On warm summer days spent outside at the beach, by the pool, on the court, or in the garden, it’s all too easy to forget to reapply (or even apply) sunscreen. While the resulting damage can’t be reversed, it is possible to lessen the aftereffects of too much sun in order to take the ache away.
Sunburn is a result of over-exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Essentially, the UV rays permeate the top layer of skin to drastically dehydrate skin cells. Consequentially, this results in itching, burning, peeling, and, if prolonged and repeated sunburn occurs, permanent DNA damage. This DNA damage is linked to certain skin cancers. In addition, it’s estimated that 90 percent of skin-related aging (wrinkles, fine lines, blotches) is due to sun exposure. It is important to protect yourself before you get out and have fun in the sun. And don’t forget that even on cloudy days, sunburn can still happen; UV rays easily penetrate cloudy skies.
Perhaps one of the most popular and effective ways to soothe sunburn is aloe vera. Its phytochemical blend of mannans, anthrones, and lectins ameliorates sunburn. Aloe vera gel is widely available at drug and department stores, but make sure that the gel is 100-percent aloe vera as other unnecessary additives can further irritate sunburn. Better yet, crack open a fresh leaf from an aloe vera plant, and rub the sap directly on affected skin.
If aloe vera is out of reach, cut a few slices from a fresh cucumber and gently pat affected skin. Cucumber contains antioxidants and the ability to ward off free-radical damage. Since sunburn is a result of free-radical damage from the sun, it only makes sense that cucumber brings relief. Another topical option is fresh lemon juice squeezed on affected skin. Lemon acts as an antiseptic and will reduce healing time and risk of infection.
Since sunburn is essentially a form of dehydration, one very simple (yet easily forgotten) remedy is to stay hydrated. While you may not feel thirsty after being out of the sun for a few hours, your skin certainly is. And don’t think that sports drinks will hydrate you faster or more completely than water—sports drinks often contain sodium, which will only dehydrate your body more.
In fact, it is ideal to rinse off any sunscreen or lotion that may be on your skin prior to applying any skin-soothing remedy. To do this, simply rinse yourself off in a lukewarm shower. Do not use soap, shampoo, or abrasive loofahs or washcloths—just let the water loosen and wash away dirt, oil, or sunscreen residue.
Drinking water internally re-hydrates your body, but what about the pain that encompasses your aching skin? The answer is more water: a lukewarm bath filled with ten to twenty green tea bags provides relief. Not only will your skin absorb water, the tannin in the green tea reduces pain and redness.
The next step in soothing sunburn is to reduce inflammation. Not so surprisingly, a decrease in inflammation is linked to hydration; certain foods such as blueberries, kiwifruit, oranges, raspberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and kale are common anti- inflammatories. These foods have two things going for you—they’re anti-inflammatories and they’re mainly comprised of the ever-hydrating water. Load up on fresh, juicy fruits and veggies to replenish your body at the cellular level. Plus, eating fresh foods is never a bad thing.
Even yogurt, when applied to skin and allowed to sit for five minutes, then rinsed off under room temperature water provides relief. Who knew so many foods could be used to care for skin?
There are also various forms of cool compresses you can easily whip up at home. A damp washcloth or towel soaked with goats’ milk is beneficial for sunburned skin as it contains the exact same pH level of human skin. This helps restore damaged skin cells. Another compress option is to soak a washcloth in plain, white vinegar at room-temperature. White vinegar contains acetic acid, one of the chemicals that comprises ibuprofen (an anti-inflammatory) and thus reduces the pain of sunburn topically. However, do not place a vinegar compress on cracked, broken, or peeling skin as it may sting.
St. John’s Wort can be used as an ointment for your skin. Simply mix a few drops of essential oil into water or aloe vera gel and massage gently into skin. It’s well documented that St. John’s Wort increases photosensitivity, so stay out of direct sunlight. If you have sunburn, you should stay out of the sun, anyway!
The following technique is best suited for severe sunburn, but for some people, bedtime is when sunburn becomes the moist painful and disruptive. Your skin may burn or itch against the feel of your bed sheets. To avoid this, sprinkle cornstarch under your bedcover, or, if you prefer to sleep on top of the sheets to avoid skin-irritating contact, sprinkle cornstarch on top of your sheets. Cornstarch has the added benefit of feeling cool to the touch. One downside to this remedy is that you’ll definitely have to wash your sheets the next day.
So what do you do when your sunburn is under control yet still apparent? Although it is better to avoid prolonged exposure to sun while sunburn is still healing, you can’t remain indoors all the time. When you do venture out, wear loose fitting, comfortable, light-colored clothing (white and other light colors reflect heat away from the body) and don’t forget to apply sunscreen. The pain associated with sunburn is most intense between six and 48 hours after exposure, so keep in mind that the pain will eventually subside.
But, perhaps the best tip to treat sunburn is to do your best to prevent sunburn in the first place.
What NOT to Do to Treat Sunburn!
>> Don’t pop any blisters! This can easily cause an infection.
>> Don’t rub butter or oil on sunburned skin. Oil and butter retain heat.
>> Don’t take a hot shower or bath; this will only increase pain. Opt for a lukewarm shower or bath instead.
>> Don’t rub ice cubes on sunburn. This dramatic change in temperature will only irritate skin more.
>> Don’t eat sugary, processed, or fatty foods until the sunburn subsides. These foods increase inflammation and thus prolong the pain of sunburn.
After Sun Care Products
Check out these soothing skin products.
Cinco Vidas Skinlabs Rescue + Relief Spray is designed specifically for skin overexposed to sun, laser treatments, or chemicals. The spray application provides immediate relief to skin too sensitive to touch. // cincovidas.com
Elemental Herbs All Good Goop This organic healing balm has a wide range of uses. From soothing insect bites, minor cuts, diaper rash, and minor burns, All Good Goop works on sunburn, too. // elementalherbs.com
derma e Scar Gel Despite being designed to diminish the appearance of scars, stretch marks, and calluses, the allantoin and panthenol in derma e’s Scar Gel soothes sunburned skin. Onion extract acts as an antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. // dermae.com