Powerful Relief: How To Treat Sunburn Fast In 6 Steps

It’s summer and sunburns happen, but summer calls for adventures in the sun, not sitting around performing internet searches for “how to treat sunburn fast.” Sunburns have the ability to add insult to injury because getting a sunburn feels like the stupidest mistake, not only because it’s easy to prevent, but because adults “know better.”

If you’ve found yourself experiencing this insult and injury, you’re not alone. However, fear not: you can find out how to treat sunburn fast, effectively taking the sting out of the injury (and maybe even the insult.)

The Science Of Sunburns

Powerful Relief: How To Treat Sunburn Fast In 6 Steps

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, if you have had five sunburns in your lifetime, your odds of developing skin cancer have doubled. Every burn after that, even a mildly pink one, continues to build on that damage and increase the odds of having melanoma. 

READ MORE: 3 Ways To Teach Your Child Sun Safety

When you need to know how to treat sunburn fast, it helps to have an understanding of why sunburns burn in the first place.

Sunburn is a radiation burn. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun penetrates your skin and damages your DNA by harming its ability to replicate correctly. Special cells in your skin detect the damaged DNA and send out an alert to the immune system to come and fix the damage. In order for your immune system to reach the damaged areas, it needs to leak out of your blood vessels and flood the skin, and that’s why there’s a delay from when you notice that your skin is red to when the burning and itching and swelling sets in. 

As soon as you notice that you are beginning to turn red, there are actions you can take to lessen the impending discomfort. But you have to act fast. 

READ MORE: Heat-Related Illnesses: Preparing For the Summer Heat

How To Treat Sunburn Fast In 6 Steps

Powerful Relief: How To Treat Sunburn Fast In 6 Steps
  1. Get out of the sun. 

    Because your body takes time to react to the radiation from the sun, you are burned before your skin starts to turn pink. This means you need to treat it like a bad sunburn before it even starts to look or feel like a burn.

    Get out of the sun, as fast as you can. If you’re stuck in a conversation while watching your arms turn pink, it’s okay to say “let’s move to the shade.” Move indoors, throw a beach towel over your shoulders, and wear that big floppy hat that lives rolled up in your beach bag because you’re just not sure you can “pull off the look.” Just get out of the sun.

    HOT TIP: Carry an umbrella in your car, and stick it in your purse when you go to outdoor events. This is your portable shade, and it’s an excuse to buy yourself a stylish “sunbrella” (a highly under-rated summer accessory).
  2. Cool down your skin. 

    Once you’re out of the sun, apply cool compresses to your skin. If you’re at a barbecue, maybe dunk a paper towel in the ice chest and press it on the back of your neck. If you’re at the beach, use a chilled bottle of water in the corner of a wet sarong. If you’ve already made it home and now you’re panicking, fill a small freezer bag with crushed ice and a little water and use that as a compress. Frozen peas work well, too.

    HOT TIP: DIY frozen gel packs (ahead of time) by mixing two parts of water with one part rubbing alcohol in a Ziplock bag and storing it in the freezer.
  3. Hydrate. 

    No more tequila for you, babe. Your body needs to heal, and (as with everything your body does) it works better when you’re hydrated. The body’s reaction to sunburn actually dehydrates you because the water in your blood gets diverted to the skin. Have you ever noticed that bad sunburn is always bringing a bad hangover to the party? That’s why. You need to get hydrated. Get thee a Gatorade or coconut water – STAT. Or, try a hydration multiplier like this or this.
  4. Medicate

    Most people can take Ibuprofen or Naproxen hoping to find out how to treat sunburn fast. Tylenol is fine too, but it only relieves the pain, not the swelling. Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Aspirin are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as well as pain relievers. This means they help relieve the pain and the swelling. Ibuprofen is easier on your stomach, Naproxen lasts longer. 

    Always check with your doctor before consuming anything to discover how to treat sunburn fast. NSAIDs interact with some medications, so for people who are on a medication that keeps them alive and functioning, Tylenol is safer until you get a thumbs up from your doctor. 

    This should go without saying, but before you take anything, stop and ask yourself “am I allergic to this?” While you’re experiencing pain and want fast relief, remember that this is not medical advice.
  5. Moisturize. 

    Now that you’re out of the sun, you’ve cooled down your burning skin and you’re drinking water, find a soothing lotion for that burn. Use something gentle, without added fragrance, and not oil-based. Aloe=good, Vaseline=bad. Look for healing ingredients like Calendula and Hydrocortisone. Burt’s Bees makes a great aloe and coconut oil lotion labeled “after sun soother.” Aquaphor is recommended for sunburns that have leveled up from burn to blister.

    Apply the lotion to damp skin, to reduce friction while rubbing, which further damages your fragile skin. Be as gentle as possible if you need to know how to treat sunburn fast. You’re already in pain, there’s no need to punish yourself further by furiously rubbing your skin to get the aloe to absorb faster. Take your time. 
  6. The Tea Trick. 

    While some think this is an “Old Wives’ Tale” for those aching to discover how to treat sunburn fast, this happens to be a true one, and it works wonders.

    Start with looseleaf black tea. You can use tea bags if you want, but looseleaf works better. Make sure it isn’t artificially flavored or anything, just plain black tea. Some varieties of plain black tea are English breakfast, Irish Breakfast, and Darjeeling. Lipton makes cold-brew iced tea bags that work well, too. 

    Bring two cups of water to a boil and add a quarter cup of the tea leaves or 4 tea bags. Let it brew until cold, at least 20 minutes. If you can, put it in the fridge for another 10 minutes to get it nice and cold. 

    If you used loose leaf tea, strain it into a bowl. Take a washcloth that’s as soft as possible, such as a baby washcloth (they are perfect for this). Soak it in the cold tea, then gently wring it out but not all the way. Your washcloth shouldn’t be dripping wet, but soggy enough to make a nice squishy sound if you dropped it on the floor. Lay the washcloth on your sunburn, and leave it there. Don’t rub it around, don’t scootch it over. Drape it gently and then don’t move it until you’re ready to lift it back up. 

    Tea creates stains, so make sure you sit on a towel because it’s going to drip down your skin and onto your clothes and couch. I usually use the tea trick on my shoulders, so wearing a loose, dark tank top that won’t show stains is a great option. Every few minutes, when the washcloth feels as warm as your skin, it back into the tea to cool it down and add more liquid. 
READ MORE: Sun, Sand, and Surf: Safety Tips and Tricks For Your Beach Day

Extended Skin Care

Powerful Relief: How To Treat Sunburn Fast In 6 Steps

Over the next week, it’s important to take extra steps to care for your skin. How to treat sunburn fast? Always put your health before your fun and take gentle care of yourself.

How To Treat Sunburn Fast: The Follow Up Care:

Use these tips and always reapply sunscreen as often as possible (and prescribed) if you want to know how to treat sunburn fast and keep your skin healthy.

  • take cooler showers
  • use a baby washcloth instead of a loofa
  • pat your skin dry instead of rubbing it
  • reapply moisturizer every day
  • eat some dark chocolate (this helps to prevent sunburn, too)

Wear sun-protective clothing, stay in the shade, and keep yourself hydrated to prevent sunburn and injury for a happy, healthy summer.

Keep your summer fun-in-the-sun happy and healthy! Read about Safe Sunscreens for Your Family.

Photo Credits: UnsplashPexels

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Powerful Relief: How To Treat Sunburn Fast In 6 Steps



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Emma Fulenwider
Emma Fulenwider
Emma Fulenwider is a "book doula," TEDx speaker, counselor-in-training and possibly the last millennial still on Facebook. She believes that play is an essential life skill, that food is a medicinal art form, and that black licorice twizzlers are an abomination. Emma lives in West Sacramento where she writes non-fiction and conspires with her husband to raise arguably the two goofiest kids on earth.

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