14 Ways To Heal A Sunburn Fast (The Best Sunburn Remedies)

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A sunburn at the beach can be a painful experience, but is it possible to heal a sunburn fast? In most instances, a sunburn will occur on the first day of vacation and the subsequent days are spent sitting inside or hiding under an umbrella and thinking to oneself “I should have been smarter”.

Preparation is key to avoiding a sunburn. Knowing how to avoid sunburn early on a vacation will make the time spent with friends and family more enjoyable (and comfortable).

If you’re reading this article, chances are it’s too late. You’ve spent a day under the sun and although the red lobster color hasn’t yet manifested, you feel a hot sensation on your skin.

You know what’s coming.  Yes, you’re likely to be uncomfortable in the next few days but there are a number of things you can do to help your skin recover quickly.

A Sunburn In Zanzibar – Lessons Learned

A friend and I arrived in Stonetown, Zanzibar in January. We arrived from winter in the Northern Hemisphere and our skin wasn’t prepared for the tropical heat. We spent the first day as tourists then headed to the beach for the next 5 days.

The beach was magnificent. The first day I applied sunscreen to my body.  Just one application in the late morning would suffice, right? As a native Californian, I knew better than to apply sunscreen only once but I thought I’d be fine.

That evening my skin began to boil. Thankfully I brought aloe vera and grape seed oil. I found ice cubes placed them on my face and shoulders, then took a cold shower and applied grape seed oil.

For the next few days, I read a book under an umbrella. It wasn’t the perfect scenario, but I still enjoyed my time at the beach.

My sunburn recovery was largely an experiment. For the next few days I continued icing my face and shoulders and applied grapeseed oil to my skin.

I received the same sunburn on my feet but decided against taking care of them. I watched my feet blister and peel while my face and shoulders healed quickly.

So what did I learn about getting rid of a sunburn fast? I learned how we manage our skin after being sunburned greatly impacts recovery. The skin on my upper body appreciated the extra care of ice and nutritious oil, but my lower body struggled to cope with the sunburn.

Maybe you are reading this because you sunburnt and want to enjoy the rest of your vacation, or maybe you’re sunburnt and have a wedding to attend. The following tips will help heal a sunburn fast!

Related: Best Natural Sunscreen for Kids, Adults, and the Environment

How To Heal A Sunburn Fast (The 14 Best Remedies)

#1 Cover Up ASAP

Before taking any other action, cover skin and stay out of the sun. In most cases the sunburn is felt in the evening after a day in the sun. If it’s dark, wear loose fitting clothes that allow your skin to breathe.

Silk or Egyptian/pima cotton are great options that won’t irritate skin. During the following days, wear a wide-brimmed hat and wear sleeves (much better than applying more sunscreen).

#2 Take an Ibuprofen

The faster response to sunburn the better, so anticipate a sunburn and taking action asap.

Ibuprofen is a good anti-inflammatory and will help reduce the body’s inflammation response. Ibuprofen can be taken a few times a day to help the sunburn heal. Be sure to read the directions for proper dosing.

Related: Best Pop Up Beach Tent

#3 Don’t Take a Warm Shower or Bath: Do Take a Cool Bath

In our opinion this tip is paramount. At first thought, jumping in the shower to soothe a sunburn sounds like a great idea. After a day at the beach dirt, salt, and sunscreen will be caked on skin. It might be tempting to use lots of soap but try to go without and take a quick, cool shower.

  • Soap will no-doubt clean but will also remove the beneficial oils on our skin (read about effects of soap on skin).
  • Similarly, standing for a long period of time under a high-pressure facet will strip away beneficial oils from the epidermis (outer layer of skin).
  • Further, hot water opens up pores and also strips away the same oils.

For the first few days after a sunburn make bathing quick, use soap only where necessary, and use cool water.

#4 Pat Dry with Towel; Don’t Rub

This is a common recommendation from dermatologists for people with dry, sensitive skin. On a similar theme as the No. 3 tip, rubbing a towel over our body will remove oils and irritate sunburned skin.

>> read my article about essential beach gear

Sunburned skin will be painful and delicate so be gentle when drying off. Air dry might work best! If skin begins to peel, don’t be tempted to rub it off – let it come off naturally.

#5 Treat with Aloe Vera as Soon as You Arrive Home

Aloe vera is known as a medicinal plant. If you’ve never seen it, check out the photo of our Aloe vera succulent growing in our yard.

Aloe vera isn’t for eating, rather the inside of the plant contains a gel-like substance. The gel is great for skin because it contains 2 hormones: Auxin and Gibberellins. These hormones have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce skin inflammation.

Applying aloe vera gel in anticipation of a sunburn can help soothe skin and help it recover quickly. The gel feels cool, won’t bother skin, and can be applied multiple times a day.

Aloe vera gels and lotions are available at most grocery stores but make sure you read the ingredients as may lotions add ingredients.

Pure Aloe vera gel works best so consider growing a plant in your yard (or house if you live in a cold area). Because it’s a succulent it doesn’t need much water and requires little maintenance.

Related: Best Beach Umbrella

#6 Make Milk Ice Cubes

When skin is inflamed – sunburn for example – it becomes red and sensitive. Reducing the inflammation response can help promote healing.

Icing our sunburn isn’t always comfortable but it can sure help. With facial sunburns, use ice around eyes, nose, and neck.  To take it a step further, use ice cubes made of milk (or half milk/water).

Why milk?  Milk contains Vitamin A and lactic acid that help soothe and strengthen skin. For people with sensitive skin, milk won’t irritate, rather it will nourish skin while the ice reduces inflammation (works for eczema too).

After icing, leave milk residue on the body to dry and before sleeping, gently blot away the milk with a damp washcloth.

#7 Cool and Compress Helps As Well (ice pack, frozen peas)

If ice is too cold, a cool compress can help to gently reduce inflammation. A frozen bag of vegetables won’t be uncomfortable, like ice, and can easily be applied while sitting on the couch listening to music or podcasts.

The main thing is to stay away from heat, which encourages inflammation.

#8 Use Grape Seed Oil and Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

The second best recommendation is to moisturize with grape seed oil or extra virgin coconut oil. For people who haven’t used these oils, one might think “I don’t want fruits on my body”.

However these oils are 100% natural and not thick like vegetable and olive oil.

Grape seed and extra virgin coconut oil applies to skin thinly and won’t clog pores. They don’t have a strong smell (slight coconut aroma) and soak into the skin quickly. Even when not in the sun these two oils work wonders for the skin.

For sunburns, apply a thin layer of oil to the face and shoulders 2-3 times per day and allow 5-10 minutes for the oil to soak into skin before wearing clothes (best time is waking up and before bed).

Grape seed oil (check price on Amazon) has 2x the amount of vitamins as olive oil and linoleic acid helps reduce clogged pores. It’s fine for both dry and oily skin.

Extra virgin coconut oil (check price on Amazon) helps promote collagen – which keeps skin supple and smooth – and is naturally antibacterial. It’s also a natural sunscreen however don’t rely on it for sun protection (only SPF 4).

These oils are packed with beneficial nutrients and natural products that skin will love. The alternative is lotion or cream, commonly made with synthetic ingredients and although lotion might moisturize well, the long term effects of putting chemicals on our skin is largely unknown.

#9 No Straps Over Shoulders (purse or backpacks)

A sunburn on the shoulders can be painful, but more-so if having to carry a purse or backpack.

Avoid tight-fitting clothes or holding bags that put pressure on skin. Less irritation to the skin will allow it to recover more quickly.

#10 Stay Out of the Pool and Hot Tub (chlorine)

The thought of soaking in the hotel pool or spa might feel like a good way to soothe skin but it won’t.

In fact, chlorine-based pools will dry skin out, possibly exacerbating sunburns and other skin conditions like eczema. Avoid the pool and focus on retaining the natural oils of your body (and applying natural oils).

Some pools use “salt water” instead of chlorine tablets. Salt water pools are much better for skin and won’t dry skin the way chlorine will.

#11 Drink Water and Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol causes dehydration. It may be painful, but if sunburnt, avoid late nights and drinking. Too much alcohol stresses the body and will reduce recovery time.

Instead, drink plenty of water and drinks with electrolytes help the body retain fluid and will speed up sunburn recovery.

#12 Take a Fish Oil Supplement with Omega 3 and Omega 6 

Fish oil supplements are great for the skin and for inflammation. They can help with inflammatory skin conditions like dry skin and sunburn. In addition, fish oil is great for heart health and healthy hair.

Taking a fish oil supplement after being sunburned can help skin recovery. Fish oil supplements should be considered for year-round skin health.

#13 Wear a Hat

We discussed this tip above, but wearing hat is important to reduce ultraviolet radiation on the face. Remember that UV light can radiate off of the sand and water.

This means that sunburn at the beach can also occur if sitting under an umbrella.  Don’t make the mistake of ignoring indirect UV radiation.

Related: Beach Items You Need

#14 Resist the Urge to Itch or Peel

After being sunburned, peeling will likely occur (days 3-4). If hydrated and using natural oils to moisturize, the peeling should be less noticeable.

While changing clothes or in the shower, it can be tempting to peel off the skin. Resist the urge even though it may itch. Allow skin to exfoliate naturally and continue to moisturize with aloe vera and natural oils.

Tips for the Sun – To Avoid Sunburns

For future escapades in the sun, there are a few important tips to remember.

  • If on vacation, ease into the sun.  People tend to makes their longest days in the sun at the beginning of vacation, before skin has adjusted and developed a tan foundation. Be extra careful early on so the last days of vacation can be enjoyed without worrying about sunburn.
  • Apply sunscreen every 1-2 hours.  Most people – like me – apply sunscreen in the morning and expect to be protected all day.  At the beach, sweating and swimming can reduce sunscreen effectiveness.  Apply a generous amount of sunscreen multiple times throughout the day – don’t worry a tan will still occur!
  • Invest in a beach umbrella or beach tent for the family.  These items provide shade in a place where there is none.  Rather than running back to the hotel or car for shade, bring your own!


Sunburns can damage skin and ruin a family vacation.  To heal a sunburn fast, there are a few simple steps to follow.

Many of the tips mentioned are common sense.  Stay out of the sun, cover up, wear a hat.  Other tips, like aloe vera, grape seed oil, cool/brief showers, fish oil, and milk ice can really help seed up recovery time.

Follow all the tips above and know that recovery time will be significantly reduced.  For bad sunburns (blistering and severe pain) consult a doctor for medical advice.

The information shared in this article is not a replacement for medical advice and should not be seen as such.  Thanks for reading.  We wish you and your sunburn a speedy recovery.