When Cindie Allen-Stewart of Mount Calm, Texas, posted a few photos and a simple home remedy for sunburn on her Facebook page last week, she certainly didn’t expect her post to be shared nearly 5,000 times in the first day. Almost a week later, the post has more than 223,000 shares and 48,000 comments, and has been featured on Inside Edition and other news outlets.
So what is this miracle treatment the Internet can’t get enough of? Shaving cream. Menthol foam shaving cream, to be exact, like this type Allen-Stewart found on Amazon. “We ended up buying six cans of it, but it works out because we live in Texas and sunburns happen a lot,” she wrote in her post.
Allen-Stewart says she got this remedy from her mother-in-law, and she’s since passed on the tip to a few friends and used it for herself as well as for her husband and kids. It works like this: First, apply shaving cream to the sunburned area. “Don’t rub it in, just let it sit on your skin,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “It will start bringing all that heat out (you’ll be able to feel it).”
After about 30 minutes, she says, rinse the shaving cream off in a lukewarm or cool shower or bath. “Finally, if you still need it, do it again the next day,” she adds. “Usually after the second treatment, the sunburn disappears.”
Along with her instructions, Allen-Stewart posted photos of her back taken after a recent sunburn. In the first photo, her back is red with visible sunburn lines where straps had been. The second photo shows her back slathered in shaving cream, and the final photo was taken “the third day after my sunburn,” when her back looks much better.
“I slept great after the first treatment and when my shoulders still felt hot from the burn the next day, I had another coating of shaving cream on just my shoulders,” she wrote. “I have not had any peeling either.”
So is this treatment legit? And is it something a doctor would support? To find out, we asked William Huang, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Although he hadn’t heard of this remedy previously and has no personal experience with it, he did share his initial thoughts.
“First of all, there’s not a lot of evidence behind using this as a treatment for sunburn,” Dr. Huang tells Health. “But I imagine it went viral on Facebook because nearly everyone has experienced a sunburn, and many people probably have some shaving cream in their cabinets — so obviously it’s an appealing idea.”
It’s very possible that shaving cream could help ease the pain and discomfort of sunburn, he adds. “The number one ingredient in shaving cream is typically water, so it’s very hydrating,” says Dr. Huang. “But also there are a lot of oils, usually palm or coconut oil, which are very soothing and nice to help replenish damaged skin.”
Glycerin is also a common ingredient in shaving cream and an effective moisturizer, he says, and some shaving creams (although not the one Allen-Stewart uses) also contain aloe — a well-known remedy for sunburn.
“As a physician, our first mandate is to do no harm — so if a patient told me they’ve tried this method and it’s not hurting them and potentially giving them benefit, I’m always happy to explore that option with them,” says Dr. Huang.
But he cautions against putting too much faith in this method, especially in the idea that it can prevent peeling. Whether you peel or not has to do with your skin type and how deep the burn is, he says — not with how you treat it afterward.
“Once you put that shaving cream or that aloe on, the damage is already done,” he says. “And if the damage has also reached those deeper layers of skin, you may very well have a blistering phenomenon or a peeling phenomenon.”
If a sunburn is more superficial and has only damaged the top layer of skin, he says, you may not peel. But either way, moisturizing will help keep the skin hydrated and hasten the healing process. “It’s like a wrecking ball has come through the brick wall of your skin’s surface, and you’re trying to assist the skin in repairing that damage,” he says.
The most important thing to keep in mind, of course, is that sunburns should be avoided at all costs — so if you’re relying on this method too often, you may want to reevaluate your sun-protection habits and the amount of time you’re spending in the sun.
“The body doesn’t forget what we do to it, and an accumulation of sunburn over a lifetime can promote skin cancer later in life,” Dr. Huang says. “This is why skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with over 5 million cases diagnosed a year.”
To be fair, Allen-Stewart does make it clear that she’s not advocating for skipping sunscreen or using shaving cream instead. “If you’re like me, you hate getting sunburned,” she wrote in her post. “No matter how much sunscreen you put on, some people just burn anyway.”
In a later edit to her post, she stated her position again: “PSA: Please remember to always use sunscreen! Too much sun exposure can be dangerous and lead to cancer,” she wrote. “I burn with sunscreen as well and know of the hassle, but it is worth it to wear it!”
Allen-Stewart also answered questions from a few commenters and clarified a few points, as well: She wrote that her husband has sensitivity to aloe and cannot use it, so her family uses this remedy instead. She also says she thinks it helps sunburn feel better more quickly and that any brand of shaving cream will work, as long as it contains menthol and it’s a foaming formula rather than a gel.
Some people who commented on the post noted that menthol shaving cream can feel like it’s burning the skin, but Allen-Stewart says it’s always felt “very cooling” for her. A doctor interviewed for Inside Edition also warned that people shouldn’t use a new type of shaving cream without testing it on a small area first to make sure they’re not allergic. (No one wants an allergic reaction on top of an already painful, itchy sunburn.)
Sunburn can also be treated with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, a cool shower, and any rich, thick moisturizer, Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, previously told Health. An over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment may also help reduce itching.
And because sunburn can be dehydrating, get plenty of water after you’ve gotten too much sun. If you’re experiencing symptoms like chills, fever, and painful blisters, you likely have a more serious burn and should see a doctor ASAP.