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Here’s how to get rid of a sunburn fast, according to 3 dermatologists

You should always be wearing SPF! But if you do have a bad sunburn, there are a few expert-approved ways to reduce the redness and feel like a human again.

woman with a sunburn
Not a good look — and it's an even worse feel. Make them both go away ASAP with these professional-proferred tips. (Getty)

Look, summer can mean lots of awesome things — rooftop dinners, beach getaways, maybe even half-days on Fridays if you’re lucky. I’m never going to tell you not to bask in the feeling of the sun on your skin, but I am going to warn you that if you’re not diligent about your sunscreen-ing, things could get ugly — in a horrendous, peeling, painful, potentially health-threatening way.

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However, the occasional scorched-skin scenario happens to the best of us, and you may be hit with that all-too-familiar burn at some point this summer (maybe right now!). On top of urging you to wear sunscreen every day and reaching for a self-tanner if you're determined to have a sun-kissed glow, I chatted with a handful of experts to learn more about the woes of sunburn and how to deal with them. Their number one (albeit pretty obvious) suggestion? Don't let it happen in the first place!

"My favorite tip for getting rid of a sunburn fast is to never get one," says board-certified dermatologist Zaineb H. Makhzoumi, MD. "Protecting your skin from the damaging and cancer-inducing rays of the sun is the single most important step we can take in the fight to prevent skin cancer. And if all of that does not work then remember that the most common cause of premature aging is ultraviolet exposure from the sun."

Before we get into the expert advice on how to get rid of a sunburn fast, it's important to know just how long we can expect the healing process to take.

I hate to break it to you, but even the mildest of burns won't go away overnight. "Most sunburns will usually heal themselves within a week or so," explains board-certified dermatologist Mary Mina, MD. And just like with any other ailment, not all sunburns are created equal. Depending on the severity, some may take longer to heal or even require medical attention.

First up, if you have any concerns or questions about a potential infection in the area, go to the doctor immediately. Also, says Dr. Mina, "If you start to develop large blisters, especially covering a significant portion of your skin, seek medical guidance." She adds, "You should also seek treatment if you start to develop a fever, chills, or confusion which cannot be otherwise explained."

Of course, those are extreme cases. When it comes to mild cases that don't require a visit to the doctor, we've got some expert advice on how to cope with, and emerge from, sunburn hell. So, now that we’ve managed our expectations (and you've pinky-sworn to wear sunscreen all day, every day), scroll on for seven simple steps you can take to get rid of a sunburn fast.

If at some point during a long summer day, you realize that you're "feeling the burn" (and not in that good, 20-minutes-on-the-Stairmaster way), it's time to swing into action. According to board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, quickly moving into the shade and slathering on some (more) sunscreen are easy steps you can take to protect your skin from further UV damage and start the healing process ASAP. Dr. Green suggests reaching for mineral sunscreens (especially ones with zinc oxide), because they’re super gentle and won’t worsen dryness.

Beloved by dermatologists and celebrities alike, this SPF is exceptionally good for dry, sensitive or mature skin — which is why it's worth the hefty price tag. It's packed with a ton of the recommended ingredients like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to keep the face dewy and protected.

"I have really sensitive eyes, and pretty much every other sunscreen causes very painful burning," explained an Amazon shopper who gave Clear Face a five-star rating. "This one does not! I can rub it all over my eyelids and eye area, and I've never had any irritation. I also have pretty sensitive skin, and this makes it feel glowy and moisturized."

$35 at Walmart
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$43 at Amazon$45 at Groupon

Not only is this SPF super moisturizing but it also smells so good. It's a broad-spectrum sunscreen (meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays) that's sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes and fast-absorbing. The gentle formula features skin-nourishing sunflower extract that can help with the sunburn-healing process. 

It can also be used on both the face and body, making it a great all-around option for slathering on day in and day out. 

"My dermatologist has pushed me to use a daily SPF lotion," shared one Amazon customer. "This lotion is lightweight and easy to spread. It takes about one and a half pumps worth of lotion to cover my face, scalp and neck. It absorbs nicely into the skin and I have not had any problem with it getting in my eyes. It has a light lemon scent with a little bit of a plastic chemical smell. The scents dissipate quickly."

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Lots of symptoms will start to kick in once you get past the initial burn, including redness, inflammation and, honestly, a lot of regret. You can tackle the first two by getting under some cold water, whether via a damp washcloth, a shower, even just diving into the ocean.

After that, a good cleansing is in order ... which, we realize, may seems daunting, especially if a large portion of your body is burnt. However, clean skin is skin that's ready to recover, and Dr. Green says that sticking to ultra-gentle products will help you avoid discomfort as well as any further irritation.

A skin-saving standby for decades, this hydrates and soothes as it cleanses, preserving the skin's moisture barrier, even after repeat washes. The formula is infused with glycerin and niacinamide to hydrate and heal while it's cleaning. It's even been clinically tested and approved by dermatologists, plus it's noncomedogenic and safe to use on all skin types, including you sensitive folk.

"I've been using Cetaphil for over 50 years, including many years spent in the sun. I am constantly told that I have great skin," explained a longtime fan. "At 71 years old, I'm just starting to get wrinkles, but the skin is still great. I have never used another product and will not start now. It's the best product on the market. I am the result of a great product."

$14 at Amazon

This cleanser from the beloved French pharmacy brand features glycerin and niacinamide, as well as a variety of ceramides, which work together to relieve dry and irritated skin. What makes this product stand out is the brand's famed prebiotic thermal spring water from the titular town of La Roche-Posay in France — it contains minerals and selenium, a natural antioxidant, to further soothe the skin. 

"I’ve used this for about six months and I still absolutely love it," wrote a five-star Amazon reviewer. "It removes makeup and cleanses all in one step. It even will remove eye-make up! It doesn’t sting or burn my eyes at all. I’ve used dozens of different facial cleansers and this ranks in the top three, and the price moves it into first place."

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$20 at Ulta Beauty$18 at CVS Pharmacy

If a cold rinse-down isn’t enough to relieve that my on-fire feeling, you can take treatment to the next level with some anti-inflammatory meds you likely already have in your bag. "Due to sunburn's inflammatory nature, the use of any NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory), including ibuprofen, reduces redness and swelling, thereby reducing any discomfort." explains Dr. Makhzoumi.

If you don’t have a stash handy, get thee to a pharmacy and look for anything that says NSAID on the bottle.

Who doesn't love Advil? Buy a few bottles and keep one in your bathroom, one in your purse and one by your nightstand. 

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Another soothing step you can take for pain relief (especially if you’re dealing with a full-body burn) is preparing yourself a super luxurious colloidal oatmeal bath. “Oats have the ability to hold a lot of moisture, helping to keep the skin hydrated and prevent dryness and flaking,” says Dr. Green, and colloidal oats specifically contain lots of anti-inflammatory antioxidants.

However: If you have open wounds or blisters as a result of your sunburn, avoid soaking in a bath like this until you’re further along in the healing process.

Couldn't be easier: Just sprinkle one of these Aveeno treatment packets over your warm bath and soak it in for as long as you need.

"The other day I started breaking out in tiny red itchy bumps. I had no idea what caused them but I knew immediately this would help," shares an Amazon shopper. "I've used Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment for previous skin problems ... worked like a charm. Calms the skin and keeps the itch away. Keep it on hand, particularly during the summer when sunburn and bugs bites are likely."

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You’ve probably heard that aloe is your best friend when it comes to sunburns, and you heard right. Yes, it’s cooling and soothing, but it’ll also help speed up the healing process. How? “Keeping the skin moisturized facilitates the repair process by preventing peeling and maintaining the skin’s protective barrier,” says Dr. Green.

Over 52,000 Amazon shoppers adore this gel made from 100% freshly cut pure aloe without any additives. The humectants found in aloe vera bind moisture to the skin. Mix that with the anti-inflammatory properties for a skin-soothing cocktail. Tip: Keep it in the fridge for a cooling sensation.

"I ordered this after getting a nasty burn on vacation and it was on my porch when I got back from the airport," related one Amazon reviewer. "I immediately put some on and it was so good. It cooled the burn instantly and the coolness lasted a while. It doesn't leave a thick, sticky residue like most aloe gels. I have no problem immediately putting a shirt (even a white one) over the burns. And I swear the burns are already starting to heal after a day of use."

$20 at Amazon

The same principle goes for your daily moisturizer, which should actually be your several-times-a-day moisturizer during your recuperation. "Apply a moisturizer to help lock in moisture as the sunburn heals," explains Dr. Mina. "This is especially helpful as the skin starts to peel."

This cooling La Roche Posay Double Repair Moisturizer has been a godsend whenever I’ve dealt with serious skin irritation, plus it contains glycerin — a gentle and hydrating ingredient that Dr. Green recommends seeking out when dealing with sunburns.

This affordable moisturizer features hyaluronic acid and ceramides to coddle the skin and boasts the National Eczema Association seal of approval. This means it's been reviewed under strict guidelines to make sure it's free from fragrance, dyes, gluten and any other irritating ingredients. 

Although it's heavily packed with expert-approved moisturizing agents like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and ceramides for soft and bouncy skin, it's still super lightweight without feeling watery. Pro tip: Use it in the morning under makeup. 

"I've repurchased this item twice now and recommended it to friends," touts one satisfied Amazon shopper. "This is that basic soothing moisturizer you want in your skin are routine that won't ever break you out and is especially great if you have a sunburn or skin irritation because it soothes and won't add to the problem. I can't live without this item in my skin-care routine."

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$19 at Ulta Beauty$16 at CVS Pharmacy

While you’re in your healing era, Dr. Green recommends leaving all of your (very cute) form-fitting summer clothes in the closet to “avoid friction and further damage to the skin.” Instead, opt for light-colored, breezy, looks that will let your convalescing skin breathe.

Their light fabric, flowy silhouette and elastic waistband make these pants seriously breezy and moveable — which is ideal when you're healing a sunburn. They also come in seven different colors, including classics like white, black and navy.

"These pants are very classy," shared a five-star fan. "Nice and cool and light. The material is a cotton/linen mix and flows when you walk. They look expensive! The fit was perfect and I love the pockets. ... There is an elastic band in the backside; they do stretch at the waist."

$36 at Amazon

Simple enough to wear over and over again, this tiered dress is cut to fall effortlessly over the body without clinging to the skin. It also has pockets. Pockets! Snag it in 18 colors. 

"I bought this dress on a whim right before a Florida vacation. It was 100 degrees and this dress was nice and flowy to keep me cool," wrote this Amazon shopper. "The fabric is sturdy and the dress has pockets. I’m only 5’0” tall and the adjustable buttons on the straps made it possible for me to wear flat shoes and sandals without tripping over the dress."

$60 at Amazon

Drink UpThe visibility and discomfort of your burns may make skincare your top priority (totally get it), but I bet you didn’t know that sunburns cause your body to push water to the surface of your skin, which can lead to some serious parching. "Stay hydrated with water or a sports drink containing electrolytes, especially as the skin peels," shares Dr. Mina. "When we lose our skin barrier, we also lose hydration." Basically: fill up, drink up, and repeat to help your entire body bounce back."

At this point, even if you live under a rock, you've probably heard about the Stanley Quencher Tumbler. This baby is dishwasher-safe and keeps drinks cold for hours. Since it's so big, you don't have to refill it as often! Time to get that hydration on. 

Psst: Check out our Stanley Tumbler review to learn more.  

$45 at Amazon
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$45 at Nordstrom$45 at L.L.Bean

By now you've done everything you can to ameliorate your skin-scorched condition. Congrats! Now, a skin-nourishing serum is just what the doctor ordered ... but not too soon. According to Dr. Green, “potentially irritating ingredients like exfoliants and retinoids should be avoided on sunburns until they’re healed, [including] acids like AHAs and BHAs, as well as exfoliating tools like loofahs.” Basically, you don’t want to do anything that can mess up the body’s natural healing process (read: keep your sunburn around even longer).

That said, according to Dr. Green: “Antioxidants are great for protecting the skin from further UV damage and stress.”

A skin-care-shelf essential, this iconic serum contains stabilized Vitamin C and peptides plus potent antioxidants that restore hydration to dry, sun-damaged skin.

"Makes my skin feel super soft and supple," writes one Amazon customer. "It is on the higher end price-wise but I think it's worth a try. Compared to cheaper serums I have used in the past, this is by far the best quality. I have super sensitive skin and this didn't irritate me at all. If there is a scent, I didn't notice it."

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$45 at Paula's Choice$45 at Dermstore

The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.