You could have covered up, but you didn’t.

You could have used more sunscreen, but that didn’t happen either.

So now you’re coming home from a lovely day of swimming, boating, playing golf or otherwise frolicking in the sun—and your skin is feeling hot…and is turning red.

You’ve got a sunburn…and maybe a windburn, too. Pain is coming. But we’ve got the best solutions.

Here’s what you do…


Most of the time when you have a sunburn, you’ll feel better faster—and heal faster—by using certain proven-to-work home remedies, says Bottom Line medical contributor Andrew Rubman, ND, a naturopathic physician and founder and medical director of the Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines in Connecticut. The exception: If you have a blistering burn or one that is covering a large part of your body, or if the burn is accompanied by fever, chills, headache or severe pain, don’t treat it at home—see or call your health-care provider. (If you do have blisters, do not break them—it slows healing and increases risk for infection.)

For everyday sunburn and windburn, you can treat your skin with easy-to-find products that you might not have considered. Your first order of business is something most people don’t think about—keeping skin moist, said Dr. Rubman. “With sunburn or wind exposure, the skin’s normal ability to retain moisture is disturbed. If the skin starts drying out, it can become inflamed, and then it can become scaly and more vulnerable to infection.”

Cooling the skin and keeping it moist can relieve your discomfort and protect the skin from becoming dehydrated. The way to start is not with a lotion, although that’s what most people do. Instead, as soon as possible after realizing you have a burn, apply a cool compress to the sunburned or windburned area—a towel or wash cloth soaked in cool water will work for your arms, legs, shoulders or face—and if  it’s your torso that’s sunburned, wear a cotton T shirt that’s been soaked in cool water. As the compresses cool, apply fresh ones until the pain is substantially diminished.

Of course, it’s not always convenient to walk around garbed in wet clothes and bath linens, so here are Dr. Rubman’s other top remedies. Any and all of these remedies can be combined and used as often as you like, so try different combinations until you find the right one for you. Since they all start working immediately, your skin should start to feel better quickly…

  1. Apply witch hazel to the burned area. Using witch hazel, a solution made with an extract from the leaves, twig and bark of the Hamamelis plant, may seem counterintuitive because of its astringent properties. But it is a strong antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects that are skin soothing and cooling.
  2. Coconut oil rubbed into the skin provides a medium-chain fatty acid (lauric acid), which helps keep skin moist. Although the oil is solid at room temperature, it will melt at body temperature and absorb into the skin so you will not leave the house coated in white pasty oil. Dr. Rubman likes organic coconut oil, such as from Trader Joe’s or Now Foods.
  3. A soaking bath containing oatmeal powder and a little white vinegar (two or three tablespoons) is soothing, relieves itching and helps the skin regain its normal moisture barrier. The vinegar helps remove inflammatory compounds released by sun-damaged skin and soothes sunburn pain. For the oatmeal powder, Dr. Rubman recommends Aveeno to his patients, but he notes that you can also make your own by grinding uncooked oat cereal in a blender until it becomes a fine powder.
  4. Some high-end cosmetics contain squalane, a stablized form of a naturally occurring substance derived from certain plants (and historically from shark liver). Squalane provides good protection against dehydration in damaged skin. Rub squalane on the damaged or dry skin as often as necessary. “Squalane doesn’t clog pores, it soaks in rather quickly, and it feels very light on the skin,” said Dr. Rubman. It has no color, odor or taste. The brand Dr. Rubman recommends is Mayumi, which is inexpensive and made by a reliable company and available in stores and online.
  5. Fresh aloe gel is very soothing on damaged skin. If you don’t already have an aloe plant, you can purchase one from a home center or nursery for a few dollars. Snip off one of the fronds, squeeze out the gel and apply to your skin. “Applying fresh aloe gel feels instantly cooling and soothing,” said Dr. Rubman. Fresh aloe from a leaf is much better than any store-bought aloe product because the gel’s ability to soothe decreases rapidly after it’s extracted, he added. Reapply when the soothing effect wears off.


To prevent sunburn the next time you go outside after being burned, especially during peak sun hours, use a sunscreen product with the main active ingredient  oxide or titanium dioxide, said Dr. Rubman. Because your skin will probably still be somewhat irritated from your previous sunburn, you might be more apt to absorb potentially irritating compounds in other, chemical-based sunscreens. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, in contrast, offer a physical barrier, not a chemical one. They may stay white on your skin, but that’s the proof that the product is protecting you—and a small price to pay.

For more natural summer skin advice, see Bottom Line’s articles on summer first aid, natural antiaging skin treatments and sunscreen savvy.