Growing up I remember when going to a tanning salon was more popular than fake tanning, then public awareness about skin cancer increased, and now arguably one of the most important skincare steps in many a beauty routine is SPF. Unfortunately, just applying SPF can’t guarantee that you won’t still end up with a sunburn. From not applying enough (dermatologists recommend an ounce – or enough to fill a shot glass), not reapplying it as needed, to not letting it absorb before heading outdoors, there are many ways that people skimp without realizing it. I myself fall victim (or villain depending on your viewpoint) to a lot of these mishaps.
It also doesn’t help that my absolute favorite thing in the world is to read a book while basking in the sunshine. The other weekend Portland had the trifecta of my ideal outdoor weather: it was sunny, warm enough to lay in the grass, and not too windy. So after slathering on a bunch of my favorite sunscreen and trying on my bikini for the first time in months… I got my beach towel ready, grabbed a great book (currently reading: The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais), and headed to the backyard. I initially burn fairly easily, but once I have a base tan I don’t tend to get too red. Right now I definitely don’t have a base tan, especially since my body hadn’t really seen daylight in ages. So when I feel asleep for three hours exposed to all kinds of UVA/UVB rays, to say I got a sunburn is an understatement. Luckily with the help of three amazing products, I not only drastically reduced my healing time, but over a week later I am still not peeling at all. Holla!
How I Treat Sunburns So They Don’t Peel & Aid Healing
Keep in mind that I am not a dermatologist, and what works really well for me may not work as well for you. However, being a naturally pale person who’s favorite environment is poolside & not in the shade – I am unfortunately no stranger to sunburn. Since using a combination of Apple Cider Vinegar, Aloe Vera (the purer & with less alcohol the better), and Noxzema, I have noticed a huge difference in the time it takes for my body to heal from a sunburn, and hardly ever peel while recovering.
Step 1: Apply Vinegar To The Sunburned Area
Types of Vinegar to use
Through trial and error (E.G. using whatever we happened to have on hand at the time of the burn), I’ve found that unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) has worked the best, but you can also use filtered or white vinegar – really any variant is still better than nothing. I now keep a bottle of Organic Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar from Trader Joe’s underneath my bathroom sink. Especially since it has so many other applications other than sunburns, like as a clarifying rinse for your hair, but that’s another post.
How To Apply Vinegar To A Sunburn
This step is the most effective the faster you apply it to your skin once you’ve started to burn. There are two main ways that you can go about this: soaking a paper towel with the vinegar and applying it, or adding it to your bath in a 2:1 ratio to water. For me the paper towel application is the easiest.
I start by using a paper towel soaked in water to gently remove any sunscreen/sweat residue from the burned area so that it’s clean and is ready to absorb the vinegar. Then I soak a paper towel in ACV, and let it sit on the sunburn for 15 minutes or until the paper towel feels drier. Depending on how badly I feel I’ve been burnt, I may repeat this step 2 or 3 times. It will probably sting a little bit, and some people might not like the smell – personally it just makes me really want french fries smothered in malt vinegar. If you’re treating your face, you can also apply the ACV with a cotton ball and just apply it more frequently.
Last weekend I pretty much just laid on my couch with ACV soaked towels on my back while I binge watched all of Grace & Frankie on Netflix. Getting up only to get more ice water and re-soak the sheets with vinegar. The living room might have smelled like a fish-and-chip shop afterwards – yay for candles.
How It Works
Vinegar has natural antiseptic properties that can help relieve the pain you’re feeling from your sunburn, if applied via the paper towel method, it will also feel cooling as it evaporates. The mild acids present in the vinegar also help return your skin’s pH balance back to normal, which helps it heal faster. Both properties also help you not to develop sun blisters or pustules (eww, those don’t sound fun).
(References for you fellow citation nerds: University of Pittsburgh: Vinegar–An Ancient Medicine and Popular Home Remedy, and WiseGeek.)
Step 2: Liberal Amounts Of Aloe Vera
When I say liberal amounts of aloe, I am not talking about progressive politics, I am talking about smothering yourself in all of the gel you can pack on.
What Kind Of Aloe Vera Should I Use?
If you can, find the most concentrated aloe vera possible. Many drugstore aloe vera options have a high concentration of alcohol in their formulas which while it feels relieving because it makes the product evaporate more quickly – causing it to feel cool against the burn – it is very much a case of immediate gratification vs long term harm. Since alcohol is very drying to skin – if you use aloe vera with lots of alcohol and don’t moisturize with something else, you’re pretty much guaranteed to peel or flake.
Personally, my Holy Grail aloe product is the Nature Republic Aloe Vera. It has a 92% concentration of aloe, is non-comedogenic, paraben free, and doesn’t contain too much alcohol. You can find it on Amazon here.
Keep re-applying the aloe throughout the day as needed.
Step 3: Noxzema Cold Cream Before Going To Bed
This alone used to be my sunburn treatment. I don’t know when I started leaving it on instead of just using it as a cleanser, but applying Noxzema to your burn right before bed is great for hydration and pain relief. The best course of action is to apply as thick of coat as you can without rubbing it in and just letting it absorb before going to sleep. It will draw the heat out of your burn, and while it may sting a little at first it will be very soothing. This is mainly due to its awesome ingredients: camphor, menthol, phenol and eucalyptus.
In the morning I rinse the area again with cool water, and reapply again. I typically keep doing this step daily until the burn is no longer red and has turned into a tan. It’s also very moisturizing, and leaves your skin super soft (and usually peel-free) as a result. Pre-warning for slight gross factor, so if you don’t want to read about peeling sunburns skip to the next paragraph… I have noticed that using this routine, on the rare-ish occasion that I do peel, it’s not the dried-out-supremely-itchy-flakey stuff, but typically tends to peel off in sheets. I think this mostly has to do with keeping your skin as hydrated as possible, as well as stopping the burn as quickly as possible.
So while the best sunburn treatment is to apply plenty of sunscreen, and reapply it often to not get burned in the first place, this is a decent runner up. How do you guys treat your sunburns? Let me know in the comments below!