- Wearing sunscreen when you’ll be outside, especially during summer months, is vital to block the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.
- Preventing sunburns decreases your risk for skin cancer and other diseases.
- However, most people do not apply enough sunscreen (one ounce or more) or as frequently as they should (every two hours).
- Dr. Erin Gilbert, a board-certified dermatologist in New York, has a handful of ways to relieve and heal sunburns quickly.
When you’re going to be outside for awhile, even when it’s cloudy, it’s vital to wear sunscreen, slather on enough, and reapply it frequently.
It’s also essential to use a formula that’s 30-SPF-or-greater, broad-spectrum (meaning it blocks both ultraviolet-A and ultraviolet-B rays), and without any oxybenzone and octinoxate (which harm coral reefs).
Let’s be honest, though: A bottle of sunscreen can be easy to forget, especially during the summer months when we’re eager to crawl out of our dark homes, schools, and offices and run toward a sunny beach.
As a result, millions of people each year are kissed by the sun’s damaging ultraviolet light – and get burned.
Sunburns are painful and can last for more than a week, so in desperation we might try just about anything.
Dr. Erin Gilbert, a board-certified dermatologist in New York, has three key pieces of advice on what works and what doesn’t.
1. Get out of the sun
“If you get a sunburn, what are you going to do? … What’s the best thing to do?” Dr. Gilbert previously told Business Insider. “The first thing is you wanna just get out of the sun, and stay out of the sun, as much as you can or the next week.”
This is because your body, whose natural defenses are already compromised, is trying to heal itself.
Any extra UV exposure will harm more of your cells’ DNA (or genetic code), kill them off, and prolong the pain and damage.
Burning also increases your risk for skin cancer, since a lot of DNA damage can up the rate of cancer-causing mutations.
2. Cold, milky washcloths
Dr. Gilbert has a home remedy to try while you bide your time in the shade that she said actually works.
“You can put cold washcloths in your refrigerator, soaked in milk, and you can apply those to the areas where you have the sun burn, ” she said. “What that does is, the cooling effect will take some of the heat out of the sunburn, and the milk actually contains lactic acid.”
Lactic acid, she said, will take off some of the top layers of dead skin. “So if you’ve got blistering, it actually can make it look better and heal faster,” she said.
3. Aloe vera – with nothing extra in it
- Flickr user: titanium22
Dr. Gilbert also likes extracts from aloe vera, a type of sticky succulent plant whose leaves contain a sticky juice. She said such products can help calm down the pain of sunburn.
However, she says you need to closely read the ingredient label to make sure there aren’t any drugs that could make things worse for you in the long run.
“Some of the gels that are on the market actually contain lidocaine and benzocaine,” she said. “What they do is temporarily are going to take away the pain from the sunburn. But as soon as they wear off, you’re gonna be in worse shape because you’re actually going to feel the pain even more. So I don’t like using these products all that much.”
4. Anti-inflammatory medications
Dr. Gilbert has one more sure-fire recommendation for anyone who’s struggling with an itchy, hot sunburn.
“You can take aspirin or you can take just a general anti-inflammatory. This is because your skin is inflamed,” she said. “It’s angry, it’s red, and it’s painful. And so what you want to do is take something – any anti-inflammatory, so Motrin, Tylenol, aspirin also works. That’s going to help you a lot in terms of your pain.”
Watch Dr. Gilbert dole out all of her advice below.