Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CN – 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 or sun poisoning that could increase your risk of skin cancer and premature wrinkles.
If after a long summer day, you’ve spent too much time outdoors under the hot sun, thankfully there are many natural sunburn remedies that actually work.
How do you make a sunburn go away fast? If you’re wondering how to treat sunburn fast, you don’t have to go further than your kitchen cabinets with natural sunburn treatments like black tea and oatmeal. Are you fan of essential oils and keep them around your home? If the answer is “yes” then that’s great news since essentials oils are another great form of natural sunburn treatment.
What Is a Sunburn?
So what is a sunburn, anyway? A standard sunburn definition: inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation especially from sunlight. How long does a sunburn last? Typically, it lasts several days.
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, its protective pigment.
Here are a few interesting 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.
If you spend too much time in the sun without clothing or sunscreen to protect your skin, it can cause your skin to burn or tan. What causes some people to burn while others are more likely to get a suntan? It depends upon the level of a pigment called melanin in the skin. People with fairer skin have less melanin while people with darker skin have more.
When the rays of the sun cause damage to the skin, the skin manufacturers more melanin in an effort to protect it from further damage. This causes skin tone to change color. For lighter skinned individuals, the skin is more likely to turn red.
Do sunburns turn into a tan? Sometimes a sunburn will naturally turn into a tan if peeling can be avoided. However, you should never allow a sunburn for the sake of hopefully getting a tan eventually because you are damaging your skin!
Sunburn symptoms include:
- Skin pinkness or redness
- Skin that feels warm or hot to the touch
- Pain and tenderness
- Sunburn itch
- Small fluid-filled blisters, which may break
- Headache, fever, nausea and fatigue (if you have severe sunburn)
A sunburn rash or “sun rash” (hives and blisters on top of a sunburn), sunburn chills or fever, and nausea are all signs of sun poisoning.
For your doctor or dermatologist to diagnosis a sunburn, he or she will likely examine your body, ask about your symptoms and history of sun exposure.
What is the best treatment for sunburn? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, many dermatologists will recommend conventional sunburn treatment that looks something like the following:
- Take cool baths or showers often to decrease pain. When drying off, leave a small amount of water on the skin and then apply a moisturizer to help trap water in your skin and increase skin hydration. (This is a great natural sunburn remedy, too!)
- Aloe vera and soy are helpful ingredients to look for in a conventional sunburn cream.
- If you’re dealing with something worse than a mild sunburn or you’re experiencing discomfort, over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream is another conventional sunburn treatment.
- Using conventional pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen to decrease sunburn swelling, redness and discomfort.
- Drink extra water to prevent dehydration. (Also, makes the list of natural sunburn treatments for sure!)
- If your skin blisters, this means that you have a second degree sunburn. Leave the blisters alone (in other words, do not pop or pick at them!) because they are helping your skin heal and guarding against infection.
How long does it take for a sunburn to heal? According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Unlike a thermal burn, sunburn is not immediately apparent. Symptoms usually start about four hours after sun exposure, worsen in 24–36 hours, and resolve in 3–5 days.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, treating sunburn with even the best sunburn relief does not heal your skin, but it can help to improve pain, swelling and discomfort.
How do you make a sunburn go away fast? If your sunburn is not severe, using home remedies for sunburn promptly and consistently can really help to improve a burn fast.
1. Pantry and Fridge Staples (Used Topically)
If you’re trying to figure out how to heal sunburn naturally, you may be surprised to find out that many items in your kitchen can help when used topically! Here are some common food items that can help relieve sunburns:
- Oatmeal is proven to relieve itchy dry skin and reduce inflammation as burns heal. 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 to reduce skin pain and heat. 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 cold milk to a cool bath and soaking. Make sure its whole milk so you can benefit from the helpful natural fat content.
- 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.
- Yogurt contains probiotics and lactic acid, which make it an excellent choice for reducing redness and soothing the skin. Choose a full-fat, plain yogurt and apply it gently on the sunburnt areas. Let it sit for about 10 minutes and then wash off in the shower.
- 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.
2. Aloe Vera and Coconut Oil
When you’re in the midst of your natural sunburn treatment, your body is desperate for moisture. Applying moisturizers like pure coconut oil and aloe vera gel can really help to improve a burn. Aloe vera is so helpful that it’s a common conventional recommendation as well. It’s even sometimes called the “burn plant” because it’s such an effective natural remedy for a bad burn.
You can buy a bottle of pure aloe vera or you can use a leaf of an aloe vera plant by splitting it open and applying the sap to your skin. Hint: Store a bottle of aloe or an aloe vera leaf in the refrigerator for an extra blast of soothing coolness upon application.
3. Hydrating Foods
There are a lot of natural topical remedies for sunburns, but if you want to know how to get rid of sunburn fast, you don’t want to forget some internal help as well. It’s a great idea to “moisturize” from the inside out by eating foods with high water content.
Snack on fruits like oranges and watermelons, which are high in vitamin C and promote healing. In fact, watermelons are about 92 percent water. Also drink plenty of water and electrolyte-rich drinks like coconut water. While healing from sunburn, avoid alcohol and sugary foods, which can increase inflammation and slow down the relief process.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Did you know that you can use apple cider vinegar for sunburn? You might not smell great, but you’ll likely feel a whole lot better when you include apple cider vinegar (ACV) 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.
5. Essential Oils
They’re not just for helping your home smell nice or easing stress and anxiety, there are also essential oils for sunburn. I recommend two common favorites:
- 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 another essential oil go-to for sunburns. It can help to reduce the sting of burns and decrease redness. With its antioxidant, pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, it’s the perfect choice to speed up healing, allowing your body to recover faster.
Are you wondering how to treat a sunburn with essential oils? This home remedy for sunburn incorporates both lavender and peppermint essential oils, along with aloe vera juice and coconut oil for sunburn relief.
How to Prevent
It’s possible to get a burn from the sun even when it’s cloudy or cool outside. It’s also important to note that UV light is stronger at high altitudes and the sun’s rays are easily reflected onto the skin when you’re near sand, water or snow.
Key tips for avoiding a burn from sun exposure:
- Aim to be in the shade if you’re going to spend extensive time outdoors, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
- Apply a natural sunscreen to all exposed skin (and make sure your sunscreen isn’t expired).
- Put on additional sunscreen every 40 to 80 minutes, or sooner if it has washed off from swimming or sweating.
- Wear clothing and hats to protect skin.
- Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.
- Stay hydrated with non-alcoholic fluids, especially water.
Nutrients found in specific foods are also known to help prevent sunburns, often in a time-dependent manner:
- Vitamin C and E: Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, peppers, guava and broccoli while many nuts like almonds and sunflower seeds are great sources of vitamin E.
- Beta-carotene: Foods like carrots, pumpkin and sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene.
- Lycopene: Delicious summer time foods like tomatoes and watermelon are high in lycopene.
- Fish oil: The sunburn response may be reduced by dietary fish oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
According to the CDC, you should seek medical attention for a bad sunburn with sunburn blisters that cover over 15 percent of your body, you have a high fever, experience dehydration and/or you feel extreme pain for longer than 48 hours.
Of course, it’s always best to avoid sunburns 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 (and you can always supplement if you need more).
The best treatment for sunburn is both natural and effective. In the event you do spend too much time in the sun and you’re in need of relief, you like have many natural remedies around your home including milk, yogurt, apple cider vinegar and hydrating foods like watermelon.
You can even eat a diet rich in lycopene (think tomatoes) and omega 3s (opt for wild-caught Alaskan salmon and sardines) to help prime your body to help naturally prevent sunburns to a certain extent. And don’t forget about essential oils, which are another awesome home remedy for sunburns.
While no one enjoys them, finding natural relief for sunburns can make the experience much more bearable and boost skin health in the process.
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