Ask Grace: I Got Sunburned, What Should I Do?

Hi Grace, 

I’m pretty good at wearing SPF but not so much at topping it up… I just got back from holiday where I accidentally got quite badly burned on my face and body. My skin is now really red and itchy. I’ve used after-sun but would love to know how to treat sunburn. What’s the best thing I should do? 


As much as I empathise with your pain and frustration, I’m actually really glad this question got asked. We’re presented with so much content about how not to get sunburned that I think people take it for granted that it won’t happen, and we don’t really see much information about what to do when it does happen. No matter how strict you are with application and reapplication, the chances (especially when you’re on holiday!) that the sun will catch you somewhere are still pretty high. I was recently on holiday in Spain and managed to get burned on a tiny sliver of skin that was barely visible through the straps of my sandals. I hadn’t even thought to apply SPF there. Lesson learned… So don’t worry, as I find myself saying a lot in this column, you’re not alone! 

Once you spot yourself burning it’s important to act as fast as possible because while the first sign of sunburn is reddened skin, this then develops over the next 24 hours. Stay out of the sun, and as with any kind of burn, the first thing you’ll want to do is apply a cool compress (or a bag of ice wrapped in a towel) to draw out the heat and reduce the pain and swelling. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin at this point as it can make the burn worse, and remember that if you are badly burned or blistering, and have signs of sunstroke (dizziness, nausea, high temperature) then you should see a doctor. 

Sunburn will typically last around a week, although this depends on the severity of the burn. If skin is blistered, then the healing process will take much longer. Throughout this time you’ll want to use soothing ingredients and cooling products that will reduce inflammation and calm irritation. Aloe vera gel is a popular remedy for sunburn as it’s both cooling and soothing, but it’s also important to use products with reparative ingredients that will help your skin to heal. Most after-sun products are formulated for this purpose and contain antioxidants like nourishing vitamin E and vitamin C to stimulate collagen production, as well as soothing ingredients like allantoin and panthenol, and hydrators such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Apply these products liberally both day and night, and of course, continue to apply SPF during the day to prevent further irritation. 

Your skin will be super sensitive, so avoid exfoliating products. If the burn is on your face, then cut out retinoids and acids for the week (which make skin more sensitive to the sun) and focus on light layers of hydration and healing moisturisers. Oat is a great ingredient to look out for in a facial moisturiser as it’s both healing and anti-inflammatory. Avoid itching burned skin, and instead use a cryo tool or refrigerate a hydrating sheet mask to soothe and cool sensitivity. 

Of course, it goes without saying that prevention is better than the cure… Reapplying sunscreen hasn’t always been easy, especially if you’re wearing makeup, but consider using an SPF spray or SPF powder for your top-ups going forwards! 

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From chafing to ‘chicken skin’ arms, summer brings a whole new medley of beauty concerns into play. If you have a question for our resident beauty editor Grace, tweet us at @beautybay using the hashtag #AskGrace for a chance to be featured.