What To Do When… You Have A Sunburn

Clinique After Sun Rescue Balm with Aloe
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream
Merle Norman Anti-Redness Cream
Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream
Cold Water Compress
Cold Milk Compress
Green Tea Compress
Baking Soda Bath
Potato Slices

Sunburns are the wet blanket of island vacations, three-day weekends, and pool parties everywhere. And becoming a red-hot tamale can happen to even the most SPF-equipped among us after extended exposure to the great outdoors. So what to do when your skin adopts the searing hue of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Elmo (minus the whole TickleGate)? We’ve rounded up the best over-the-counter and homeopathic remedies to target peeling, redness, inflammation, and to soothe the burn of that mean, blaring (July 4th) sun.

Creams & Moisturizers:

Clinique After Sun Rescue Balm with Aloe Aloe is the most oft-recommended reliever for the sting of your new skin tone, but it can be drying and sticky in a way that’s almost as unpleasant as the burn itself. This balm offers the same benefits as aloe, with an added moisturizer to simultaneously reduce inflammation, calm skin, and diminish the chances and/or severity of peeling.

Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream The ointment that keeps lips smooth is Tabitha Simmons’ go-to product to put a stop to peeling skin.

Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream Once the intensity of your burn has subsided, a classic unscented moisturizer can help prevent peeling. For those with aversions to the heavy and slightly gooey consistency of Eight Hour Cream, a lighter product, like Cetaphil, with a quicker absorption rate is the way to go.

Merle Norman Anti Redness Cream Believe us when we say this product works. Many therapies that claim to reduce redness still leave your skin noticeably rosy. But Merle Norman’s cream dramatically delivers on its name—wear it for the course of one night’s sleep to return fuchsia skin to a normal shade.

Natural/At-Home Remedies:

Cold Bath A Mom favorite and a "worst case scenario" treatment of the Skin Cancer Foundation, submerging your body in just-cooler-than-lukewarm water will help ease pain and reduce irritation. If you don’t have access to a bath or don’t relish the opportunity to “soak in a basin of your own filth” (as some may say), a gentle-stream cold shower will serve the same purpose. Avoid using soap when you're still newly burnt, as the detergent will only exacerbate your burn by further drying and irritating your skin.

Cold Water Compress If you’re too tender to shower, WebMD suggests a cold compress will help in the same manner. Soak a washcloth in cold water and hold it on the burnt area for 20 minutes (or more, rewetting when necessary) for instant pain relief.

Cold Milk Compress Another version of the above, US News recommends combining cold milk and ice cubes in a bowl. Dampen a washcloth in the mixture and hold against your burn. Rinse after to avoid a 'I live on a farm' smell. Added bonus: milk fat is anti-inflammatory and moisturizing, and the cold temperature soothes the heat.

Green Tea Compress A word-of-mouth fix and instruction of Angie's List: boil water and pour over one teaspoon of loose green-tea leaves. Cover and let sit until it cools. Then, soak a cloth and place on skin for 10 minutes to reduce swelling and sting.

Baking Soda Bath Taking a note from our friends James and Liv, draw a bath and add two-plus cups of baking soda. This will restore your skin’s pH balance and relieve itchiness and pain.

Thin Potato Slices In one of the lesser-known, perhaps stranger at-home remedies, some sources suggest blending raw potatoes until spreadable and applying to your skin to draw out the heat of the burn.

Your Other, Basic Options:

Ibuprofen The pill of wonders (we’re not drug pushers, we swear). Pop one or two after you realize what you've done (this usually happens after we get out of the shower following a day in the sun, but can also happen right there on the beach), to bring down inflammation and ease your discomfort. Those weary of swallowing pills can grind one up and add a bit of water to form a paste, which you can apply directly onto affected areas.

Water Drink, drink, and drink some more. Your burn can leave you dehydrated, so on top of the eight glasses of water you are drinking daily (we all listen to our doctors, yes), keep on chugging.

And, as always, if you have any other remedies up your sleeve, share away!

Photographed by Elizabeth Brockway.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Maggie

    Pure Vitamin E Oil is god's gift to my pale skin. It can be sticky and oilly, but clears the burn up quicker than anything I've ever used and even will leave me with a little tan afterwards. I also always alternate with a cream lotion to keep the skin moisturized and avoid as much peeling as possible. I'm also talking burns with blisters and not your subtle redness.

  • Chantel

    Nice post!

  • katie

    The cooling/after-sun line from Korres isvery gentle and genuinely great. I actually use their yogurt-based after-sun lotion as a general facial moisturizer because it is so soothing and gets all the red out.

  • NeenaJ

    I was repeatedly sunburned as a child. The BEST remedies in my opinion are:
    BLACK TEA BATH. Make a very strong batch of black tea (caffeinated) first in a few cups of boiling water. Pour the concentrate into the cool or lukewarm bath water. The tannins in the tea help soothe the burn and heal faster. Alternatively, you could make the tea and soak an old t-shirt/rags in it when cooled and apply. Caution: could stain skin temporarily - but, worth it.
    VINEGAR COMPRESSES. Soak an old t-shirt/rags in plain, white vinegar and apply to the burn. This truly takes the sting out for a while.
    SOLARCAINE and IBUPROFEN. Apply solarcaine to areas that hurt and take the ibuprofen as directed by a doctor.
    PINE TAR SOAP. In the shower, lather up with this and step away from the water. Let is sit on your skin for a minute or two. It seems to have a numbing effect. Works great on itchy rashes too (poison oak, ivy).

    I would steer clear of any oils or thick ointments that could suffocate the skin and trap the heat, causing more damage. It's a burn just as if you'd burned your hand on the stove or in a campfire and should be treated as such.

    • rose

      seconded on the vinegar; I usually put it in a spray bottle and spritz myself down. works like a charm and you only smell like pickles till it dries.

      • kamo12

        another vote here for vinegar!

        • Bethany

          Works like a charm!

  • Maxine

    Ice, Ibuprofen, and aloe all work well, but I always put hydrocortisone cream from the drugstore. It knocks off slight pink to tan or red to pink/tan within hours. My mom gave me that tip, and she's a Pediatrician.

  • Kathryn

    Coconut Oil!

  • PrettyFashionForward

    The best product EVER for me is called BIAFINE - works wonders!

  • Rena

    Pure Marula Oil is perfect after sun and sunburns! http://www.africanbotanics.com

  • lila


  • sunscreenisawesome

    Ugh ladies JUST USE SUNSCREEN. I know accidents happen, but I feel like this article suggests you should burn for a 'new skin tone.' A sunburn is damage, your skin repairs itself when its damaged, and this repairing and cell replication LEADS TO CANCER.

    • Guest

      Couldn't agree more! I, too, think the tone of this article borders on the irresponsible.

      And just in case you think you're exempt if you have dark skin, YOU'RE NOT. Yes, I'm yelling. I had a malignant melanoma on my fine brown ass. Luckily for me, my husband made me go get it checked out. Caught it in time but I have an ugly scar.

      I never, ever leave home without sunscreen now and I use it all over.

    • suncreenisawesome

      On the same note, if you are looking for a 'new skin tone' I am all about Caudalie Divine Legs these days. It is badASS. No stink, great colour, easy to use. Use that for a 'new skin tone.' :p

  • Claire

    I recommend Posthelios from La roche-posay

  • http://www.mybougeotte.com/ Victoria | Bougeotte

    It gives me pain to even think about sunburn, and lately as much as I try to avoid it by frantically applying suncream every 20 minutes, there's always that little bit I miss out which ends up bright red.

    And it also happens that when I'm sunburnt, after-sun lotion is nowhere to be found, whilst when I'm just nicely tanned - there's bottles of it everywhere around the house.

    What works best for me is aloe vera, the natural one. Literally, if you have an aloe vera plant growing just get the juice out, it's what a man in the Caribbean was doing with the slogan 'you burn, I earn' and selling it to people in plastic bottles. It really does wonders.


  • Jessica Lai

    Biafine topically, Advil internally (I prefer Biafine to Embryolisse) Great Combo!

  • missie

    I always put a thick layer of greek yoghurt and leave it for 30 minutes to an hour. It really brings relief.

  • Alexandra


  • Louise

    Biafine is amazing and always my go to and never let's me down.
    Stock up with a couple of tubes when in France.

  • Shara

    What about afterwards? What to do to those weird-placed tan lines?

    I never sunbathed until last summer (I live in Australia). I, well, got darker, and the bustier shaped tan line was noticeable. Still is. I mean, this obviously is tanning 101. Sounding very silly I know. Do people just.. let it be? I don't even know what to do with this, let alone the obvious awkward accidental sunburn tan lines!

  • LOLA

    BIAFINE!! Also good for myriad other things in that French pharmacy product every person should have as well as Bioderma Crealine H20.

  • Alexandra

    I am in love with Alba's after sun lotion. It is hands down the best thing I have found for moisturizing and even healing a burn. I find it next to the sunscreen at Whole Foods. Also...it smells like coconuts, YUM!

  • Ginger & Aloe

    I would recommend to not get sunburned at all. It just causes cancer and wrinkles and doesn't make you look very attractive for the time being anyways.
    My favorite sunscreen is Coola: http://gingerandaloe.com/2013/07/28/coola-sunscreen-face-matte-finish-cucumber-spf-30/ love it!

    If you get burned, slice up an Aloe Vera leaf and use the fresh gel - it does wonders! Panthenol is also helpful

  • Tanya Tanner

    I've found that applying petroleum jelly on affected areas speeds up the healing process.

  • AC

    Milk is runny, but cold yogurt is thick and creamy and stays on a little better. Works on sunburned or just sun-dried out skin.

  • fashionerd

    The absolute BEST cure for a sun burn is La Mer original creme (or the Regenerating Serum). These products were originally developed to heal burns, and they provide instant relief to any kind of burn, not just sun burns. I have used the original creme on sun burns and burns I got while cooking (spilled boiling water all over my left hand once, and I accidentally touch/bump into hot pots and pans more often than I would like to admit). Not only did the creme provide instant pain relief, all of the burns were basically healed by the next day after a few liberal applications. I have never used the serum on my own burns (just as part of my skincare routine), but I know from others' experiences that it is even more potent in its effect. My boyfriend got second degree burns on his hand a few weeks ago while cooking, and it made a HUGE difference in the healing process. I wouldn't suggest purchasing either of these products on the off chance you will get some type of burn - because they are significantly more costly than the other items mentioned in this post - but if you already own/use them, it's nice to know that they are most definitely miracle multi-purpose gems :)

  • softlikesnow

    dude. it totally burns. thank you of that, i feel less crazy.

  • Kaitlyn

    Burt's Bees After-Sun Soother is INCREDIBLE

  • ScienceTeacher

    Black tea is high in tannin, which will help soothe sunburn. The fastest fix I've ever found (and I had a few sunburns in my younger days) is to buy a few bottles of unsweeted black tea (Te Java or Lipton), and make some compresses with the refrigerated tea. This really takes the heat and sting out of a burn.

  • Georgia A

    Whatever after- sun cream/balm you have, put it in the fridge. That also helps a lot. In terms of products, the Korres After Sun cooling face & body gel with yoghurt is divine. Works well, smells well. And finally, a warning: there is a rumour that Greek yoghurt is a good remedy for sun burn. Trust the Greek: it doesn't! It ends up becoming a crust on your burn and you have to rub it off. It hurts......never try it

  • JB from Jersey

    As the kid in the pool wearing the t-shirt (and now a vampire who stays out of the sun), I've tried everything from oatmeal baths to Solarcaine. Clinique's Aloe Balm gets my vote as best remedy since its creation. I may need to add Biafine as there are so many devotees listed here.


Clinique After Sun Rescue Balm with Aloe
Elizabeth Arden
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream
Elizabeth Arden
Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream