Best Sunburn Treatment – Are You Doing It Right?

Forgot the sunscreen? Neglected to wear a hat on your last beach trip? Your skin is actually the largest organ in your body. Make sure you take care of it by finding the best sunburn treatment!

While nothing can undo the damage of a sunburn, below are some recommendations to help with the pain, burning, and peeling.

What Happens to Your Skin

When your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light of any length of time, (as little as 10 minutes can cause damage!) your body reacts by dilating vessels causing your skin to turn red.

Ultraviolet light damages your cell’s DNA,  increasing your risk of cancer. So what does your body do to prevent cancer?

It sends signals to those skin cells to self-destruct and die so they don’t turn into cancer cells! Those dead cells fall off causing your skin to peel.

Clearly, your body takes the risks associated with sunburn very seriously . If you burned your skin badly enough, your skin would blister, as if you had been exposed to an actual fire.

How to Prevent Further Damage

If you are out and about and notice that you might be getting a sunburn, get out of the sun immediately!

Sunburn cool bathThe second thing to do is decrease inflammation to reduce the amount of damage to your tissue. The best way to do this is getting in a cool (not cold) bath. The cool water will stop the burning and constrict your blood vessels.

Don’t add any products to this first cool bath, just plain water is all you need! Leave your best sunburn treatment for later.Also, when you are done, blot yourself dry. Do not rub or pick at the skin. You may cause more injury.

Also, when you are done, blot yourself dry. Do not rub or pick at the skin. You may cause more injury.

If you have any blister from the sunburn, consider seeing your physician to decrease your chances of infection.

Best Treatments for Sunburn

Depending on the severity of the inflammation, you may want to try the common home remedies for sunburn or actual sunburn treatments.

After Sun Gels

There are many sunburn creams available. Their role is to help keep your skin hydrated so it can repair itself. Look for sunburn gels that contain some of the following ingredients:

  • Clove
  • Licorice
  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Yucca
  • Cucumber

These natural ingredients can help sooth your skin and decrease inflammation.

Japanese Alder

This tree is a member of the birch family. Its cousin, the Red Bark Alder in North America, also has healing properties and has been used by the Native Americans for centuries to treat poison oak and other illnesses.

The medicinal compound found specifically in the Japanese alder is thought to protect cell proteins and destroy free radicals caused by the skin’s exposure to ultraviolet light.

Several different after-sun gels contain Japanese alder. I’ve used Dermalogica’s After Sun Repair when I used to work outside in the Arizona sun.

Aloe Vera

This plant is from North Africa but can be grown fairly easily indoors. For thousands of years, people have been putting the gel from the leaves on wounds and burns.

But how does this plant gel work?

The verdict is still out on the mechanism behind the healing properties, so we can’t say it’s a sunburn treatment…yet.

Some people think it has to do with the vitamin content of the gel. Others think that one of the chemicals in the cells of the aloe vera gel allows the growth factors that help repair skin to hang around longer, increasing skin growth.

Either way, the gel has a cooling effect and feels great on the sunburned skin!

Don’t have an aloe plant in your backyard you can harvest? Don’t worry, not only is the aloe vera in a variety of the after-sun gels, but you can usually find the gel at the pharmacy.

Hint: Place the aloe vera gel in the refrigerator prior to applying it to your skin. 

Drink Water

This is likely the most important and best sunburn treatment. Your injured skin will heal faster and better when it is hydrated!

If you forget this step, the other sunburn treatments can’t work as well.


Ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation. Make sure to always take it with a little bit of food since it can upset your stomach.

Take 200-600mg by mouth every 6 hours.


Acetaminophen helps with the pain, but won’t do anything to repair skin damage. Remember to limit your use to 4 grams of acetaminophen in a day and never take it with alcohol as that can cause liver problems.

Take 500 mg by mouth every 6 hours.

What to Avoid After a Sunburn

  • Don’t use butter or oils. This can limit the skin’s ability to breath and heal itself.
  • Avoid menthol products. They might feel good due to their tingling and cooling sensation, but it’s not actually doing anything to help you skin heal. They are not hurting, but are useless when it comes to treating a sunburn.
  • Do not put after-sun gels on open blisters or sores.
  • Don’t go back in the sun! Your skin needs time to heal. You would not run a marathon on a broken ankle or eat a whole pizza when you have the stomach flu! Give your skin a break.



So to recap, our skin is the largest organ in our body and it is also the most exposed one to risk factors.

There are many creams that claim to be the best sunburn treatment, and it doesn’t hurt to read some sunburn creams reviews but…the best advice is to follow the instructions I gave you above:

  • Afterburn gels with the recommended ingredients
  • Japanese Alder
  • Aloe Vera
  • Avoid more sun
  • Drink more water, and
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines


How many sunburns have you experienced? How did you cure them, and what would you say is the best sunburn treatment?


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