Take the Burn out of Sunburn: A List of Remedies

1 Jun

Here are some suggestions to help heal a sunburn. While we encourage you to take precautions when out in the sun to avoid damaging the skin, sometimes things just happen.

Be aware that when you’re out in the sun and notice your skin becoming mildly red and think it’s not big deal, it may be more severe than first glance.  The severity of a sunburn may not be visible for another 12 to 24 hours after exposure.  The first thing to do when you have the first hint of a sunburn is to protect the area.  Here’s the thing: It’s too late at this point to apply sunscreen.  You need to get out of the sun completely or at the least cover-up.  The pain for a sunburn peaks about 6 hours after and can continue up to  48 hours.

Once out of the sun:

  • Showers and Compresses
    Keep the area cool by applying a cold compress or frequently taking cool showers or baths.  There are suggestions below for herbal compresses that can be applied to the sunburn.
  • Lavender
    Lavender essential oil helps heal and soothe sunburn. Make sure it’s true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, officinalis, or vera) and not Spike Lavender or Lavandin that you use.  On a mild burn or small patch you can use the lavender directly (neat).  For other burns, dilute lavender (10 -15 drops) with water in a spray bottle and spray on the burn.  You can also make a cool compress from the diluted lavender or put some drops in a tepid bath.  Lavender and Aloe Vera (from a plant) can be mixed together with a little cool water and applied by spray or on a cool compress.  If using a spray bottle be careful to avoid spraying into your eyes.

  • Vinegar
    White or apple cider vinegar diluted with water is highly recommended by many people for sunburn relief.  Try putting some in a clean spray bottle and spraying the area frequently.  Be careful not to spray the vinegar in your eyes.  Two cup of vinegar can also be added to a tepid bath.
  • Teas
    Chamomile, black, or green tea can also help relieve sunburn.  Brew several bags to make a strong tea.  Brew the teas individually or combine chamomile with either black or green tea.  Allow the tea to cool and make a compress, or add it to a cool bath.  Be aware that tea stains fabrics.
  • Milk
    Whole milk and water in equal parts can help relieve sunburn discomfort.  Apply by soaking a small towel and applying to the area.  You can also add milk to a tepid bath. The protein in milk creates a soothing film.  You want to dilute the milk because when undiluted it hardens and cracks as it dries, which will irritate the burn.

  • Moisturizers
    Apply a sunburn friendly moisturizer to the area (aloe vera, calendula cream). 

    • Avoid moisturizes that have alcohol, benzocaine, lanocaine, or other anesthetics.  Alcohol will dry out the skin. Anesthetics haven’t shown to help a sunburn, but have shown to irritate the skin.  Best to stay away from anything that has chemicals in them.
    • According to the Mayo Clinic, benzocaine has been linked to a rare but deadly condition where the amount of oxygen in the blood decreases.  Do not use benzocaine on children under that age of two without medical supervision because children of this age group have been the most affected.
    •  Aloe Vera is often recommended, but before buying an aloe vera product for sunburn read the label.  Many aloe vera products have alcohol and other chemicals in them that could irritate the sunburn.  Buy an aloe vera plant and use the gel directly from the leaf.
    • Also avoid using petroleum products (Vaseline) and butters such as cocoa butter; they hold in the heat.
  • Anti-inflammatories
    Take an anti-inflammatory (aspirin or ibuprofen) for pain and to decrease inflammation.  There are also some good natural pain relief products. End Pain is the name of one.  Besides helping the pain, it also helps in the healing process. It can be found at natural grocery stores.  Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers because of the potential for Reye’s Syndrome.
  • Hydration
    Sunburns can cause headaches and dehydration.  Headaches are often the body’s sign that you aren’t hydrated.  So, rehydrate the body by drinking water.  Avoid alcoholic and carbonated beverages.  You can also lie down in a cool, dark room to help with the headache.
  • Vitamin C
    Increase your intake of vitamin C.  Vitamin C helps to heal skin damage and wounds.  Some foods high in vitamin C are melons, oranges, grapefruit, berries, and kiwi.

  • Calendula
    Calendula cream heals, moisturizes, and will help soothe a sunburn.  You can buy it at health food or natural grocery stores.  You can also try brewing a tea with calendula herbs; cool it and apply with a compress or put it in a tepid bath.
  • Peeling
    Peeling is part of the natural process of sunburn healing.  Continue to apply sunburn sensitive moisturizer to the burn area.
  • Blisters
    Don’t mess with any blisters that form by trying to break them open.  Allow them to heal on their own or seek medical attention. Keep the area clean and apply calendula cream to the blisters and/or cool compresses.

When to Seek Medical Help

  • If you have any of these symptoms or combination: Fever, Chills, Nausea, Rapid Breathing, Rapid Pulse, Dizziness, Dehydration, Severe Headache, Shock, Severe Blistering, and Itchy Bumps. These can be signs of sun poisoning.
  • Sunburn area becomes infected.
  • The sunburn does not heal within a week or so.
  • Eyes hurt and are sensitive to light
  • If you feel unwell anytime during the healing process, seek medical attention.

FYI:  Someone on our staff  sought to relieve a severe sunburn burn that had itchy bumps by going swimming in a  pool. The chlorine in the water turned the bumps into second-degree burns.  Talk about pain……

Prevention is the best cure….  Read our blog on Skin Cancer to see how to protect yourself in the sun.

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Lawrence E. Gibson, M.D, “Sunburn Treatment: What Works,” Mayo Clinic. Online: www.mayoclinic.com/health/sunburntreatment/AN01423

“Sunburn: Home Treatment,” WebMd. Online: http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/tc/sunburn-home-treatment

Siamak Nabili, MD, MPH , Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, “Sunburn and Sun Poisoning,” Medicine Net.com. Online: http://www.medicinenet.com/sunburn_and_sun_poisoning/article.htm

“Vitamin C,” Medline Plus. Online: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002404.htm



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