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Why you should never treat a sunburn with vinegar

does vinegar help sunburn
Vinegar can irritate sensitive skin.
ThamKC/Getty Images
  • Putting vinegar on a sunburn won't help reduce the sting, and will actually cause more inflammation and subsequent pain.
  • To treat a sunburn, use remedies like aloe, anti-inflammatory medications, and cool showers.
  • Vinegar is highly acidic and will worsen your sunburn, so you should never put vinegar on a burn.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City.
  • This story is part of Insider's guide on How to treat sunburn.

Search the internet for sunburn remedies and you'll find plenty of creative ideas. One remedy people like to recommend is using vinegar to get rid of your sunburn – but is this remedy effective, and more importantly, safe? Absolutely not. Here's what you need to know.

Why you should not use vinegar for sunburn 

Due to its acidity, vinegar can be dangerous when used on sunburnt skin says Carol Cheng, MD, dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. 

Most kinds of vinegar, like apple cider vinegar and white vinegar, have a pH level between 2 and 3, making them highly acidic. Applying these on a sunburn can "damage the already compromised skin barrier" says Cheng. This can result in more severe pain, inflammation, and delayed healing. 

Vinegar also contains ingredients like acetic acid, lactic acid, citric acid, and malic acid. According to Cheng, applying these on sensitive skin, "may lead to a serious chemical burn."

Moreover, if your sunburn is severe like if you've developed sunburn blisters or open wounds, applying vinegar would be even more painful and you should steer clear of using it in this situation as well. 

Better ways to treat sunburn

There are plenty of safer, more effective ways to tend to your sunburn. Cheng recommends the following remedies:

  • Aloe: Use aloe vera gel or moisturizers that have aloe in them. Aloe is great for sunburns because it reduces inflammation, moisturizes skin, and stimulates collagen production for healing. However, you should steer clear of aloe products that have added pain relievers, which can actually irritate skin more or cause an allergic reaction. The American Academy of Dermatology says these ingredients end in "-caine" and  benzocaine is one of the most common ones. 
  • NSAIDs: Over the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help reduce pain and inflammation in the body. If you're sunburnt, you'll likely be dealing with both.  Ibuprofen and Aspirin are the most popular ones.
  • Cool showers: Taking your beloved hot shower or bath will likely make your skin feel even worse, as well as dry it out. Instead, opt for cool water showers or baths to feel some relief. You can also use cold compresses, dampening a towel or cloth with cold water and applying it to the affected area.
  • Stay hydrated: Sunburn as well as being out in the hot sun can cause you to become dehydrated, so make sure to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated so your body can heal. 

Follow these tips rather than using vinegar and you'll be on your way to feeling better. Remember to always apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF frequently when in the sun to prevent sunburn from occurring in the first place.

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