Best Way to Treat Sunburn

How to treat sunburn?

By Sara Niec Carnahan, Founder, Sara N.C. Beauty July 20, 2021

It’s difficult to exaggerate the importance of reducing UV exposure on your skin. 

Yet despite our best efforts to thwart it, sunburn still happens. Sometimes we don’t use enough sunscreen, and sometimes we completely forget about it. When this happens, it’s important that first, we forgive ourselves. These things happen!

Second, it’s essential to understand how to treat sunburn, so that we can have a quick recovery that’s as painless as possible. But in order to understand how to treat sunburn, we must first understand the phases of sun damage.

#Phase 1: Exposure 

It might sound like a no-brainer, but it needs to be said: all sunburn starts with sun exposure.

The time it takes to develop a sunburn depends on a number of factors, such as the temperature, the sun’s position in the sky, and your skin’s sensitivity to UV rays. That being said, it’s absolutely possible for a day to get hot enough that someone could develop sunburn within as little as 15 minutes. 

#Phase 2: Burn 

After that initial exposure, sunburn will show up about two hours later. At this point, your skin cells on the surface create an inflammatory response to alert your immune system of a potential injury, hence the red, irritated skin we tend to get when sunburned.

#Phase 3: Sore, Burning Skin 

While a fresh sunburn might not hurt within that first hour, you may experience intensified soreness and stinging within the first day, typically within six hours. At this point, sunburned skin may be especially sensitive to heat, which is especially uncomfortable when taking a hot shower or bath. In some cases, blisters may additionally develop in this phase, which work to protect the delicate surface tissue as it heals.

#Phase 4: Peeling 

After about two days, the pain caused by your sunburn should be mostly gone. However, as the skin heals, it’s normal for peeling to occur for a few days. During the period, the damaged skin cells shed off of the dermis to give way to new ones. 

Ingredients for Treating Sunburn

When skin becomes sunburnt, it can feel as though anything will bring on the burn even more. Luckily, there are plenty of ingredients that can actually help soothe the area, and even encourage recovery!


Aloe may be one of the most well-known ingredients for treating sunburn, largely attributed to its cooling, hydrating properties. It’s even been shown in peer-reviewed studies like this one that aloe may even work as a remedy for second-degree burns, particularly due to a unique anti-inflammatory compound known as aloin.


Lavender’s been praised in herbal medicine for its versatility, assisting with ailments from insomnia to itchy, irritated skin. And with its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties, lavender may help with the sunburn’s healing process.


Chamomile has been used around the world for centuries for its abundance of antioxidants. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties allow it to restore and soothe skin and heal everything from sunburns to bruises.


As a plant rich in antioxidants, this pretty yellow flower is notorious for its soothing abilities, especially when it comes to damaged, irritated skin. Calendula flower is also known to be especially gentle on sensitive skin, making it suitable for a variety of skin conditions.

Green Tea 

At this point, you might notice that antioxidants are a major player in the healing process for sunburns, and you can find a ton in green tea. Green tea is especially high in tannic acid and theobromine, which can help soothe and quicken the healing of irritated, damaged skin.

How to Treat Sunburn at Every Stage

Based on the phases we mentioned at the beginning of this article, here’s how to treat sunburn at home.

Step 1: Minimize the Sun Exposure 

The best cure for sunburn is, of course, prevention. And the best way to treat sunburn is by staying out of the sun – but that’s not always realistic. There are plenty of ways to reduce sun exposure outdoors, starting with sunscreen. While any sunscreen is better than none at all, we recommend a mineral sunscreen that’s free of potentially harmful chemicals like oxybenzone.

Step 2: Hydrate & Cool Down 

Once you’re back inside and out of the sun’s rays, this is when your sunburn will become noticeable. That’s why it’s important that you drink lots of water because adequate hydration is necessary for skin to heal. Since it draws these fluids from your body, you can run the risk of dehydration if you’re not replenishing them. Since sunburn is an inflammatory reaction to the sun’s UV rays, treat exposed skin as you would any other skin experiencing redness and inflammation. Take extra measures to cool down by relaxing in front of a fan or hopping into a quick, cold shower.

Step 3: Treat Your Sunburn with Skin Soothers 

After a few hours, your sunburn may begin to sting and feel sore. This is when some skin-soothing ingredients will be especially helpful. Aloe vera can be pretty effective, but there are plenty of products to help you treat your sunburn. When showering or washing your face, make sure that you’re using 1) lukewarm or cool water and 2) a body wash that’s suited for sensitive skin. Unfortunately, most body washes on the market are made with sodium lauryl sulfate, which is extremely stripping on the skin’s barrier. 

Step 4: Hydrate Peeling Skin 

If your sunburn starts the peeling process, it may be tempting to pick off or exfoliate the dead skin – but try to resist! Picking or scrubbing the skin can irritate your sunburn, even more, slowing down the healing process. Instead, focus on treating it with some topical anti-inflammatory and hydrating products. Once again, good old aloe vera makes a great choice, but a gentle moisturizer is also fantastic for sunburn.

Sara was born and raised in the Czech Republic. In 2012, she moved to the US and worked many jobs but never felt fulfilled, which lead her to share her story and her passion for fitness (former fitness professional), nutrition tips (vegan) and makeup. She is also a new mom. Sara and her husband welcomed their baby boy in June 2020.

Sara is a makeup junkie at heart and decided to start her own business to help women look and feel their best. She loves supporting other business moms feel beautiful inside and out as they work to create their own destinies. You could find out more about her HERE.

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