8 Home Remedies For Sunburn Recommended By Dermatologists (2023)

Table of Contents

  • What Is Sunburn?
  • Best Home Remedies for Sunburn, According to Dermatologists
  • When to See a Doctor
  • Sunburn Prevention Tips

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Approximately one in three Americans report experiencing sunburn every year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services[1]Skin Cancer: Quick Facts from the Surgeon General. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Accessed 05/03/23. . Sunburn may seem like a normal, even mundane occurrence, but its risks reach beyond temporary pain, redness and swelling. Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause lasting skin damage and increase one’s risk of developing skin cancers like melanoma, making prompt sunburn treatment crucial.

Some home remedies may be able to help ease sunburn discomfort and support the skin during its healing process, but improper treatments can risk further irritation. To identify the best course of treatment, here are eight dermatologist-recommended sunburn home remedies worth a try.

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What Is Sunburn?

“A sunburn is an inflammatory reaction to damage caused by UV radiation from the sun,” says Jeremy Brauer, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of Spectrum Skin and Laser in New York. Two types of UV light are particularly dangerous: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB.) UVB rays damage the outer skin layers and are mainly responsible for sunburn, but UVA rays can also cause cellular damage and lead to premature aging or skin cancer.

After UV rays damage the skin, the body recruits additional cells to repair the affected skin cells or create new ones, explains Dr. Brauer. “This process causes the inflammation and redness associated with sunburns.” Pain from sunburn is usually most intense in the first six to 48 hours after overexposure.

Types of Sunburn

Sunburn can occur in varying levels of severity. Dr. Brauer says the two most common types of sunburn include:

  • First-degree sunburn. These burns damage the outermost layer of the skin called the epidermis. First-degree sunburns tend to cause redness, inflammation and tenderness.
  • Second-degree sunburn. These burns affect both the epidermis and the layer beneath it called the dermis. In addition to pain, discoloration and swelling, second-degree burns can also cause blistering, fevers and chills.

In very rare cases, a person can also experience third-degree sunburn, which affects all layers of the skin and can cause nerve damage.

It’s also possible to experience more than one type of burn at the same time. For example, a person’s exposed legs might have a second-degree sunburn, but their partially covered shoulders may have first-degree sunburns.

Best Home Remedies for Sunburn, According to Dermatologists

Most sunburns usually heal on their own within a few weeks, but you can aid the healing process with over-the-counter support. Once you’re safely out of the sun, the following home remedies may provide some relief.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a herbaceous plant that can potentially help maintain skin moisture and promote faster wound healing. Aloe may also provide a cooling effect that can accelerate the healing process for sunburn, says Dustin Portela, D.O., a board-certified dermatologist with Treasure Valley Dermatology in Boise, Idaho. For an extra cooling boost, Dr. Portella suggests refrigerating the aloe before application. However, it’s best to be cautious with aloe mixes or products that contain alcohol, which can cause further irritation. Experts recommend pure aloe vera from the plant.

Hydrocortisone Cream

Some over-the-counter moisturizers or creams can also support sunburned skin. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests using creams that include hydrocortisone, a non-prescription corticosteroid that can help soothe itchy skin.

Avoid products that feature benzocaine as an ingredient, as it may cause further skin irritation or even allergic reaction in some people. Higher concentrations of hydrocortisone and other corticosteroids are available via prescription.


A moisturizer with soy on its ingredient list may also provide effective relief, according to the AAD. A 2018 study in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found that certain plant oils, including soybean oil, may have anti-inflammatory effects on the skin and promote wound healing[2]Tabatabaei-Malazy O, Qorbani M, Samavat T. Cardiovascular Disease in Diabetes: A Brief Review for Physicians. Journal of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders. 2018;17(1):99-104. .

Cool Compresses

Cool compresses are a simple and effective way to soothe sunburned skin, says Dr. Portela. To make a compress, soak a cloth in cool water, wring out the excess moisture, then apply the cloth to the burn. Ice can be used to make the water cool for soaking, but it shouldn’t be applied directly to the burn.

Cool Baths

For larger burns, soaking in a cool bath might be preferred. To make a cool bath, fill a tub with cool (not cold) water, and soak until relief sets in, advises Dr. Portela. “You can repeat these treatments several times a day as needed,” he adds. However, don’t stay in the water for too long, and avoid using harsh soaps to prevent dryness or irritation.

Moisturize Damp Skin

When drying off after a cool compress or bath, leave a little water on the skin, and apply a moisturizer. Moisturizer can help lock the water inside the skin, which may ease dryness and promote skin rehydration.

It’s best to avoid moisturizers that contain gel, alcohol or excessive fragrance, experts say.

Extra Fluids

“After a sunburn, your body needs extra fluids to help with the healing process,” says Dr. Portela. A sunburn draws moisture toward the surface of the skin, which can lead to dehydration. Drinking extra water can help promote hydration as the skin heals and also help with dryness and itching, explains Dr. Portela.

Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen may help reduce swelling or redness of the skin and potentially reduce pain as the burn heals. A person can use OTC pain relievers to ease the discomfort from a sunburn unless otherwise directed by their health care provider, according to Dr. Brauer. Remember to follow the directions on the label for appropriate dosing.

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When to See a Doctor

For second-degree sunburns with blistering, it’s best to seek professional help. Blistering can increase the risk of skin infections during the healing process, explains Dr. Portela. “It may be helpful to see a dermatologist or urgent care in that situation.”

According to Dr. Portela and Dr. Brauer, it’s also best to seek medical care if you experience:

  • Fevers
  • Chilling
  • Pain or swelling that limits daily functions

Additionally, it’s also important to avoid popping or scratching blisters, as both could increase the risk of infection.

Sunburn Prevention Tips

The easiest way to avoid the pain, swelling, discomfort and potential skin damage that results from sunburn is to avoid sun damage altogether. UV rays can damage the skin year-round, even on cool or cloudy days, so it’s best to practice good sun care habits daily regardless of the climate.

To prevent sunburn and avoid skin damage:

  • Minimize direct sun exposure between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (when the sun’s rays are strongest).
  • Wear protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, pants or long skirts, or special UV-protective clothing.
  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 or higher.
  • Reapply sunscreen as recommended on the bottle.
  • Stay in the shade when outdoors, such as beneath trees or umbrellas.

Preventative measures are essential to prevent painful sunburns and also to keep skin healthy and protected from cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, experiencing just five sunburns can double a person’s risk of developing melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer[3]Skin Cancer Facts. Skin Cancer Foundation. Accessed 05/03/2023. .

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