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Got a Sunburn? Avoid These Sunburn Treatment Mistakes

A woman with a sunburn gingerly moving her shirt away from the burn.
New Africa/Shutterstock.com

When it comes to treating a sunburn avoiding things that can potentially worsen the pain or prolong your healing is key. Here’s a list of sunburn treatments you should skip.

All of us have experienced a painful sunburn at some point. Even if you remember to apply (and reapply) sunscreen throughout the day, you can miss spots the sun will find. Bright-red, burning skin is no fun, and your first instinct is usually to find the quickest way to cool it down. That’s also exactly where things get tricky.

While your ultimate goal when you get a sunburn is to cool it down, you also want to keep your skin hydrated and protected. If you follow our advice to treat your sunburn, it’ll make things far less painful and help your skin heal.

Skip Cooling Off in the Pool

This might be the hardest to resist. Sunburns often happen when people are on vacation with a hotel pool right there. What could possibly go wrong if you get in the pool wearing a big hat, sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen? After all, the water will help you cool down. Unfortunately, it can also make things much worse in the long run.

Getting in the pool will expose you to more UV light and the chlorine in the water. Sunscreen or not, the UV light and heat of the sun will just irritate your skin more and chlorine is drying. Those are two things that won’t help speed up your sunburn recovery at all. Therefore, avoiding the pool for a few days is a sacrifice worth making if you want to heal as soon as possible.

Don’t Ice Your Sunburn

Putting ice on your burning skin sounds amazing when you’re in pain, but it’s something you should definitely avoid. It might sound counterintuitive, but ice can dry your skin and cause further damage to the skin tissue, making it more difficult for the body to heal.

The last thing you want is to be that rare patient that has both sunburn and frostbite at the same time. Stay away from the ice and run the area under cool-to-lukewarm water instead before applying moisturizer.

Resist Peeling Your Skin or Popping Blisters

A man at the beach with a sunburned, peeling back.
Yevhen Prozhyrko/Shutterstock.com

As tempting as it might be, resist the urge to pick your skin once it starts peeling. Popping blisters is an even bigger no-no. This is because your body is already taking care of the damage and that layer of dead skin is acting as a temporary bandage, if you will.

Interfering with the process can leave your damaged skin exposed to dirt and bacteria, thus increasing your risk of developing an infection.

If you’re reading this list with a sunburn so severe you’re blistered up, we would urge you to keep a close eye on your health. Blistering only happens with severe sunburns and often goes hand in hand with sun poisoning. If you feel ill with flu-like symptoms, have a fever or chills, or feel dizzy, you should go to the doctor.

Avoid Petroleum Jelly, Coconut Oil, or Butter

It’s a common misconception that applying any butter or oil will help the skin remain hydrated. Not only is this not true, but it’s also terrible for your skin. When you apply any of these thick substances to the affected area, they trap your body heat, which increases the burning sensation as well as the severity of the inflammation and ultimately slows down the healing process.

Avoid Vaseline, butters, and oils at all costs, no matter what the product labels or your mom’s friend said. Opt for a light moisturizer instead. You do want to stay moisturized, just not in a way that makes your sunburn hurt worse or last longer.

Don’t Skip the Moisturizer Altogether

Woman rubbing moisturizer on her sunburned shoulders.

Sunburned skin is dry skin, so your first goal should be to hydrate it. Don’t just grab your regular moisturizer without testing a small spot.

Things you might not pay any attention to when you don’t have a sunburn, like fragrance or a small amount of alcohol in the moisturizer, can sting quite a bit.

While any good water-based moisturizer can help, now is a great time to grab moisturizers designed to soothe a sunburn.

Don’t Cover It with Makeup

Getting sunburnt before a party is no fun and using makeup to hide it might sound like a great idea. Unfortunately, that’s just another thing you should never do if you get sun-kissed a little too hard.

Makeup, especially when applied with a brush, can cause more irritation, and even increase the risk of infection. So, while it’s not exactly a cute look, it’s best to leave a sunburn alone. Rock it the best you can, or hide it under loose-fitting clothing.

We do recommend you always be very proactive SPF products, though. Once you’re over your sunburn, it’s worth looking into makeup that has built-in sun protection. You can also get daily moisturizers with SPF, and even special sprays for your hair and scalp that will protect both from sun damage.

Skip Your Work Outs

Working out with a sunburn can worsen your condition. Even if you’re a no-pain, no-gain kind of fitness buff, you really should take it easy, even if you think you can power through the sunburn pain.

The salt from your sweat and the raised body temperature can further dry out your skin and increase inflammation. This makes it more difficult for your body to heal. It’s better to enjoy some rest for a few days and let your skin regenerate.

The best defense against sunburns is limiting sun exposure and wearing a good sunscreen from head to toe, including on your scalp! But should you find yourself sunburnt in the future, these tips will help you deal with it and heal much faster.

Carla Cometto Carla Cometto
Carla has been writing professionally for five years and blogging for many more. She's worked as a journalist, photographer, and translator. She's also an avid traveler who hopes to inspire a sense of curiosity and adventure in others through her writing. Read Full Bio »
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