How to Get Rid of Sunburn Redness Overnight? 5 Best Solutions

Khang T. Vuong, MHA
Khang T. Vuong, MHA15 Sep 2023

Sunburn can be painful and detrimental to the skin, and various remedies can offer relief and aid recovery. Aloe Vera is a natural solution that provides a cooling sensation and promotes skin healing. Cool water serves as an immediate soothing agent, while over-the-counter creams, enriched with ingredients like aloe vera and hydrocortisone, assist in alleviating sunburn discomfort. It's also essential to remain hydrated, with water, sports drinks, and coconut water being recommended choices. Non-prescription pain relievers can minimize discomfort, but caution is required due to potential side effects. Lastly, proper rest is an often-underestimated component that supports the body's natural recovery process.

Aloe VeraNatural plant with cooling and healing propertiesPotential allergic reactions; test on a small skin patch first
Cool WaterSoothes sunburn by reducing inflammationAvoid ice-cold water to prevent skin damage
Over-the-counter CreamsContain ingredients like hydrocortisone that help soothe sunburnsPotential side effects include skin irritation; always follow package instructions
HydrationReplenishing fluids with water, sports drinks, and coconut waterAvoid caffeine and alcohol; be alert to dehydration symptoms
Non-prescription Pain RelieversAlleviate sunburn discomfort with NSAIDs like ibuprofenRisks include gastrointestinal problems and kidney damage; follow instructions
RestA good night's sleep boosts the immune system and aids recoveryEnsure a comfortable resting environment; aim for 7-9 hours of sleep

First, Let's Understand Why We Get Sunburn

Sunburn is a phenomenon empirically impactful on our daily lives, often experienced but seldom understood by the masses. The biological explanation behind sunburn is simple yet noteworthy; it is primarily caused by the skin's reaction to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation damage. NASA underlines that UV radiation alters the structure of the skin cells, stimulating the immune system to react. A rush of blood flows to the damaged area, resulting in redness and heat associated with sunburn. Excessive UV radiation causes the cell's DNA to mutate, leading to abnormal growth or skin cancer (Cleveland Clinic, 2018).

Despite some people's penchant for a sun-kissed tan, multiple studies underscore that non-protected sun exposure can have dire consequences in the long run. The CDC reports that about 34.2% of US adults got a sunburn in the past year, demonstrating the magnitude of the issue at hand (CDC, 2021). Sunburn's detrimental effects extend beyond the immediate skin discomfort; they lay foundations for various skin diseases and possible skin cancer, as evidenced by numerous health studies worldwide.

Can Sunburn Lead To Serious Diseases?

Astonishing statistics showcase the alarmingly high number of skin diseases and skin cancers from recurrent sunburns. Among various skin conditions, melanoma is closely related to sunburn. According to Skin Cancer Foundation (2021), around 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86% of melanomas are clinically associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. These numbers indicate an alarming correlation between sunburn and the increased risk of skin diseases, underscoring the urgency to protect against UV radiation.

Immediate Effects 
Erythema (Redness)- Most common immediate effect of sunburn.
 - Peaks 12-24 hours after exposure.
Pain and Swelling- Typically arises 6 hours post-exposure.
 - Peaks at 48 hours.
Blisters- Indicates severe sunburn.
 - Can develop 6-48 hours after sun exposure.
Long-term Effects 
Premature Aging- Chronic sun exposure is linked to photoaging.
 - Includes wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, and dark spots.
Actinic Keratosis- Rough, scaly patches on the skin.
 - 10-15% can develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
Cataracts- Chronic sun exposure increases the risk of cataracts.
Skin Cancer- Repeated sunburns, especially during childhood, increase the risk.
 - Types: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Melanoma.
Immune Suppression- UV exposure can suppress the skin's immune system.

The WHO emphasizes that one in every three cancers diagnosed globally is skin cancer, attributing many instances to excessive sun exposure (World Health Organization, 2020). Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, where estimated 5.4 million cases are diagnosed annually (American Cancer Society, 2021). Given these data, there is an undeniable link between sunburn and the prevalence of skin diseases and skin cancers, necessitating concerted efforts in spreading awareness and protective measures against these potential health hazards.

Let's Talk About Things That Don't Work…

Sun protection is of paramount importance; however, when sunscreen fails or is absent, sunburns become an uncomfortable reality for many. Several common myths about sunburn treatments often lead people down ineffective paths, promising relief but offering little more than empty results. Mayo Clinic emphasizes the significance of proper care.

Myth 1: Butter or Shortening

One of the most prevalent fallacies is the idea that butter or other greasy substances can alleviate the discomfort associated with sunburns. In reality, applying such substances to a sunburn doesn't have any healing effect but can even prolong the healing process. The slick, oily layer can effectively trap heat, worsening the burn instead of alleviating it, as pointed out by Harvard Health Publishing.

Myth 2: Vinegar

Another common misconception is the use of vinegar, something many believe can reduce the stinging sensation of a sunburn. Unfortunately, no scientific evidence can back this up. Research from the American Academy of Dermatology warns against using vinegar as it can irritate the skin and potentially increase pain and inflammation (American Academy of Dermatology).

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Myth 3: Topical Numbing Sprays

Lastly, a widespread myth assures that topical numbing sprays can provide quick relief. While these products can momentarily deaden the nerve endings causing pain, they do little to treat the burn itself. Moreover, they might lead to allergies or skin reactions, especially on damaged skin, as emphasized by Harvard Health Publishing.

1. Aloe Vera: A Natural Solution for Sunburn

Aloe Vera, nature's topical remedy, serves as an effective solution for sunburn. With its inherent healing properties, this plant does not just offer a cooling comfort but also hastens the healing process of the sunburnt skin. According to research conducted by Thamlikitkul, V, et al., Aloe Vera possesses anti-inflammatory properties, triggering a bio-pathway which aids the reduction of skin inflammation and assists tissue recovery (2017).

Applying Aloe Vera on sunburnt skin is quite straightforward. Once you have a leaf from the plant, carefully slice it open to expose the gel-like substance. This gel should then be applied directly to the damaged area. A gentle yet thorough application is key here to optimize the absorption of the plant's medicinal properties.

However, it is crucial to proceed with caution with the usage of Aloe Vera. Allergic reactions may occur in a small proportion of the population. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, symptoms such as skin rashes or irritation may be reported by some individuals after application (2013). Therefore, before starting regular use, it's wise to test the gel on a small skin patch.

2. Cool Water: Quick Relief for Sunburn

Identified as an immediate approach to sunburn relief, cool water helps curtail the sting associated with skin burns. As pointed out by a skin care article published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology (2018), cool water soothes the skin, reducing inflammation and preventing further damage.

The best practices for using cool water on sunburn imply soaking the affected region in cool water or applying a dampened cloth on the skin. The previous statements should not be confused with ice-cold water application which can lead to skin damage due to the contrast in temperatures.

3. Over-the-counter Creams: Effective for Sunburn Relief

Apart from natural remedies, over-the-counter creams have been recognized as a quick and effective avenue for sunburn relief. These creams, typically enriched with ingredients like aloe vera, hydrocortisone, lidocaine, and benzocaine, have proven helpful in soothing sunburns. For instance, burned skin treated with creams containing hydrocortisone showed significantly reduced inflammation compared to untreated skin, according to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology (2017).

Type of OTC CreamPrimary IngredientsMain Benefits
Aloe Vera-based CreamsAloe VeraSoothes, cools, and heals sunburned skin
Hydrocortisone CreamsHydrocortisoneReduces inflammation, itching, and swelling
Anesthetic CreamsLidocaine, BenzocaineProvides temporary pain relief
Moisturizing CreamsGlycerin, Hyaluronic acid, OilsHydrates the skin, prevents peeling
Anti-inflammatory CreamsNSAIDs (like ibuprofen or aspirin in topical form)Reduces inflammation and pain

However, while they do offer relief, these creams come with potential side effects. These might include skin irritation, worsening of the burn, or allergic reactions. It's therefore paramount to heed the package instructions carefully, and to discontinue use if adverse reactions are noticed. When in doubt, it's best to consult with a physician.

4. Hydration: An Essential Element for Sunburn Recovery

Keeping the body hydrated is crucial in aiding sunburn recovery (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020). Rehydrating helps to replenish fluids lost due to sun exposure, aiding skin functionality and speeding up the healing process. Moisturizing also supports the skin's physical barrier, minimizing further damage.

Water is the simplest and most vital fluid for fighting dehydration related to sunburn. However, sports drinks with electrolytes can be beneficial, as sunburn can upset electrolyte balance. Coconut water is another good choice because it's naturally rich in electrolytes (Mayo Clinic, 2020). Also, one should avoid caffeine and alcohol due to their diuretic nature, potentially escalating dehydration.

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Warning Signs of Dehydration

Be wary of significant symptoms of dehydration, such as extreme thirst, fatigue, dizziness, and reduced urine output. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to heatstroke - a life-threatening condition - underlining the necessity for immediate medical attention (Cleveland Clinic, 2020).

5. Non-prescription Pain Relievers: A Solution to Minimizing Sunburn Discomfort

Non-prescription pain relievers, particularly nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can be beneficial in alleviating some sunburn discomfort. They mitigate inflammation and can reduce the redness and swelling associated with sunburn (American Academy of Dermatology, 2020). NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are commonly used.

Type of OTC Pain RelieverActive IngredientMain Benefits
Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)Ibuprofen, NaproxenReduces inflammation, pain, and swelling
AcetaminophenAcetaminophenRelieves pain and reduces fever
AspirinAspirinReduces inflammation, pain, and fever
Topical AnalgesicsLidocaine, Benzocaine, Menthol, CamphorProvides direct pain relief on skin

However, it's essential to remember that non-prescription pain relievers carry potential risks. Overuse or long-term use can lead to gastrointestinal problems, kidney damage, and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. As such, these medicines should only be used under the right circumstances and according to the package instructions (Food and Drug Administration, 2020).

6. Rest: The Underrated Player in Sunburn Recovery

Rest plays a significant role in the body's recovery from sunburn. A good night's sleep boosts the immune system and aids the body's natural healing process. Prioritize a full 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal recovery (National Sleep Foundation, 2020).

Ensure your resting environment is comfortable and free from distractions. Consider using a humidifier to keep the skin moisturized overnight and opt for light, breathable fabric for both bed linen and nightwear. Though often underestimated, rest is a cornerstone in the recuperation from sunburn.

Sunscreen: Prevention Is The Best Solution For Sunburn

The crux of the matter is that not all sunscreens are created equal, and the right choice can significantly boost your protection against damaging sunburn and skin cancer. Research by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) shows a correlation between proper sunscreen use and reduced occurrence of skin cancer, emphasizing the importance of choosing the correct product. 

First, let's look at Sun Protection Factor (SPF). According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an SPF 15 can filter out approximately 93% of all incoming UVB rays, while SPF 30 keeps out 97% and SPF 50 filters out 98%. It's crucial to remember that no sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays, so SPF numbers beyond 50 offer minimal additional benefits. Therefore, the primary recommendation is to regularly apply and reapply an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen.

An area that often gets overlooked is broad-spectrum protection, which shields against both UVA and UVB rays. The significance? UVB rays are primarily responsible for sunburn and play a key role in developing skin cancer. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, causing premature aging, wrinkles, and potentially contributing to skin cancer. A study by Archives of Dermatology highlighted that a broad-spectrum sunscreen could decrease skin cancer risk by up to 40%. Therefore, in addition to a high SPF, broad-spectrum coverage is a must.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How long does sunburn usually last? Sunburn typically lasts around 3-5 days, depending on the severity level. Mild sunburn commonly begins to peel after a few days, once the body starts to heal the damaged skin and produce a new layer (Mayo Clinic, 2020

2. What should I avoid when I have a sunburn? After getting a sunburn, it's crucial to avoid more sun exposure, which could worsen the condition of your skin. It's also recommended to avoid using lotions or creams containing petroleum or benzocaine that can trap heat and make the burn worse (American Academy of Dermatology, 2020

3. Can sunburn lead to skin cancer? Yes, sunburn can increase the risk of developing skin cancer, particularly melanoma, the most severe type of skin cancer. Repeated exposure to the sun leading to sunburn can damage the DNA in the skin’s cells, leading to uncontrolled cell growth and eventually causing skin cancer (Harvard Health Publishing, 2020

4. When should I see a doctor for sunburn? If severe symptoms such as fever, chills, severe pain, sunburn blisters covering a large area, or signs of heat exhaustion like confusion or fainting occur, you should seek immediate medical help. If your sunburn doesn't improve after several days or if it's causing severe discomfort, it's best to see a doctor (American Academy of Dermatology, 2020

5. Can sunburn cause long-term skin damage? Yes, sunburn can cause long-term skin damage. It can accelerate skin aging, leading to premature wrinkles and age spots. More seriously, repeated sunburns, especially in childhood and adolescence, can increase the likelihood of developing certain types of skin cancer later in life (American Cancer Society, 2020

Khang T. Vuong, MHA

Khang T. Vuong received his Master of Healthcare Administration from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. He was named Forbes Healthcare 2021 30 under 30. Vuong spoke at Stanford Medicine X, HIMSS conference, and served as a Fellow at the Bon Secours Health System.