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Look, sunburns happen. As much as we try to prevent them and avoid them completely, sometimes you just miss a spot with your spray sunscreen or lose track of time. If you've found yourself with tender, itchy, painful skin as the result of a sunburn, you're likely looking for the best way to erase your mistake—or at the very least, make it stop hurting. If the first thing you consulted for your sunburn advice was Google, you might've come across more than a few… unconventional sunburn remedies, one of which being shaving cream. But does this DIY sunburn hack work? And more importantly, is it safe to try? We took these very questions to cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, and NYC dermatologist, Julia Tzu, MD, founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology. Ahead, exactly what you need to know before using shaving cream for sunburn.
Can Shaving Cream Heal a Sunburn?
If your main question regarding the use of shaving cream as a sunburn treatment is "can you" rather than "should you," Green says there might actually be a little truth to this popular internet hack. As it turns out, when used on superficial sunburns, shaving cream can minimize some of the discomfort associated with the burn. "Shaving creams are formulated to soothe and hydrate the skin as you shave," explains Green. "The same concept applies when you apply it to a sunburn. It is a rather unconventional approach that can work to soothe any discomfort from a sunburn."
Ingredients That Soothe Sunburn
So what is it about the formula of shaving cream that makes it a potential sunburn remedy? That answer has everything to do with the ingredients. "Most shaving creams are formulated with aloe and super-hydrators to keep the skin moisturized, preventing any nicks you may get from shaving," Green explains. Tzu says in addition to aloe vera, other ingredients found in shaving cream, such as menthol, shea butter, glycerin, petrolatum, and various essential oils (such as eucalyptus, chamomile, or tea tree oils) all potentially work to soothe the skin by either providing a cooling, comforting sensation or by rehydrating the skin and restoring its barrier—but there's a catch. Some of those very same ingredients can do more harm to a healing sunburn than good.
Now that we understand how this remedy might work, there's one more question to answer: Should you use shaving cream to heal a sunburn? According to Green, probably not—or at least not as a first choice. Because there are many types of shaving creams on the market with tons of different formulations, the potential side effects vary. One ingredient found in shaving cream that's largely credited with soothing and cooling a sunburn (menthol) can also further irritate a sunburn and cause blistering, Green explains. "I would not recommend using shaving cream on a sunburn," Green says. "It can further exacerbate irritation and blistering and possible infection from opened skin." And as is the case with trying any new skincare product, an allergy to one of the ingredients included in the formulation is always a possibility. Any new product first should be tested on a small area of skin before it's applied more broadly.
How to Use Shaving Cream to Heal a Sunburn
If you're in a pinch and you have no other better alternative to use to heal your sunburn, Tzu says it's generally okay to try shaving cream; however, Tzu stresses the importance of not using this unconventional remedy on blistered or open skin. If you have a severe sunburn, visit your dermatologist for appropriate treatment. "I would not recommend applying shaving cream to second- or third-degree burns," Green adds. "Those types of sunburn require the attention and care of a board-certified dermatologist to prevent skin infections and further skin irritation due to the depth of those types of sunburn."
Although Tzu doesn't necessarily recommend using shaving cream on a sunburn, she suggests gently applying the cream over the affected area of skin if you do choose to give this hack a try. Green adds that if you have no other alternative, opt for a shaving cream that's aloe- or shea butter-based with no menthol, which again, can burn and cause further irritation.
Dermatologist-Recommended Sunburn Remedies
Although sunburned skin could benefit from certain ingredients potentially found in shaving cream, neither expert recommends the product as the first remedy to try for soothing the symptoms of a sunburn. "There are other things at home that can safely soothe a sunburn without causing irritation," Green says. The first line of defense is to wear sunscreen and properly reapply it, but if, by chance, you do end up with red, tender, itchy skin after a day in the sun, here are a few other preferred ways to treat, soothe, and heal it:
Use gentle, hydrating moisturizers.
"It is important to replenish lost moisture after sun exposure," Green explains. "Using a moisturizer enriched with ceramides and lipids will restore the skin's balance." One of Byrdie's favorite ceramide creams (and a dermatologist-favorite) for hydrating dry, itchy skin is this rich formula by CeraVe. It's fragrance-free, oil-free, and non-comedogenic. It's also full of ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which means your sunburned skin will soon love it, too.
Try a cool compress.
Both Green and Tzu recommend this DIY remedy for soothing irritated skin. Soak a towel in cool water first, then gently press it against the affected area. Or in lieu of water, try soaking the washcloth in milk. Green says the lactic acid found in milk is a wonderful relief for sunburned, irritated skin. While we're on the topic of kitchen ingredients that make great sunburn remedies, Green also recommends oatmeal. Try mixing colloidal oatmeal with cold milk and use it as a compress to soothe the skin. Green explains that the oatmeal’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties prevent itching, which makes it great for sensitive sunburns.
Apply aloe vera.
Aloe vera is known for its skin-soothing and moisturizing properties, and for that reason, the natural ingredient comes highly recommended by Green for treating a sunburn. "Aloe vera gel is a natural anti-inflammatory and will restore and heal the skin faster," Green explains. This formula contains 99.75% organic, cold-pressed aloe, which is why this product is one of Byrdie's top picks for an aloe vera gel.
Tzu stresses the importance of internal hydration with water—which is always important—but it's especially important when you're trying to recover from a sunburn and your body needs to replenish lost fluids.
Take an Advil.
At the first sign of redness or pain, Tzu recommends taking an anti-inflammatory medication, like Advil, to help manage any of that pain or swelling associated with a sunburn.
Take a cool shower.
For a refreshing feeling that won’t make your skin dry or cause further irritation, Green says to opt for a cold shower rather than a warm one. And once you're out of the shower, follow with that gentle, hydrating moisturizer.
Apply hydrocortisone cream.
Hydrocortisone (whether prescription or over the counter) is also effective at soothing pain and irritation from a sunburn, which is why this is one of Green's go-to sunburn remedies. We recommend trying this 1% hydrocortisone formula by Aveeno, which also contains oat, vitamin E, and aloe.