The Best Sunburn Relief Lotions and Gels

What Is a Sunburn?

“A sunburn is due to overexposure of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun,” says Cellura. “This results in skin tenderness and redness. If severe, blistering, swelling, chills, and peeling may occur. On a cellular level, the DNA is being damaged by the overabundance of UV exposure which, over time, may increase the risk of developing skin cancer.”

So how can we treat it? 

How to Treat Sunburn

“Most importantly, get out of the sun to prevent further damage. Use of cool compresses or cool showers can be soothing. Taking NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can decrease pain and reduce redness. Moisturize with fragrance-free aloe vera (keep in the refrigerator for extra cooling) and stay hydrated,” Cellura recommends. “In severe, rare cases, use of steroids or even hospitalization may be required. Avoid peeling at the skin and simply moisturize to allow the sloughed skin to come off naturally. Some patients believe getting a ‘base tan’ can be beneficial, when in fact, any sunburn can be damaging to the skin.”

Let’s keep that in mind now and not when we’re eyeing up mysterious spots, moles, or blemishes later this year, or wrinkles and age spots down the road. Sure, you’ll visit a dermatologist then, but do you really need to worry about getting to a doctor right now for something as simple as a sunburn? 

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“It may be wise to visit a doctor if the sunburn is severe, especially if you are experiencing symptoms such as chills, malaise, and extreme pain,” says Cellura. “In rare instances, hospitalization may be required in order to correct electrolyte imbalances and properly treat the burn.” 

Speaking of medical treatments, “It’s important to remember that certain medications can make you more susceptible to getting a sunburn,” Cellura points out. “Some common photo-sensitizing medications include doxycycline, isotretinoin, tretinoin, hydrochlorothiazide, amiodarone, furosemide, glipizide, and glyburide, to name a few.”

Cellura also says that in addition to ibuprofen, hydrocortisone cream can be a helpful anti-inflammatory, too. “I would avoid lidocaine or benzocaine products as they can irritate the skin and may even induce an allergic reaction. I would also avoid any thick ointments such as Vaseline or Aquaphor in the initial stages of sunburn as, due to their thickness, they may trap heat,” Cullura cautions. 

Read on for some of our recommendations for treatments that are easy to find at a local drug store, or online, but next weekend? Bring the sunblock, keep your shirt on, wear a hat, and bring an umbrella.

Best Sunburn Relief Lotions and Gels

Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera 100% Gel
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Sooth that burn with Fruit of the Earth, a pure aloe vera gel that’s fragrance- and color-free, focusing on moisturizing and restoring your skin. The light, clear gel helps heal while providing a protective barrier that retains moisture. Best of all, it can double as an all-natural shaving or hair styling gel! Go ahead, get two — you’re gonna need them. 

Banana Boat Soothing Aloe After Sun Gel
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Another great gel product, Banana Boat also soothes while it softens seared skin, helping to moisturize and heal. It’s not greasy, moisturizes with even more Aloe Vera as well as Vitamin E, and it will help keep your tan looking great. 

Korres Greek Yoghurt After-Sun Cooling Gel
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Milk actually does do a (sunburned) body good. Try a cold milk compress: The cool liquid pulls heat away from the skin, while Vitamins A and D in the milk offer antioxidant healing power, and lactic acid helps exfoliate away some of that dead skin. Back that up with this yogurt-based gel that hydrates the skin, reduces redness and (hopefully) prolongs your tan. 

Badger After Sun Balm
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While Badger recommends starting your recovery with its light Aloe Vera Gel (similar to some of the other products we’ve described above), once the skin is feeling a little less sensitive, follow up with this balm. The handy tin’s contents include soothing cocoa and shea butter, while essential lavender and Moroccan blue tansy oils bring anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. A little thicker, the balm is perfect to spot-treat nose, ears, shoulders — any place that got more aggressively sun-kissed.

Solarcaine Cool Aloe Burn Relief Spray with Lidocaine
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If, despite Dr. Cellura’s recommendation, you just can’t wait for the pain to go away — and you’re pretty sure your skin isn’t sensitive and you won’t have an even worse reaction than the sunburn — classic Solarcaine includes topical local pain anesthetic lidocaine, effectively blocking your skin’s nerve signals. It also includes some of our soothing hero ingredient, Aloe Vera, all in an easy-to-use spray. As with all products, read and follow the usage guidelines very carefully.

Clarins After Sun Gel Ultra-Soothing
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What would summer be without watermelon? Our favorite slippery, messy, sticky picnic snack also happens to be one of the key ingredients in Clarins’ refreshing gel, designed to help sun-stressed skin. It also includes sunflower (rich in Vitamin E) and mimosa tenuiflora (said to be used by the Maya to treat their skin) to reduce redness and peeling. The moisture-replenishing formula leaves skin soft and comfortable (and sadly, your wallet a bit lighter).