How to Choose the Best Sunburn Lotion: Ingredients, Consistency, and Natural Alternatives

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Summer holidays are for two things: fun and sun — but if you’re too enthusiastic about soaking up some rays, your skin might be left red and tender. So, what can you do to nurture it back to health?

Of course, the best idea is to avoid sunburn altogether. But even if you’re very careful when going out in the sun — always wearing sunscreen and protective clothing — your skin can still get sunburned.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to choose the best lotion for sunburn relief and share the best natural products and remedies for healing sunburn.

Is lotion good for sunburn?

Most sunburns heal by themselves within a few days, depending on how severe they are. Still, the pain can stop you from enjoying your day-to-day activities — even sleeping, wearing clothes, or taking a shower can become uncomfortable. So you may want to help it on its way out: keeping the sunburned area moisturized and hydrated with a lotion will speed up the healing process and prevent further damage to your skin.

There are a few rules to using lotion on a sunburn. First, you need to cool your sunburned skin down. Even the most effective lotion with the best ingredients (more on that later) can trap the heat if applied to the skin right after you move out of the sun, which only leads to more inflammation. Take a cool shower or bath first, then gently pat yourself dry with a towel. Make sure not to rub your sensitive skin though — it’s not only painful but can also cause more damage. The final step of your after-sun care routine is to apply a moisturizer when your skin is still damp to lock moisture in.

A woman applying a sunburn lotion

How to choose the best lotion for sunburn

The goal of using a lotion for sunburn is to moisturize your skin, but that doesn’t mean that any lotion will do: some of them work better than others.

When it comes to the best sunburn moisturizer, the fewer ingredients the better. Look for a lightweight, fragrance-free lotion that will be gentle to your sensitive skin and won’t cause more irritation.

Ingredients to look for

With a huge variety of moisturizing products on the market, it can be difficult to find the one that works best for sunburn. Let’s take a look at some of the ingredients that can help get the sting out of your sunburn.

  • Aloe vera is a common ingredient for after-sun care. Aloe-based lotions help soothe and hydrate the skin and reduce inflammation and itchiness.
  • Ceramides. These fatty acids help restore your skin’s protective barrier and improve dryness and irritation.
  • Antioxidants like vitamin E help reduce inflammation and counteract some of the sun damage that can lead to premature aging and skin cancer.
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Gel, lotion, or cream?

When it comes to the consistency of your sunburn lotion, it largely comes down to your personal preference. Gels tend to be more cooling, while lotions and lightweight creams are more hydrating.

But avoid thick creams, heavy ointments, and oils.

An effective sunburn lotion should let your skin breathe, and heavy creams with high oil content — although very nourishing and moisturizing — can create a layer on your skin, preventing it from releasing heat and slowing the healing process. Plus, thick ointments can be quite hard to apply as you often need to rub them into your skin, which may be painful with sunburn. Lightweight lotions in a spray form work better in this case — you can just spray the lotion on and lightly pat it into your skin.

Face moisturizers and sunburn

Sunburned skin can often feel tight, dry, and itchy, so it’s important to keep it moisturized throughout the day. But the lotion you use to treat sunburn on your body may not be suitable for your face. The skin on your face is usually thinner and more sensitive than on your body, so it needs a little more care.

If you’re generally not big on skincare, you may be tempted to go with the one-size-fits-all solution. But body lotions can clog your pores and cause irritation, so we recommend getting a separate face moisturizer. The same rules apply here — opt for a lightweight, fragrance-free formula with sunburn-friendly ingredients and apply it to your face twice a day or whenever it feels particularly dry.

On the other hand, if you normally use a lot of ingredients like vitamin C, retinol, and AHA and BHA in your skincare, it’s best to move away from these for a bit as they can be irritating to your sunburned skin. Give it some time to recover and switch to a basic moisturizer with vitamin E or ceramides to help your skin bounce back faster.

A woman with a gel sunburn moisturizer

Can you use CeraVe for sunburn?

As the name would suggest, CeraVe products contain ceramides that are great for hydrating and restoring the skin. So yes, you can use a basic CeraVe moisturizer for sunburn. They are often fragrance-free too, so that’s also a plus. That being said, any plain moisturizer with ceramides, aloe vera, or vitamin E would work just as great at repairing your skin and helping it heal from sunburn.

4 Best natural products for sunburn relief

Lotions work great at keeping your skin moisturized, but they may not always be available. If you are in in pinch or just want to try some at-home remedies, here are some great natural options for sunburn relief:

1. Aloe vera

Having hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties, aloe vera is a popular home remedy for various skin concerns, including sunburns. A review of four studies found that aloe vera is effective at treating first- and second-degree burns.

It can prevent blisters and reduce swelling and redness, so it’s definitely one of the best products for sunburn out there.

You can use fresh aloe gel from the plant or get it from a store, but be sure to choose one without irritating additives.

2. Oatmeal bath

Oatmeal is another popular product for easing skin irritation. To treat a sunburn, mix ground-up rolled oats, milk, and honey into a paste and apply it to the affected area. Or you can steep some ground oats in a bath — put them in a cloth or a sachet to make the clean-up easier — and just relax in the soothing oat-infused water.

3. Witch hazel

The tannins in witch hazel help reduce inflammation and redness, which makes it a great option for treating sunburn at home. Gently pat witch hazel on your sunburn with a cotton pad or make a compress by soaking a clean cloth with witch hazel. You can keep it in the fridge for about an hour for an added cooling effect. But make sure to use an alcohol-free solution as alcohol can dry out and irritate your skin.

4. Black tea

Just like witch hazel, black tea is rich in anti-inflammatory tannins. To use it on your sunburn, brew some strong black tea, let it steep for an hour, and leave it in the fridge to cool down. Then take some cotton wool or a clean cloth, soak it in the cold tea, and hold it to your sunburn for 15 minutes. Let the tea do its magic and don’t wash it off afterward.

Wrapping up

The best way to help your sunburn heal faster is to keep it moisturized. The best lotion for sunburn is lightweight, gentle to the skin, and fragrance-free. Moisturizers with ingredients like aloe vera, vitamin E, and ceramides are most effective at soothing the irritated skin and restoring it back to health.

November 9, 2022