If you’re stranded on a sunny desert island and have gotten a sunburn while scanning the horizon for passing cruise ships, but all you have to hand is a bottle of moisturizer, here’s a tip: Slather that moisturizer on that burn, pronto. But if you’re not in those very specific circumstances, maybe consider an upgrade?
Look, your average moisturizer does help a sunburn. In fact, it even helps cuts! “There have been studies that show if you have a cut or scrape, it’s actually good to put something like [petroleum jelly-based products] on there, which helps it to heal faster,” says Dr. Rajani Katta of Katta Dermatology. “We call it moist wound healing.”
There’s a big potential problem with moisturizing your sunburn, however. Many moisturizers contain perfumes and/or other additives that can irritate an open wound, since they’re not designed for that purpose, and that’s a bad — and painful — thing. The second problem with moisturizers is simply that aloe vera exists, which is way, way better for dealing with sunburns.
Both substances provide the benefit of moisturizing your skin, which feels like it’s quenching your skin’s thirst (because it is!), but aloe vera also provides a cooling effect that provides significantly more pain relief than moisturizer alone. As a hydrogel, aloe vera achieves this by evaporating quickly, which is also why aloe vera seems to disappear so fast after you apply it.
Of course, you could get the best of both worlds by tracking down a moisturizer with aloe vera in it. Or, you know, do yourself a huge favor by making sure you don’t get a sunburn in the first place.