas. At this point, I like to incorporate an antioxidant boost by applying a moisturizer like Juice Beauty’s Antioxidant Moisturizer with vitamin C and nourishing peptides. Do a gentle yogurt mask every few days on the face.

Months later

You’ve probably forgotten about your burn, but your skin hasn’t.

Get screened. I’m a huge advocate for annual skin checks at the dermatologist as early detection of suspicious lesions can be the difference between cancer and no cancer. Let your dermatologist know of any areas that were burned in the past so they can be extra attentive in those spots during their exam.


What's your go-to way of recovering from a sunburn?