The Right Way To Apply Makeup To Sunburnt Skin

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Blue skies and warmer weather means spending more time outside. Maybe for you that includes saran-wrapping sandwiches, grabbing a few towels, and heading straight to the beach. Or, it could mean outdoor musical festivals, fair rides, and funnel cakes. It's a lot of fun, except for one thing: sunburns. 

Sun damage can affect anyone no matter your skin color, type, or texture. Over 33% of the population will admit to getting a sunburn this year, according to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — try to make sure you're not a part of this club. At the very least, don't intentionally go tanning every day. "Melanin is a skin pigment that protects the skin from damage caused by the sun. It works by darkening your unprotected sun-exposed skin," board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Ranella Hirsch, warns Byrdie, adding, "Some people have more melanin, and their skin tends to get darker or tan, while others become sunburned ... BOTH are signs of cellular damage to the skin."

So, even if you're one of those people who swear they tan but don't burn, sunscreen is an absolute must. You should be wearing approximately ⅓ teaspoon of SPF 30 or higher on your face and refreshing it every two hours, especially if you've been splashing in the pool or ocean. That being said, if it's already too late and you're starting to notice the first signs of a burn, all is not lost. First and foremost, focus on aftercare. Then you can worry about makeup.

Soothe the burn

Sunburns can lead to skin cancer and fine lines, but they're also just plain painful. "First things first, anything that touches your skin whether it be your clothing, your shower, needs to be a cold, cool temperature," licensed esthetician Jordyn Oakland shares on TikTok, adding, "Do not apply any kind of heat to your skin while you're in this kind of state." While your skin is healing, stay indoors or protected under an umbrella, as burned skin is more susceptible to further damage. In the early stages of discoloration or pain, certain home remedies can work wonders.

For starters, apply pure, unscented aloe vera gel to your face, gently massaging it into the burn. It's your best bet to use ointment straight from the plant itself — you can find leaves in the produce sections of some grocery stores or buy your own potted aloe plant. Alternatively, invest in an organic, bottled gel from Amazon. Within the first few hours of burning, an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like aspirin can also cool down the skin and prevent future swelling and blistering (both of which will be hard to cover up with makeup).

Furthermore, board-certified dermatologist and YouTuber Dr. Andrea Suarez (aka Dr. Dray), recommends using a cool compress on your face, although it's important to make sure that ice doesn't directly touch your skin. Some dermatologists even recommend milk compresses — yes, you heard that correctly. It isn't just good for cereal. The antioxidants in dairy will help with inflammation, and lactic acid has exfoliating qualities.

Skincare before makeup is an absolute must

After successfully soothing your face, apply skincare before even thinking about makeup. New York City-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD warns Refinery29 that overcompensating with makeup can make a bad sunburn worse. "Applying makeup, especially if it has chemicals and irritants, can cause more inflammation to the skin," she says, adding, "You want your skin to heal properly and quickly. It's more important to focus on products that soothe and combat damage."

However, if you're headed to an event where you feel makeup is a must, create a protective barrier between pigmented products and your sunburn. According to Dr. Elizabeth K. Hale, research indicates that moisturized skin heals faster (via Vogue). Look for hydrating products rich in vitamins C, E, and ceramides, which can help repair your skin barrier and calm irritation. CeraVe's moisturizing cream, available for well under $20 on Amazon, contains both hyaluronic acid and ceramides, making it ideal for locking in moisture and creating a shield between your skin and makeup. Use La Roche-Posay's Cicaplast Balm B5 as a bonus layer on particularly-sensitive areas.

As a general rule, scented and over-exfoliating products are a no-go during this stage. If you get a fever, a headache, or you start to blister, it's best to consult a dermatologist. Most importantly, always, always finish off your skincare routine with a generous layer of sunscreen.

It's time to color correct

Ok, so you've finished moisturizing and then moisturizing some more. What next? If your sunburn has resulted in discoloration, color correct before applying foundation or concealer. "It's not about using a ton of makeup to cover your burns — heavy foundation can look fake, especially in the summer — but counteracting the redness," celebrity makeup artist Nick Barose, who's worked with esteemed clients like Lupita Nyong'o, tells Teen Vogue. For starters, redness is best concealed with a green color corrector. The color wheel is truly a lifesaver.

Board-certified dermatologist and TikTok creator Dr. Muneeb Shah (perhaps better known by his handle, @dermdoctor) recommends the Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment from Dr. Jart+. Not only does it manage post-burn redness, but it can also soothe and protect the skin. Alternatively, if your burn leaves behind cool-toned hyperpigmentation or dark spots during the healing process, an orange-toned color corrector will do the trick. For just $4, Elf offers a new line of color correctors in shades yellow, green, peach, orange, and blue. The best part? If you use the right color corrector, you might be able to forgo foundation altogether.

Reexamine your ingredients

Although heavy, full-coverage cream products might seem like the natural solution to a particularly gnarly sunburn, they can actually make you look cakey and even flake off on top of damaged skin. Instead, opt for light-wearing mineral-based foundations and concealers. "When you have a sunburn, the fewer chemicals, the better," Dr. Sheel Solomon, a dermatologist based out of North Carolina, outlines for Refinery29. "A mineral powder foundation would be a good bet because it's lighter than a liquid or cream formula and can still provide good coverage, depending on the brand," she adds.

Ilia's $48 Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40 will even out your tone while also providing sun protection. However, if you're looking for a more affordable option, stick to the L'Oreal Paris True Match Mineral Loose Powder for just under $13. When applying makeup, it's important to do so gently. Dr. Solomon recommends a moist makeup sponge, but you can also blend certain products with clean fingers. Finish off your beauty routine with a hydrating setting spray and never, never pick at or peel your burn, no matter how tempting it might be. Makeup might be a quick fix, but time is the best healer.

The sunburnt look is trending

If you do end up getting a little too much sun, take comfort in the fact that sunburn makeup is a favorite amongst today's it-girls like Hailey Bieber and Bella Hadid. Yes, what once was a beach-day mishap is now a full-blown trend — it has one million views on TikTok alone. "The sunburnt blush look is huge right now because trends in makeup are moving away from overdone to fresh and natural on the skin — the clean girl aesthetic, if you will," Cortney Hart, a celebrity makeup artist, shares with Glamour, adding, "A flushed apple on the cheek that carries over the bridge of the nose is youthful, playful, and reminiscent of a long day on the beach." This look is best achieved with creamy blush products, but a real-life sunburn will create that natural, albeit painful, finish. 

Use a tinted sunscreen or moisturizer with minimal coverage, letting your beach-day color shin through underneath. Add dimension with a glowing highlighter on your cheekbones, the tip of your nose, and the corners of your eyes.