Every year about this time, we update this massive post on sunburn and natural remedies for this painful condition. As summer grows closer, we humans flock to the beach, while all the teenagers and younger people "lie out" in search of the perfect tan, considered a sex symbol in our society. Inevitably, many of us will overdo and be afflicted with a mild to severe sunburn.
Sunburned skin has literally been burned – just as though we've been in a fire. Sun burn is produced by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, commonly from the sun's rays, although some of us are foolish enough to burn ourselves in tanning booths.
If You Need Reasons To Avoid Sunburn …
If pain and suffering doesn't do it for you, how about …
* Excessive UV-radiation is the leading cause of non malignant skin cancers, but also contributes to malignant ones as well.
And, of course, repeated sun exposure can – and often does – result in "leather" skin at a relatively youthful age.
* At the very least, it ages skin before its time. If you doubt that, and you're over the age of 35, compare your skin that has been repeatedly exposed to the sun with a part on your body that has not. Assuming you're not a charter member of a nudist colony, the difference will be striking.
Other cultures have not been so foolish. Imagine Scarlett O'Hara sitting in the sun, surrounded by her admirers – without a parasol! Not happening! Since we're not as smart as Scarlett, check out the home remedies for sunburn below and see what works for you. Some of these sunburn treatments are sure to work – simply find what works best for your skin and situation.
The Best Sunburn Treatment: Prevention
Sunburn Tip #1: Take extra care between the hours of 10AM and 3PM[11AM – 4PM during Daylight Savings] when the sun is at its strongest. If you are seeking a bad sunburn, lie out in the sun for several hours, beginning around 11 AM!
Sunburn Tip #2: Be reasonable about your sun exposure. Exposing tender, new, just-over-winter skin to several hours in the sun is just plain dopey!
Sunburn Tip #3: If you're not swimming, wear protective clothing. Hats, tightly woven fabrics and long sleeves help keep the sun off your skin.
Sunburn Tip #4: Sunscreen: wearing sunscreen seems pretty darned obvious, right? The usual advice for sunscreen is:
* Apply it 30 minutes before going out to cook …
* Reapply it whenever necessary – like when you're sweating or you've been in the ocean or pool …
* A Sunscreen Protection Factor [SPF] of 15-30 means that 94% of the sun's rays are blocked …
* An SPF of 30+ means that 97% of the UV rays are blocked …
* Wear sunscreen even on overcast or cloudy days because the UV rays sail right on through the cloud cover …
* Don't forget tender areas like your lips or ears …
The problem with sunscreens is that the vast majority of them are loaded with toxic chemicals and preservatives! Actually, we haven't found a single brand (so far) that does the job and yet is safe. Still, if it's a choice between temporary exposure to dangerous chemicals and sunburns – well, I'll take the chemicals and I'm sure you will, too.
Sunburn Tip #5: An interesting product for sun protection is called Rit SunGard. According to the Rit website:
"SunGuard works by washing an invisible shield into clothing that helps block more than 96% of the sun's harmful rays from reaching your skin. With the active ingredient TINOSORB® FD, a UV protectant from Ciba Specialty Chemicals, SunGuard can boost the UPF protection of a white cotton T-shirt from UPF 5 to UPF 30.
And, SunGuard is so easy to use! Add one package of SunGuard to a warm or hot water laundry load along with laundry detergent and you wash in skin protection for up to 20 washings. SunGuard won't change the color or comfort of clothing and is safe for even the most sensitive skin."
My guess: TINOSORB® FD is loaded with unsavory chemicals! The Rit website has no information that I can find about the ingredients in this product which is suspicious. If it were safe or environmentally friendly, they would be trumpeting the claim to the skies. No way would I use this stuff! Still, it's quite popular.
Sunburn Tip #6: There are certain products that can make you photosensitive, or more prone to burning.
* Oral contraceptives …
* Sunscreens containing PABA …
* Anti-fungal medications …
* Diabetes drugs …
* Diuretics …
* Tranquilizers …
* Antibiotics …
* Even common foods …
Sunburn Tip #7: REMINDER: There are certain situations that might make you feel 'safe' from sunburn, like:
* Cloudy days: as already mentioned, the UV rays of the sun will get you just as easily as on a fiercely bright day
* Winter days: hey, there's snow and ice outside. No problem, right? Wrong! One article I read described a man climbing a mountain. Because the climb was steep, he was breathing through his mouth because he was panting. Guess what? The inside of his mouth became sunburned! Just the thought makes me feel faint.
These are not safe situations and sunburns are common unless caution is used.
Sunburn Remedies For Small Areas
If you have only a small area of sunburn, you can try one (or two or three) the following time-tested natural remedies:
Sunburn Tip #8: The famous ice pack: wrap ice in a damp cloth and gently place/hold it on your burned skin. You can even use a package of frozen food – like peas – but make sure the food is covered with a cloth or damp paper towel. You surely don't want it sticking to your burned skin. Agggggggggggooooooooooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnyyyyyyyyyyyy!
Sunburn Tip #9: Yogurt or sour cream: spread either dairy product over your burns and leave it for 20 minutes or so. Rinse with cool water or get in the shower. This will take out some of the heat (not to mention that it's a great 'pore tightener' – although that's the least of our worries when in pain from burns).
Sunburn Tip #10: Tea bags. The most common recipe for tea relief is:
* Bring a quart of water to boil
* Remove the water from the stove
* Throw in five or six tea bags and allow them to steep in the water until cool and quite dark
Dip a cloth in your tea liquid and place it on the burn. Some people like using the tea bags directly, but they're messier. Tea contains tannic acid which is anti-bacterial and is an 'astringent', which means that it shrinks the pores and reduces swelling.
You can, of course, use loose tea if you have a tea infuser. In that case, make a smaller amount of tea – a full infuser of tea to one cup of water. We're talking strong tea here!
Sunburn Tip #11: Cornstarch: add enough water to cornstarch to make a paste and place directly on your burn.
Sunburn Tip #12: Lettuce: boil two cups of water, remove the water from the heat and throw in a handful of lettuce leaves. Place this concoction in the frig and let it sit for several hours before applying to your burn.
Sunburn Tip #13: Witch hazel: apply directly to your burn with cotton balls or moisten a cloth or compress with witch hazel and leave it directly on your burn. Like tea, it is anti-inflammatory and will reduce swelling.
Sunburn Tip #14: Alcohol: is used just like witch hazel. But be aware that alcohol is very drying to the skin so leave it off as soon as the pain is gone.
* NOTE: use rubbing alcohol rather than scotch or bourbon! :-)
Sunburn Tip #15: Oatmeal: wrap oatmeal in a bag or in cheesecloth and soak it in cool water. You can also simply soak the oatmeal in water for approximately 10 minutes. Keep the liquid and discard the oatmeal and every hour or so, dip a cloth in the 'oatmeal liquid' and apply it to your burn.
* NOTE: the less processed the oatmeal, the more effective it will be. Envelopes of instant oatmeal with maple syrup are most likely not going to provide much relief at all.
Sunburn Tip #16: Aspirin: two tablets every four hours (but don't overdo this!) will help relieve pain if it isn't too severe. You can also use the same amount of Tylenol or Ibuprofen every eight hours. One doctor recommends 650 mg of aspirin soon after sun exposure. It's very unwise to use these products, however, in spite of the common notion that they're mild and harmless – they're not! So don't use them for very long.
Sunburn Tip #17: Grate apples and rest them over your eyelids for as long as you can stand it.
Sunburn Tip #18: Lightly beat an egg white and place on cotton pads which are left on your burned eyes for as long as possible.
Sunburn Tip #19: Milk: dip a cloth into cold milk and put the cloth on your burn.
Sunburn Tip #20: Salty milk: mix up a concoction of equal parts ice/ice water and cold milk and add some salt. Dip a cloth in the mixture and lay it on your skin. Salt is drying – very drying – so only use this for pain and stop as soon as it's bearable.
Sunburn Tip #21: Almond milk: this delicious milk is sold in many places – I use it all the time. Yet, I doubt that the commercially prepared is as effective as making your own which can easily be done by grinding raw almonds until you have 1/2 cup of almond and then add one cup of water. Whirl them together in a blender or VitaMix for several seconds. Strain the almonds out and use them in a recipe, while putting the liquid on your burn.
Sunburn Tip #22: Alum: alum has been used for decades to cool the heat and pain of sunburn. I have my doubts, however, that it's a good idea. Alum is aluminum potassium sulfate and using aluminum on our bodies seems questionable. However, if you choose to use it, 1/2 teaspoon for every cup of water is recommended.
Sunburn Tip #23: Apple cider vinegar – the REAL stuff – has been used for centuries for relief from burns, stings, and other pains. Just splash it on and reapply it every 20 minutes or so.
Sunburn Tip #24: Baking soda: dissolve three Tablespoons of soda in 1 quart cold water.
Sunburn Tip #25: PABA [Para-aminobenzoic acid] lotion: PABA is a B-vitamin that is commonly used in sunscreens, is cheap and easily found in stores or on the Net. You can make an after-burn lotion of one teaspoon of crushed PABA tablet to 1/4 cup of water.
Sunburn Tip #26: Potato juice: dice raw potatoes and add enough water to get them to liquefy in a VitaMix or blender. Use the juice on your burn.
Sunburn Tip #27: DO NOT use lard, butter or a salve on your burn as long as it's hot and painful because they seal in the heat! Imagine heating a burner on the stove and dropping some oil on it – that's what you get when you put oils on painful, sunburned skin.
Sunburn Tip #28: Cucumber: purée a chopped cucumber in an electric blender with one tablespoon witch hazel and 1 teaspoon honey. Pat over your sunburned and leave all on for 15 minutes before rinsing off.
Sunburn Tip #29: Egg yolk: folk healers advise smearing an egg yolk over sunburned areas and letting it dry for 30 minutes before washing off.
Sunburn Tip #30: Laundry starch: old-fashioned laundry starch [if you have any! I can’t imagine starching anything!] brings radical relief to sunburned skin.
Sunburn Relief For Larger Sunburned Areas
If the area of the burn is especially large, head for the bathtub. Fill the tub with cool water and stay in the bath for as long as you can. Most burned folks are more comfortable IN the water than OUT. And when you get out be sure to pat yourself dry, rather than rub.
The force of the water in a shower can be painful so unless you're an Iron Man who prides himself on his ability to withstand pain, go for the soak.
Besides, a sunburn parches your skin and a gentle bath will replace much of the moisture and so encourage speedy healing.
Try some of these goodies in your bath – they just might make you feel better.
Sunburn Tip #31: Sunburn vinegar: a cup or two of apple cider vinegar soothes pain. As mentioned above, real, genuine apple cider vinegar gives the best results, by far. A cup of wine vinegar is less likely to easy your pain.
Sunburn Tip #32: Oatmeal: oatmeal is well known as a remedy for pain and itching. Place the oatmeal in cheesecloth, an old Knee High or a bag made especially for bath additives. Just throw the container into the tub with you, or if you're finicky and don't like bags of porridge in your bath, then wet the bag and keep drizzling the oatmeal 'juice' over your burn.
NOTE: do not just dump in a handful or two of regular oatmeal. You will have a yucky mess. However, there is a product called "colloidial oatmeal" that is considered a beauty product and is more expensive than regular oatmeal. You can make it yourself, though, by just grinding regular oatmeal in a VitaMix or blender until it is a very fine powder. That powder can then be bumped into a bathtub and it feels silky, cool and smooth. It IS slippery, though, so be careful when getting in and out of your tub.
Sunburn Tip #33: Soap is a no-no! Soap can dry and irritate burned skin. Stay away from bubble baths for the same reason. You will feel worse, rather than better.
Sunburn Tip #34: Baking soda: just dump it into your cool or lukewarm tub. It's non-toxic and won't make a mess. Some people like to let it dry on their skin rather than patting it off. Some sources recommend only a couple of Tablespoons per bath, but I like much more.
Sunburn Tip #35: Milk: add two cups of so to your bath or throw in about 3/4 cup of powdered milk. Hey, if Cleopatra liked to bathe in milk, it ought to be good enough for us!
Sunburn Tip #36: Almond, avocado or other gentle oil: throw in a couple of Tablespoons of oil. It will soothe your skin and help replace needed moisture.
Sunburn Tip #37: Dried rosemary: throw two ounces of dried rosemary into two cups of water and bring to a boil. Allow this to steep for at least 30 minutes and then add to your bath water. Rosemary has been famous for centuries as a skin regenerator.
Sunburn Tip #38: Thyme: repeat the above directions with thyme which contains "thymol", an antiseptic, antibacterial substance that can make your pain and itch decrease and heal faster.
Sunburn Tip #39: WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
Go see a doctor if you develop more drastic symptoms like nausea, chills, fever, extensive blistering, general weakness, patches of purple discoloration or intense itching.
Be aware that if the burn seems to be spreading, you could have an infection compounding the problem.
After Treatment & Skin Coatings
Doctors say that the pain of sunburn comes from your burned skin being in contact with the air – specifically oxygen. If you can coat the burn, the pain should be reduced and less smarting and stinging – and outright agony – is what we're after, naturally.
In addition, moisturizing your skin will help it to heal faster. The substances we've mentioned above should make you feel better, but when the pain has subsided somewhat and you're not in agony, you need to replace the moisture you've lost by baking in an oven.
REMEMBER: don't do this when the sunburn is new and really hot! You will only seal the heat in. Wait until the heat has subsided somewhat.
Sunburn Tip #40: Hydrocortisone: lotions with 1% or so of hydrocortisone are inexpensive and found in every drugstore, Walmart and more. Some are spray and others are in ointment form so choose whatever you prefer. The spray is easier on burned skin but the ointment will last much longer.
Sunburn Tip #41: Guard against infection: if you have an infection or are worried that one will develop use an over-the-counter antibacterial ointment such as poly sporran or Neosporin.
Sunburn Tip #42: Aloe Vera: aloe is a wonder plant. I always have some available. You can either grow a plant and simply break off a piece when needed or you can buy it in containers as I do. Be sure to buy organic, pure aloe – there are tons of so-called aloe products that have very little aloe in them. Read labels!
Sunburn Tip #43: Over-the-counter creams: there are a myriad of over-the-counter anesthetic creams for pain and itching. Benzocain is a common ingredient and quite effective for some people.
Sunburn Tip #44: Honey: honey has been used on burns for centuries, although personally I don't like using honey because it's so sticky. However, to relieve the stickiness and create a superb burn ointment, consider mixing it with an oil like wheat germ oil. It can be mixed half and half, or a famous folk remedy is to mix equal parts honey, oil and comfrey tea. One of the greatest herbalists of all time, Nicholas Culpepper, recommended comfrey to "knit bones together' and soothe the skin. Naturally, there were no blenders back in the day, but if you choose this long-time herbal remedy, make it easy on yourself by blending the three together.
Sunburn Tip #45: Mayonnaise: ordinary mayonnaise is an inexpensive and superb soother for burned skin.
Sunburn Tip #46: "Sweet" oils: a 'sweet' oil is an mild vegetable oil, like olive oil, and has been used for at least 200 years as an antidote to burn pain. They penetrate the skin and speed healing.
NOTE: the less refined the oil is, the better it is for your skin. Avoid the hydrogenated oils!
Sunburn Tip #47: Petroleum jelly: petroleum jelly – i.e. Vaseline – has been used on burns for years and years. Personally, I don't think this is a good idea because this stuff is just that – petroleum. Yep, that black oil that bubbles up out of the ground and runs your car's engine. There are alternatives that are made from plant oil instead of petroleum that are much healthier.
Sunburn Tip #48: Vegetable shortening or lard: lard is, of course, pig fat and vegetable shortening refers to substances like Crisco. A health note: ANY oil that is solid at room temperature is inherently unhealthy for the human body. However, for short term use to relieve pain, it's a viable option.
Sunburn Tip #49: Vitamin E oil: this is easy to use since all that's necessary is to puncture a capsule of vitamin E and carefully spread it over your burn. Natural vitamin E – as opposed to synthetic vitamin E – is very powerful. This is highly recommended and will help to prevent blisters.
Sunburn Tip #50: Vinegar lotion: one naturopathic practitioner highly recommends a sunburn vinegar lotion:
* 1 cup white vinegar
* 1/3 cup salt
* 1/3 cup yogurt
* 2 Tablespoons aloe vera gel
* 400 IUs vitamin E
Combine these ingredients in a blender or VitaMix and blend until creamy. Smooth over your painful skin frequently – and it's even better if you keep it in the frig! Wow, that feels cool.
Severe Sunburn Symptom: Sunburn Blisters
If you develop blisters, you've severely damaged your skin! Perhaps you have a 2nd or even 3rd degree burn. DO NOT drain your blisters. That's a great way to leave permanent marks on your skin and/or get an infection! Here are some long-time sunburn cures for blisters.
Sunburn Tip #51: Cover your blisters with a protective coating to speed healing:
* Honey …
* Aloe vera jelly …
* Vitamin E …
* Petroleum or vegetable jelly …
* Wheat germ oil …
* Avocado oil …
* Wheat germ oil …
* Vitamin A …
How To Treat Sunburn Itch
When your sunburn has begun to heal, the famous "sunburn itching" will set in and start driving you stark raving nuts! Yes, granted, we all prefer itch to pain, but it's still no fun. Itchy sunburn sounds rather – amusing – unless it's happening to you. It's like the itching inside a cast – I can remember thinking I might run screaming down the street if I didn't get some relief! If this is you, these tried and true itching remedies have been used for decades:
Sunburn Tip #52: Aluminum acetate: this powder has been a sunburn cure for years and is available in many drugstores. It can be mixed with water, following package directions, for relief of itchiness.
Sunburn Tip #53: Fresh sliced carrots were used by our ancestors centuries ago for treating sunburn pain and itching. This just might make sense since carrots are loaded with beta carotene.
Sunburn Tip #54: Vitamin C: dissolve one tablet of vitamin C in 1 cup of warm water.
Sunburn Tip #55: Lemon juice: make sure that your sunburn has truly healed enough not to be painful before using lemon juice. Any acidic juice on a raw burn will cause real, REAL pain!
Sunburn Tip #56: Raw onion slices: you might not smell like a flower, but onion does have a way of stopping itchy sunburn. Of course, you might want to limit your exposure to others while you are using this remedy!
Heal Sunburns By Using Common Sense
Sunburn Tip #57: Drink a lot of GOOD water: what happens to cake batter when you put it in the oven? The 'liquidy' batter turns to a solid cake, does it not? That's because heat or burn dries out the skin. So the very best thing you can do for your skin is to drink lots and lots of good water.
Sunburn Tip #58: Eat wisely: your body and skin need nutrients to regenerate themselves – and a Big Mac, fries and a coke aren't gonna help at all! Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and Omega 3 oils are what your body needs to heal itself.
Sunburn Tip #59: Get as much rest as possible: this can be a real challenge when your body is burned because either every position causes discomfort or you can only sleep in a very limited number of positions without pain. One possibility is to sprinkle cornstarch on your sheets to minimize the friction. Some folks recommend talcum powder but that's a really bad idea because talc smothers your skin and is toxic. Cornstarch is cheap and readily available. I can even buy organic cornstarch at my regular grocery.
Sunburn Tip #60: For burned legs and feet: a really bad burn can cause swelling, so elevate your legs above heart level to minimize sunburn swelling.
Sunburn Tip #61: Don't make the same mistake twice! For at least 3-6 months, your skin will be much more susceptible to sunburn, so if you burn again,and it's going to be much worse than the last time. Learn from your pain and don't do this again!
Sunburns are painful and stupid – but most people have suffered through them at one time or another. Sunburn treatment can shorten the pain, but even the most powerful drugs can't eliminate it. It's just something we have to endure – and hopefully learn from so that it never happens again. It's definitely a Really Bad idea.