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9 Derm-Approved Drugstore Sunburn Treatments That Actually Work

Because even if you're diligent with your SPF, sometimes sunburn happens
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You know the drill: Wear sunscreen even on days when it's cloudy, reapply it every two hours and try staying out of the sun during peak hours on extremely hot days. But, let's face it, even the most committed sunburn preventionist can't escape the potential that one day it might happen. Additionally, that sunscreen that you depend on religiously to protect you from the sun's harmful rays, might not be living up to its SPF promise.

"The idea behind a mineral or physical blocker is to provide a layer that protects by deflecting and scattering UV rays," explains Dendy Engelman, MD, a dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in New York. "However, if the product is not applied generously and in all places, then UV light can get between the molecules."

When you first notice you've gotten burned, the best thing you can do for sunburn relief is to head indoors or seek shade. Unfortunately, you can't magically get rid of a sunburn or reverse the damage to your skin, but you can take steps to relieve the redness, pain and swelling associated with sunburn. So we picked the brains of top dermatologists to learn the best ways to get some sunburn relief. Unless your sunburn is severe, in which case you should call your doc or 911 ASAP, head to your local drugstore for one of these quick-fix sunburn treatments that can soothe and even speed the recovery of your sunburn.

Image via Imaxtree

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CVS Health Ibuprofen 200mg, $3.52
According to S. Manjula Jegasothy MD, founder of the Miami Skin Institute and clinical associate professor of dermatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, there's no greater sunburn treatment than a full pediatric or adult dose (depending on the patient's age and size) of aspirin, Advil, Aleve or Ibuprofen every 8 hours for 24 hours, starting immediately after the sun exposure. "These medications are all known to reduce fever and mild muscular or joint pain by decreasing prostaglandin levels, which are inflammatory proteins released by our immune system," she says. "While these prostaglandins do help in fighting certain aspects of disease, such as infections, their side effects include fever and mild muscle or joint pain. In addition, inflammatory prostaglandins are released when skin is exposed to DNA-damaging amounts of UV radiation (sun exposure) theoretically to minimize long-term skin damage."

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If not properly treated, sunburned skin can lead to dry skin and pronounced lines and wrinkles. For this reason, Engelman urges her patients to treat their burn as soon as possible with vitamin E-containing products that help heal the skin. Her go-to is this one from Bio-Oil, which contains vitamin E to neutralize free radicals and is also packed with vitamin A, which works with the skin to promote cell regeneration. "Lavender oil, chamomile oil, calendula oil and rosemary oil help invigorate and condition the skin, ultimately providing calming and hydrating benefits that improve the appearance of new or old scars and stretch marks."

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"Aloe vera-containing products can help soothe the skin and also have a cooling effect," says Tania Elliott, MD, chief medical officer at EHE. "Be sure, though, that aloe is the only main ingredient, the addition of other ingredients that numb the skin can trigger allergic skin reactions that prevent healing." California Baby Aloe & Arnica Cream contains aloe as the main ingredient along with a slew of other skin-soothing savers such as arnica and calendula, which instantly cool the skin. Dermatologist Sejal Shah, MD, and contributor to cosmetic treatment site RealSelf loves this brand. "It also contains a number of essential oils that have a range of benefits from antioxidant and anti-inflammation to moisturizing," she adds.

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Baths can be incredibly effective for cooling down the skin and inflammation that accompanies sunburn, says Gary Goldfaden, MD, dermatologist and founder of Goldfaden MD. Luckily, you don't have to DIY your own formula, you can just head to your local drugstore and pick up one specially created to soothe your skin, such as this one from Aveeno. "The colloidal oatmeal coats the skin with a protective barrier while the potent polyphenols in green tea are antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that may help hasten the resolution of a sunburn," says Melanie Palm, MD, dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, medical director of Art of Skin MD and assistant clinical professor at University of California San Diego.

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