Summertime: trips to the beach, family cookouts, warm nights and … sunburn? Unfortunately, even if you’ve slathered on sunblock religiously, those UV rays can sneak through and leave you with a painful, itchy red burn.
While I believe some sensible sun exposure is essential for your health to prevent vitamin D deficiency, too much of a good thing can lead to damaging sunburn that could increase your risk of skin cancer and premature wrinkles.
But what is a sunburn, anyway? A sunburn occurs when the sun or another ultraviolet light source hits your unexposed body and exceeds what your skin can handle. This prompts your skin to release melanin, it’s protective pigment.
Here are a few interesting sunburn facts:
- A fair-skinned person can get a sunburn in less than 15 during intense midday sun.
- It could take hours for a dark-skinned person to get burned in that same type of sun exposure.
- Interestingly, the sunburn process starts setting in before it’s even visible to the naked eye; the first effects may not show up for several hours.
- Blisters related to sunburn could take hours to days to develop.
- It could take a full 24 hours for a sunburn’s full effects to surface. (1)
If after a long summer day, you’ve spent too much time in the sun, essential oils and common foods such as oatmeal, milk, black tea and more provide natural sunburn relief. Here’s how:
Natural Remedies for Sunburn Relief
Essential Oils for Sunburn Relief
Not just for helping your home smell nice or easing stress and anxiety, essential oils are terrific at combatting sunburn. I recommend two of my favorites, peppermint and lavender.
Peppermint oil is a natural analgesic, or painkiller. It also helps soothe burnt areas by providing a cooling sensation. Bonus: because peppermint oil is also effective at alleviating headaches, it can help with the after-sun headache some people suffer from.
Lavender oil is my second essential oil go-to for sunburns. It reduces the sting of burns and reduces redness. Thanks to its antimicrobial properties, it’ll speed up healing, allowing your body to recover faster.
My homemade sunburn spray incorporates both lavender and peppermint essential oils, along with aloe vera juice and coconut oil, for a soothing sunburn-fighting remedy.
Pantry & Fridge Staples for Sunburn Relief
Many of the foods in your kitchen can help you fight sunburn — I’m talking specifically about applying them topically.
Oatmeal is proven to relieve itchy dry skin and reduce inflammation as burns heal (2,3). Enjoy its healing effects by blending dry oats in a blender or food processor until its finely ground and smooth. Add a cup of oatmeal to warm bath water (not hot!) and spend some quality time soaking.
Milk can also help reduce pain and the heat you’re experiencing. You can either create a cold compress by dunking a washcloth in chilled milk and applying it directly to burnt areas or by adding about a cup of the drink to a cool bath and soaking. (4)
Cornstarch can reduce the painful chafing that occurs when your inflamed skin sticks to the bed sheets at night. While using it means you’ll be doing laundry the next day, sprinkling cornstarch over the sheets will reduce friction and create a barrier between your skin and the sheets, allowing for more comfortable sleep during sticky nights if your sunburn is exceptionally painful.
Yogurt’s probiotics will help moisturize your skin and reduce pain. Choose a full-fat, plain yogurt (this is not the time to experiment with flavors!) and apply it gently on the sunburnt areas — a washcloth is helpful here. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then wash off in the shower.
Black tea isn’t just delicious to drink, it’s also great at reducing sunburn’s redness and quickening the recovery process. In a pitcher, soak a few bags of black tea. You want to do this until the water is super black. Then use a washcloth to apply it to the affected areas and don’t rinse. The tannic acid in the tea, which gives it the dark color, eases the heat and provides much-needed relief.
Nutrients found in specific foods can actually prevent sunburns, which can help you avoid excess ultraviolet rays while you’re healing from a sunburn.
- Vitamin C & E (nuts, seeds, oranges) (5)
- Beta carotene (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes) (6)
- Lycopene (tomatoes and red bell peppers) (7)
- Flavonoids (berries) (8)
- Omega-3 foods (9)
Hydrating Foods for Sunburn Relief
When you’re in the midst of your sunburn relief routine, your body is desperate for moisture. And while moisturizers like coconut oil and healing aloe vera gel can help (hint: keep these in the refrigerator for an extra blast of coolness when applying), you can also speed up the process by “moisturizing” from the inside out and eating foods with high water content.
Drink plenty of water and electrolyte-rich drinks like coconut water during a sunburn (well, really, all the time). Snack on fruits like oranges and watermelons, which are high in vitamin C and promote healing. In fact, watermelons are about 92 percent water. While healing from sunburn, avoid alcohol and sugary foods, which can increase inflammation and slow down the relief process.
Your Secret Weapon for Sunburn Relief
You might not smell great, but you’ll feel a whole lot better when you include vinegar in your sunburn-fighting routine. Apple cider vinegar uses cover many health areas, but ACV will also soothe burnt skin.
Add a cup to a cool bath along with ¼ cup of coconut oil and a few drops of lavender essential oil for a healing soak. No time for a bath? You can also make a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water in a spray bottle or dip a washcloth into the solution and dab on the affected areas.
While no one likes a sunburn, getting natural relief can make the ordeal a whole lot better. Try these natural ways to fight the sting and enjoy relief.
Final Thoughts on Natural Sunburn Relief
It’s always best to avoid a sunburn in the first place. However, I don’t advocate completely barring yourself from the sun. Usually a few minutes is all someone needs to get sufficient vitamin D (you can always supplement if you need more).
In the event you do spend too much time in the sun and in need of sunburn relief, you’ve got many natural options, including many things already found in your home, like milk, yogurt, apple cider vinegar and hydrating foods like watermelon.
You can even eat a diet rich in lycopene (tomatoes) and omega 3s (wild-caught Alaskan salmon and sardines) to help prime your body to help naturally prevent sunburns to a certain extent.
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