You might recall that last summer, a Reddit post showing a before-and-after photo of a woman with a serious sunburn went viral. On the left side, she’s shown makeup-free, her red, inflamed skin on full display. On the right, she’s pictured after using a full-coverage foundation, looking a touch flushed but otherwise fresh-faced and dewy. It’s a dramatic transformation — you’d never even guess she was hiding a raging second-degree burn under there.
The internet loved it — but not because it was the most shocking, and perhaps most effective, cautionary tale in recent memory. “This is THE best foundation for covering up a sunburn!” some headlines declared. “It completely conceals sun damage!” one article gushed. Yes, the makeup does cover up the woman’s sunburn. That is true. But just thinking about using a heavy layer of makeup to hide a gnarly burn, no matter how well it works, has us feeling a little hot under the collar. Shouldn’t skin that burnt get the chance to heal before you start slathering foundation on it?
The definitive answer: yes. “Extremely burnt skin is damaged and needs time to heal,” says dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. “Applying makeup, especially if it has chemicals and irritants, can cause more inflammation to the skin. You want your skin to heal properly and quickly. It’s more important to focus on products that soothe and combat damage.”
Instead of reaching for the most full-coverage formula you have, Dr. Engelman emphasizes that prioritizing skin care over merely hiding the burn is key. “Apply some aloe to help cool and heal and use a product with antioxidants to combat all the free-radical damage,” she says. And if you just can’t go about your day without a little coverage, Dr. Engelman says to look for powder-based makeup, which goes on easier and is therefore less disruptive to damaged skin.
Fortunately, you still don’t have to go around for days wearing your scarlet letter just because you made the honest mistake of skimping on sunscreen. Try incorporating a cupful or two of apple cider vinegar into a bath, and soak for 10 minutes. Dr. Engelman says the cure-all ingredient will help restore your skin’s pH level and impart a cool, soothing feeling. The real price of going without sunscreen isn't the pain of a burn — it's having to smell like salad dressing for the foreseeable future.