How to heal sunburn faster: 9 ways to reduce redness quickly, revealed by experts

Knowing how to heal sunburn faster is essential when you get caught out by the sun. Here, a pharmacist and dermatologist reveal their go-to methods

Woman putting on suncream wearing a bikini on the beach, representing how to heal sunburn faster
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wondering how to heal sunburn faster? If you've been caught out by the rays this week, you're not the only one. According to the British Skin Foundation (BDF), 51% of us have accidentally burnt ourselves in the sunshine.

While it's not ideal - and we're all aware of the health consequences of not adequately protecting ourselves with a pick of the best sunscreens - it's likely to catch you out on the days when you'd least expect it. "In the UK, the weather is often overcast, which may cause people to think there is no chance of getting sunburnt. This is incorrect; UV levels can still be high on overcast days, making it possible to get sunburnt because clouds do not sufficiently filter UV radiation before it reaches the Earth’s surface and penetrates the skin," says Carolina Goncalves, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmica.

The weather can also be unpredictable and leave us unprepared for sudden bouts of sunny weather. The good news is, there are plenty of expert-approved ways to speed up the healing process. 

How to heal sunburn faster

1. Apply a gentle moisturiser as soon as possible

As soon as you notice you've been sunburnt, get some soothing moisturiser on the area to ease pain and inflammation, says Goncalves. "Preferably one containing aloe versa - this has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, making it ideal to help prevent skin peeling after exposure and reduce redness."

"Moisturisers or aftersun lotions containing aloe vera provide the added benefit of helping to replenish lost moisture and soothe the affected area," she says. 

Alternatively, you can use a fragrance-free moisturiser that contains hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or ceramides to help lock in moisture and repair the skin, says Dr Kajal Babamiri, dermatologist and aesthetic doctor at CLNQ

2. Use a cold compress throughout the day

As well as applying plenty of moisturiser, the experts recommend keeping your skin cool in the hours after a sunburn with a cold compress. "This can significantly reduce inflammation and soothe the skin. The cold temperature helps constrict blood vessels, reducing redness and swelling," says Dr Babamiri. 

"To make a cold compress, soak a clean cloth in cold water, wring it out, and gently place it on the sunburned skin. Do this for 10-15 minutes several times a day. Avoid using ice directly on the skin as it can cause further damage," she says. 

Dr Kajal Babamiri
Dr Kajal Babamiri

Dr Kajal Babamiri is a registered GP and dermatology specialist. She had an established aesthetic practice on Harley Street before moving to Cheshire and is passionate about wellbeing, bringing a wealth of wellness treatments - including vitamin infusions and bioidentical hormones - to her practice. She has extensive experience in lasers.

3. Wear sun protective clothing

Sunburn can be very painful, so it is important to treat it as soon as possible to minimise discomfort, says Goncalves. One way to do this instantly is to wear sun-protective (UPF) or darker-coloured clothing.  

"This can allow the affected area to recover, making it less likely for sunburns to worsen. UPF clothes are made of a special fabric which helps block harmful UV rays from touching and penetrating the skin, helping to prevent sunburn," she says. "Darker clothes, on the other hand, absorb UV rays and keep them from reaching the skin, which helps protect the skin from burning."

Carolina Goncalves
Carolina Goncalves

Carolina Goncalves is the Superintendent Pharmacist at Pharmica. With a comprehensive professional background spanning more than 13 years, including over 5 years as a Community Pharmacist, Carolina has extensive experience supporting men's and women's health, specialising in multiple areas including skincare, weight loss, and nutrition. 

4. Change your skincare routine if you need to

When sunburn is healing, avoid using any skincare products that are even slightly abrasive, like face and body scrubs, and those containing ingredients that can trap in body heat rather than release it - like Vaseline and other oil-based products. 

While moisturising, these tend to contain ingredients derived from petroleum, lidocaine or benzocaine, which can block the pores and prevent heat from escaping the body.

5. Stop drinking alcohol

Drinking and hot weather often go hand-in-hand. However, if you're dealing with sunburn, it's best to swap it out for one of the many alternatives to alcohol

"Sunburn already causes skin dehydration because fluid from within the body leaks into the skin tissues of the affected areas, contributing to swelling and redness," says Goncalves. "Consuming alcohol can exacerbate this dehydrating effect, increasing urination and stopping water retention." 

Instead, focus on electrolyte-rich drinks such as coconut water, milk, sports drinks, and fresh fruit juices. You may also like to include some of the best foods to eat during a heatwave in your diet for the next few days. 

6. Avoid irritating your skin

When you're sunburnt, it's best to try and leave your skin alone as much as possible - aside from when you're applying moisturiser, body creams for dry skin, or cold compresses. So as much as it may be tempting to brush, scratch or itch your sunburnt skin - especially if it starts to peel - try to avoid doing this as it heals. 

"Scratching or peeling the affected skin can remove the protective layer and make it easier for bacteria to permeate the skin’s surface barrier, leading to potential infections," she says. "Blisters should also not be popped as this can increase the probability of the skin becoming infected, exacerbating pain caused by sunburn, and potentially causing scarring."

6. Take colder showers

As well as being uncomfortable on tender skin, hot showers are detrimental to the healing process, so stick to colder showers where possible when learning how to heal sunburn faster. 

"Taking a hot shower can strip the skin of essential oils and moisture, leading to drier skin and potential peeling, all of which can prolong the healing process," says the pharmacist.

8. Take an ibuprofen

Taking an anti-inflammatory painkiller like ibuprofen within the first few hours of the burn can help it heal sunburn faster by reducing pain and inflammation. 

Once the inflammation has gone down, the skin can work to repair and regrow. 

9. Drink plenty of water

A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, so when looking at how to heal sunburn faster,  replenishing fluids is essential to prevent dehydration and support the healing process, says Dr Babamiri. 

Drinking water can also help reduce the appearance of redness, she says. "Hydration is key to maintaining skin health and when your body is well-hydrated, your skin is better equipped to repair itself. Water helps maintain skin elasticity and supports cellular repair processes, reducing redness intensity and promoting faster healing. While it may not provide immediate results, staying hydrated is essential in the comprehensive approach to treating sunburn," she says. 

Can a sunburn heal in 2 days? 

Healing a sunburn in just two days will be a challenging task, says Dr Babamiri. However, as the severity of the sunburn greatly influences how long it takes to recover, it depends. "Mild sunburns may start to feel better within a couple of days, but more severe burns can take several days to a week to heal fully," she says. 

"While you can accelerate healing and alleviate discomfort [with the tips above], they cannot completely heal the skin within a short time frame. It's important to be patient and continue caring for the sunburned area even as it begins to improve." 

Grace Walsh
Health Channel Editor

Grace Walsh is woman&home's Health Channel Editor, working across the areas of fitness, nutrition, sleep, mental health, relationships, and sex. She is also a qualified fitness instructor. In 2024, she will be taking on her second marathon in Rome, cycling from Manchester to London (350km) for charity, and qualifying as a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach. 

A digital journalist with over six years experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace has covered (almost) everything in the world of health and wellbeing with bylines in Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more.