You don't need us to tell you that unprotected sun exposure can cause sunburns (even for those with dark skin tones). We're also confident that you know sunscreen is a must-have for helping to prevent sunburns and other sun-induced skin damage. In a perfect world, this knowledge would be enough to eliminate sunburns entirely. Of course, that's just wishful thinking. Even with the best protective measures, accidents happen.
Here, we're diving deep into the basics of sunburns. First, we'll review the best ways to protect yourself from the sun's damaging rays (because prevention is always more effective than trying to calm a burn after the fact). For when prevention doesn't quite cut it, we'll also teach you what helps sunburned skin—specifically, what products you can use to help soothe and calm painful, red skin. Break out the SPF, put on your hat, and settle in to learn how to help sunburned skin.
Sunburn Prevention: What You Should Know
If you're here to learn how to get rid of sunburns, we'll state this for the record: You can't. The only thing that improves an existing burn is time. That's why prevention is so critical (consider that your #1 summer skincare tip).
First, let's rewind a little bit. The sun emits two types of ultraviolet radiation, known as UVA and UVB rays. Both are harmful, but they affect the skin differently. UVA rays—which account for approximately 99% of the solar radiation that reaches Earth's surface—tans the skin. Over time, it affects your skin's structure and texture, resulting in visible changes known collectively as photoaging. UVB rays, meanwhile, are primarily responsible for sunburns. Long-term exposure to UVB rays also increases the risk of developing skin cancer.
Super Fluid Daily UV Defense
To protect yourself from both types of radiation, you need a broad-spectrum sunscreen, like Super Fluid Daily UV Defense 50+. This lightweight, non-comedogenic sunscreen protects against solar radiation and helps defend your skin from other damaging environmental stressors, like air pollution. The fast-absorbing formula is suitable for all skin types and leaves skin with a non-greasy, matte finish.
If you have highly sensitive skin or prefer mineral sunscreen, try Super Fluid Daily UV Mineral Defense. Like its sister product, this mineral sunscreen offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50+ and boasts added antioxidant defense. The titanium dioxide-based formula is lightly tinted to enhance your natural skin tone and dries without a chalky or powdery-looking residue.
While sunscreen is critical for sunburn protection, it alone isn't sufficient, especially if you're spending a lot of time outdoors. Experts recommend following other protective measures as well, like avoiding direct sunlight at midday, sticking to the shade whenever possible, and wearing protective clothing (like hats and UV-filtering sunglasses). Additionally, you'll need to apply your sunscreen frequently—at least every two hours, or more often if you're swimming or sweating—to receive the product's full protective effect.
Our Recommendations To Help With Sunburns When They Occur: 4 Essential Tips
You applied (and reapplied) your SPF, and you wore a hat—but you still managed to get a mild or moderate burn. It's frustrating, yet it happens. Unless you own a time machine, the only thing you can do now is manage the symptoms. Keep reading to learn our top tips on how to help your skin recover.
Keep Your Skin Clean
When you're dealing with a sunburnt face, the last thing you want to do is use strong skincare products that could worsen your discomfort. But you still need to wash your face. To keep your skin clean, sans further irritation, reach for Centella Sensitive Cica-Cleanser. This ultra-mild face wash—our gentlest option—helps cleanse away dirt, excess oil, and other impurities while soothing (and strengthening) the skin's natural moisture barrier. The fragrance-free, pH-balanced formula provides eight-hour hydration to moisturize and help comfort irritated skin. For super-sensitive burns, you can even use it without water. Just swipe the liquid cleanser over your face with a clean cotton pad—no rinsing necessary.
Kiehl's Tip: If you do use water to wash your face, opt for cool (or even cold) water—it may help soothe the skin, albeit temporarily.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
In addition to visible redness, sunburns can also result in dryness. To combat these symptoms, be sure to keep your skin hydrated with a gentle moisturizer suited to your skin type.
If you have combination or oily skin, look for an oil-free moisturizer, like Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream, which contains glacial glycoprotein and micronized amino acids. The refreshing formula instantly sinks into the skin with a cooling effect that feels great on irritated, sunburned skin. It offers long-lasting hydration without a greasy or sticky feel and can be used daily to help keep your skin hydrated and shine-free. With consistent use, it even helps diminish the appearance of enlarged pores—think of it as an added bonus.
Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream
For especially painful sunburns, try Centella Sensitive Cica-Cream. This gentle face moisturizer for sensitive skin absorbs easily and nourishes the skin with intensive hydration for up to 48 hours. It's clinically shown to help repair the natural moisture barrier of compromised skin* (like that damaged by a bad sunburn) and helps protect the skin from further damage. When used regularly, this reparative moisturizer helps reduce skin redness to restore the skin's healthy appearance.
*Based on an instrumental test of the skin barrier and clinical grading in an 8-week study. Tested for tolerance on subjects with self-perceived sensitive skin.
Soothe Discomfort With a Cooling Mask
Aloe vera is a must-have ingredient for sunburn relief. This summer staple helps calm the feeling of irritation and boosts hydration to help the skin repair itself. In fact, studies show that aloe vera can help calm both first- and second-degree burns, such as those caused by sun exposure.II
Calendula Petal-Infused Calming Mask
For facial sunburns, look for skincare products made with aloe vera, like Calendula Petal-Infused Calming Mask. This gel face mask, which also contains calendula extract, helps soothe skin with a refreshing burst of cooling hydration. The unique formula helps reduce visible signs of distress while revitalizing the skin over time for a smooth, healthy appearance. It's suitable for all skin types but especially beneficial for dry, dehydrated, or irritated skin.
Kiehl's Tip: Sunburns damage your skin, which leaves it vulnerable to water loss. Help stave off dehydration by increasing your water intake while your skin recovers.
Use Body Cream To Alleviate Roughness
When you get a sunburn, the topmost layer of your skin gets damaged. If the sunburn is bad, your skin may even flake or peel off. This can cause your skin to become itchy and take on a rough, uneven texture.
Moisturizing your skin with a non-greasy cream, like Creme de Corps, can help improve the look and feel of your skin. This iconic body lotion (a Kiehl's favorite since the 1980s) is made with cocoa butter and olive-derived squalane. It moisturizes dry skin and helps improve texture for skin that feels soft and smooth.
Alternatively, reach for Superbly Restorative Argan Body Lotion, which contains organic, fairly-traded argan oil. The ultra-lightweight body moisturizer absorbs quickly to hydrate dry, rough-feeling skin. The antioxidant-rich formula also helps protect against damaging free radicals to help maintain the skin's healthy appearance. Smooth a generous amount over dry, sunburned areas for softer, more radiant-looking skin with continued use.
Finally, note that the above advice applies only to mild and moderate sunburns. For more severe situations, we recommend you contact your doctor.