6 Esthetician Approved Tips for Sunburn Relief

July 19, 2022 (updated May 5, 2023) — Written by

Each season of the year brings a different challenge when it comes to taking care of your skin. Winter is dry and cold, spring can cause irritations from allergies from the blooming environment, and fall can feel extreme as the weather transitions from hot to cold. Summer however, is the season where we expose the most skin and are at the most risk for sunburn. Well, TNK to the rescue—let’s talk about tips for sunburn relief + after sun care to support your skin this summer.

a woman wearing a hat stands amidst some trees

By: Hayley Wood, L.E. N.T.P.


Our society’s relationship with the sun has shifted over the last few decades. From the devotion to being tan all year long to habitually covering up to avoid the risk of any sun damage, we’ve really done it all. Now that sun protection has become a more prominent part of our daily skincare routine, it’s important to recognize that at the end of the day, you can take all of the precautions and still accidentally sun stress your skin.

This is when after sun care can be a game changer to the immediate recovery and long-term health of your skin—and so can our tips for sunburn relief.

RELATED: Our top recs for the best nontoxic moisturizers with SPF.

Your skin + the sun: what you need to know

But first, let’s understand why our skin responds differently to the sun at different times of year—and why your skin responds differently than mine. The sun’s UV rays are strongest during the summer months. This is because during the summer months, the Northern Hemisphere faces the sun resulting in a longer daytime and perpendicular angled UV rays. This allows for sun rays to feel much more intense compared to the rest of the year. Even though sun care is necessary throughout the entire year, it is especially likely that your sun care practices will need to be strong during summer months.

The skin also can have both beneficial and consequential responses to the sun, so it’s important to understand what works best for your bio-individual needs. How we individually respond to the sun is based on a couple of factors. 👇

How the pigment in your skin impacts your reaction to the sun

Melanocyte cells are what produce the pigment in our skin and eyes known as melanin. Melanin acts as a protective block from UV rays, so the paler the skin tone, the more likely a person is likely to burn from the sun’s UV rays—especially if not using proper protective clothing and sunscreen. 

However, this doesn’t mean that sun care practices don’t apply to individuals with darker skin tones. Regardless of your melanocyte activity, it’s important to remember that achieving a tan is the skin’s defense mechanism against the sun and a burn increases the potential of cell mutations that can lead to skin cancers. Either way, some protective and post care practices can help maintain the skin’s defenses to protect against long-term damage.

RELATED: The best nontoxic tinted moisturizers with SPF.

Your immune system + the sun

Another factor that can help identify your bio-individual sun care needs is how your immune system responds to the sun. A compromised immune system can impact our skin’s defenses against the sun. Whether you are compromising your immune system with a few social cocktails or you are feeling under the weather, the sun can either have a reviving effect or a draining impact on your immune system. This factor can also be affected by the length of time your skin is exposed to the sun while participating in an immune-system-depressing activity. 

Translation: sipping that marg at lunch while soaking up the sun might make you more susceptible to sunburn. 

How to figure out your personal reaction to the sun

The best way to figure out what works best for you is to consider your history with the sun. You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Has your skin easily burned before? 
  • Do you tan, but feel tired from the sun? 
  • Do you feel energized and your skin isn’t bothered? 

When you answer these questions, look for patterns. Only you really know how you react to the sun, and recognizing it will help you navigate your best course of action for after sun care. 

And a note: regardless of what your tendencies may be with the sun, there is no harm in taking extra care of your skin as a preventative measure. 

RELATED: The best mineral sunscreens for the whole family.

a woman in the background holds up a bottle of Laurel Sun Body Oil and a tube of love sun body mineral face sunscreen

Healthy sun care practices to start with

First, a few reminders of what healthy sun care practices include. 👇

Always have a fresh SPF with you. If you have to dust off last year’s sunscreen, the potency of protection has already gone way down. Check expiration dates, but plan on refreshing your stock annually. (Check out our top picks for daily moisturizers with SPF, tinted moisturizers with SPF and mineral sunscreens for the whole family.)

Read the instructions on how to apply. Pretty much all sunscreens will tell you to apply before exposure—that means before you head to your destination. 

Reapply throughout the day, but especially if you are doing an outdoor activity. 

Protective clothing is also a big friend for extended periods of outside time. Hats are a game-changer, as is UPF clothing.

Beware of photosensitizing medications and ingredients in your other body and skincare as this can make you more susceptible to sunburns and sun sensitivity overall. Ask your doctor or pharmacist, if you have questions about your meds.

RELATED: How to read a sunscreen label (it’s not as hard as it sounds).

a close up of lip spf 15 being squeezed onto a finger

Signs you need tips for sunburn relief + after sun care

Even if you’re updated on the best practices to help lessen the likelihood of sun damage, there is still room for human error. After your exposure to the sun is when it’s important to identify if you’ve accidentally overdone it. Here are a some skin signs that you need some immediate after sun care:

  • You press on your skin and it leaves a red impression.
  • Your skin is visibly burned.**
  • Your skin is feeling hot.
  • Your skin is peeling. 
  • Your skin is creating a rash or itching sensation that you didn’t have prior to the sun exposure. 

**If you have a severe burn, or experience a fever, blistering, dehydration, vomiting or severe pain, we suggest that you contact your primary care physician for support immediately. 

6 tips for sunburn relief from an esthetician

Once you’ve identified if you need some after sun care, we suggest that you move through the following steps to help your skin recover safely and quickly. 

1. Reduce the heat in your skin

Immediately after excess sun exposure, the best thing you can do is to help reduce the heat in your skin. A cooling compress or, if tolerable, a cool shower rinse to help remove anything on the skin like sunscreen or sweat can help calm things down, soothe inflammation and cool your internal temperature. 

One of the many functions that skin has is that it is responsible for temperature regulation. When we are overheating our skin with excess UV rays, it is beneficial to help the skin find balance faster with an appropriate cooling method.

For example, if your skin is truly burned, avoid using ice directly on the skin, but use a cold compress instead. 

If your skin is not burned, try making an ice mold of chamomile tea to help calm and soothe the irritation. After a few minutes, your skin should start to feel cool—then you can introduce topical care that is also cooling and calming such as products with niacinamide, chamomile and oat extract.

TNK recommended cooling products

2. Focus on hydration

Focus your intention on both internal and external hydration. The skin is about 64% water which means that if it’s dehydrated, you get less movement in your cell activity. We need that fluid in our skin to keep our skin looking plump and youthful, but we also need it to help move fluids along that help detoxification and distribution of nutrients.

One of the best ways to replenish hydration is through electrolyte-rich drinks such as coconut water. It is also important to avoid anything that could be dehydrating such as alcohol, sugars and refined foods while your skin is recovering. Other hydrating foods include cucumber, celery, watermelon, apples and watercress. For topical hydration, remember to stick with simple ingredients that are known to hydrate like aloe, squalene and hyaluronic acid.

TNK recommended hydration products

3. Boost with antioxidants

Along with hydration, your body can use an antioxidant boost to help with your after sun skin recovery. Antioxidants help fight off free radicals that can cause damage to skin. Polyphenols are antioxidant molecules that are known to help prevent damage to the skin from UV rays.

This would mean that adding polyphenol rich foods such as green tea, dark chocolate and blueberries into your meal plan can work towards supporting the skin. For topical ingredients, look for pomegranate oil and COQ-10.

TNK recommended antioxidant skincare

4. Get some rest!

Resting helps the body recover whenever you’ve had overexposure to the sun. If you’re uncomfortable laying down due to a burn on a large area like your back, we suggest wearing loose, breathable fabrics such as organic cotton or bamboo, as well as making sure you have fresh linens to lay on.

You will also want to slather your skin with the appropriate calming moisturizer from the suggestions above. Make sure to take your rest as seriously as you would if you were sick, so your body has some time to catch up and recover. 

5. Stay away from actives in your skin care

This is an instinct we usually forget when our skin is still on the mend from excess sun exposure or even sun damage. When we add an active ingredient to our skincare, especially an exfoliating active, it can overstimulate the skin and create sensitivity. Hold off on active ingredients until your skin is completely healed and feeling well again before introducing actives into your routine again.

This can take from 5-14 days depending on the severity of the sun damage. You can always consult with an esthetician to help you navigate this.

Skincare actives to avoid include: AHA and BHA acids, retinols/retinoids and manual scrubs, along with photosensitizing ingredients. 

6. Try one of these sunburn home remedies

Lastly, there are a few pantry items in most households that can work to calm the skin from a sunburn if you need something NOW, and can’t wait for a new product to arrive.

The first is Manuka honey, which is calming to the skin and extremely humectant to help retain moisture in the skin that will help support the skin’s healing process. Try it as a mask—just be sure to remove gently, and don’t rub it on or off excessively.

Save: Use code TNK at PRI to save 10% on a Manuka honey purchase.

Aloe vera is another popular plant source that can be turned into a cooling gel for the skin. Apply as needed (if you’re doing a quick stop at the store, look for aloe that has no added colorants or additional inactive ingredients—you want pure aloe).

And lastly, oats can be very beneficial to calming irritation in the skin. If you can tolerate a mild to cool temperature oatmeal bath, it may help you feel better faster, as well as cover more areas that need support. 

We hope you learned something supportive for your best after sun skin care practices. Tell us: Which will you be incorporating this summer to help keep your skin happy and protected?

xo, hayley in cursive lettering

TNK Team Note: This article may contain affiliate links, including Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. TNK uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TNK stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.

By Hayley Wood

Hayley Wood is a licensed esthetician, nutritional therapy practitioner, and founder of Therapeutic Skin Coach. With 16 years of experience in holistic skincare and education, Hayley has a passion for skin health education and offers custom plant-based facials in Dallas, Texas as well as online consultations and classes.

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