SURVIVAL

Home Remedies for Sunburn: 12 Methods That Have Actually Been Tested

Home remedies sunburns
Dennis Owens
Written by Dennis Owens

We all love the sun, but we hate it when it doesn’t love us back but gives us nasty sunburns instead. On the one hand, sunlight can prove extremely beneficial to improve our mood, lifting our spirits. It can also help with relieving arthritis pains, and fix calcium in our bones by aiding the release of vitamin D.

Not to mention that a natural tan makes you look better, meanwhile telling others you’ve probably been on another outdoor adventure. On the other hand, people who adore basking in the sun probably need some good home remedies for sunburn too.

Basic Info

You’ll get a sunburn if you spend too many hours in the sun, because its ultraviolet rays will damage the outside layer of your skin known as the epidermis. That’s why it hurts to touch it, why it’s red and possibly even swells at some point. As the actual name suggests it, you are experiencing some of the effects of a first-degree burn, caused by the sun.

Basic info about sunburns

But don’t get too worried, because most of the sunburns can easily be treated at home or with over the counter medicine. However, you should go see a doctor if the pain feels like more than you can handle and/ or it’s accompanied by:

  • Fever
  • Heatstroke
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Extreme dizziness.
  • Fainting episodes.
  • Decreased vision.
  • Burning sensation in your eyes.

Possible Complications

Don’t neglect the negative effects of repetitive sunburns though. Even if you manage to effectively treat yours at home using the advice we’re going to give you below, you shouldn’t take that as a free pass to ignore preventative measures in the future. You may not be as lucky next time, plus you’re increasing your chances of developing other health issues like:

  • Skin cancer.
  • Cold sores.
  • Immune problems.
  • Cataracts or other retinal issues.
  • Partial or total blindness.
  • Aging skin.
  • Brown spots.

Risk Factors

As you probably know if you or your friends get repeated sunburns, some people are more prone to getting them. As such, it’s enough for some of us to spend just a measly couple of minutes in the full sun without wearing any sunscreen to become red as lobsters and peel for a month. And that happens to those who:

  • Are older than 60 or younger than 10.
  • Are fair skinned.
  • Have red hair.
  • Are blond.
  • Are freckled.
  • Have blue or green eyes.

That’s because these people have a lower percentage of melatonin in their bodies, which should give their skin a nice brown tan like it does for people who have darker skin. But don’t be mistaken by the difference between the fair skinned and the dark-skinned: they are still prone to skin cancer if they don’t use sunscreen, even though they aren’t prone to sunburns.

Woman with Sunburnt Back

At this point you should take into account that wearing sunscreen in the great outdoors is a must, even though it may be a cloudy day. The sun can still get to you if you spend enough time outside. However, there are cases when sunburns become worse like:

  • If you’re spending time outside during the high hours of the day. As such, the effects of UV light are at their peak between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., because that’s the time of day when the sun rays fall perpendicularly to the ground. Again, this effect still happens even if it’s cloudy – UV rays don’t care about that.
  • If it’s summer. Sun rays are also perpendicular to the ground in the hotter seasons, like during summer.
  • If the sun rays can be reflected by your environment. That’s why people who go swimming in the middle of the day are more at risk of getting sunburns, although they perceive the water as cooling their skins. Same goes for people who go skiing in the winter without wearing sunscreen, thinking it’s too cold for the sun to burn their skin. That’s because snow can reflect sunlight too.
  • If you’re hiking at a higher altitude. UV rays are generally blocked by the atmosphere, which is why you’re more prone to getting sunburns in areas with less dense atmosphere – like the mountains. Keep in mind that you’ll be 4% more exposed to the negative effects of UV rays with each 1000 feet you climb higher.

The Actual Remedies

Once you understand all the dangers associated with sunburns, it’s time we gave you our selection of the most efficient at home cures for people who spent too much time in the sun without proper protection.

#1 Cool compress

A wet cloth on your skin will feel like heaven, because it will help burnt areas cool quicker.

Cool compress

That in turn will assist with your body healing itself faster, since it decreases the blood flow to the affected area. And since the blood capillaries aren’t as dilated as before, you will feel less heat, less pain and less swelling.

#2 Cool shower

If you have more time to properly take care of yourself at home, or if you have sunburns on bigger portions of your skin, consider taking a cool shower. In fact, a cool bath works even better for this purpose, because it submerges your whole body under water. And some people may feel that water falling down from a shower actually hurts their skin even more instead of alleviating pain.

One thing you need to consider at this point is not to use icy cold water, because that will only damage your skin further. Use cool water that’s around room temperature.

Cool shower

Another thing is that you shouldn’t use soap or shower gels that contain perfume, because they will only irritate the burnt skin further, accentuated symptoms like pain, redness and itching.

#3 Apple cider vinegar

One of the most amazing properties of apple cider vinegar is that it’s the only vinegar known that restores an alkaline environment in the body. All the other vinegars out there will promote the formation of acidic conditions, which is why you shouldn’t use them to treat your sunburns.

Apple cider vinegar and coconut oil

Sunburns themselves create acidic conditions, so you need some solution that will neutralize that effect, and help you restore your balance. And a normal PH balance will lead to an accelerated healing process.

Simply add some apple cider vinegar to your cool compress or your bath, and you’ll soon rip the benefits regarding sunburns.

#4 Oatmeal

This cereal is not only amazing for your breakfast, but it can also rid you of sunburns. It has been proven that oatmeal is incredibly effective to treat itchiness, which is one of the symptoms that may occur during the last stages of your sunburn. At this point, your skin is trying to heal itself, sending more blood to the affected area in an effort to create new skin cells and replace the old dead ones.

Oatmeal

But that comes at the cost of itchiness and dead skin peeling, an unpleasant effect which can successfully be counteracted by adding a cup of uncooked oatmeal to your bath. That’s because oatmeal contains fats and complex sugars that lubricate your skin, making it feel less dry.

Just be careful to secure the oatmeal in a cotton bag or in a cloth, if you don’t want to make a complete mess out of your bath.

#5 Lavender essential oil

Lavender essential oil is another way to improve your bath and treat sunburns with more success. That’s because lavender is one of the best at home remedies which help calm down the pain inflicted by the first-degree burn on your skin. There are a few studies which show how diffusing lavender vapors in the oxygen can change the way in which our bodies feel pain.

Lavender essential oil

Another reason is that lavender can improve blood circulation, especially if you use it during a massage. A better blood circulation means that the burnt areas are better oxygenated, helping the body create new skin cells and heal the affected portions.

#6 Chamomile

Whether you add a few drops of chamomile essential oil to your cold compress, your bath or simply decide to wash your burnt skin with chamomile tea, you will reap all the known benefits this plant offers you:

  • It’s an antiseptic. As such, chamomile won’t let your sunburn become infected.
  • It has anti-inflammatory properties, meaning that it will help decrease the swelling of your skin.
  • It improves blood circulation, making your sunburn heal faster.
  • It’s a natural analgesic, meaning that it alleviates the pain felt until your sunburn begins to heal.

#7 Baking soda

If you’re looking at excessive irritation and a very red skin, you can also try the calming, curative effects of baking soda.

This trick also works because baking soda can restore the PH balance in your body, reducing the negative, acidic conditions created by the sunburn. Moreover, baking soda is a good antiseptic, can decrease swelling and tingling sensations, all the while cooling and moisturizing the burnt area of your skin.

There are at least 3 ways in which you can use this item to get some relief after a nasty sunburn, such as:

The topical paste

If you pour water over 2 tablespoons of baking soda until you’ve gotten a pasty goo, you can put that on your sunburn for about 10 minutes. Clean it with cool water, and repeat it again a few times per day.

This remedy works great if the affected area isn’t that big, or if you don’t have time to soak in a cool bath for longer.

Baking soda

The baking soda bath

For people who have extensive sunburns and more time at their disposal, adding 1 cup of baking soda to a cool bath will give you an extended relief. Don’t spend more than half an hour in the bathtub and don’t bathe more than once in a day.

The trick to making this whole thing better is not to use a towel to get dry, but to simply let your body dry by itself. That’s because it will accentuate the cooling effect of the bath and the baking soda.

The blister removal

Sunburn blisters are the worst, because they feel swollen and hurt. Don’t pop them however, because that will only make them prone to bacteria and infections. Just use the beneficial powers of baking soda and salt. Mix these two together and apply the mixture on the blisters for a couple of minutes.

The salt will absorb the liquid from inside the blisters and disinfect the spot, while the baking soda will help you manage the pain.

#8 Aloe Vera

A known cure for various burns, Aloe Vera can soothe your skin and kill bacteria. And it’s medically tested too, since a lot of hospitals treat burn victims with this if the burns aren’t really bad.

Aloe Vera

It should work well on first-degree sunburns because:

  • It has vitamins and minerals that speed up the healing process through the formation of new skin cells.
  • It will decrease your pain and swelling thanks to its proteins and the lidocaine it contains.
  • The sugars it contains improve blood circulation to the sunburn.
  • It secretes a juice that hydrates your skin, moisturizing it properly.
  • It’s not a skin irritant seeing as it doesn’t have oils.
  • It has antibacterial properties, fighting off possible infection.

You can easily buy an Aloe Vera gel, or you can make one of your own by cutting a leaf of this plant to get some natural gel. Put this on your skin, and let it dry there. If the stickiness bothers you, you can wash it off after 30 minutes, but it’s better to just leave it alone.

An even cooler trick is to form a mixture of Aloe Vera gel and water in equal quantities, and fill an ice tray with it in order to form ice cubes. Those will cool your skin even better once you apply them topically.

#9 Milk and yogurt

These ingredients work wonders on a sunburnt skin because they contain high quantities of lactic acid. Even if our own bodies produce lactic acid, this production is diminished once the skin is damaged.

Yogurt for sunburns

As such, you can pour some milk in a compress to cool your skin or apply a paste of yogurt locally on the burnt area. You can even consider a full milk bath if you feel your sunburns deserve a royal treatment.

But this home cure works because lactic acid:

  • Help hydrate your skin.
  • Isn’t irritating, so it doesn’t cause additional itching.
  • It has lipids that help create a protective barrier against your skin, moisturizing it.

#10 Vitamin E

The reason why it works is because vitamin E releases antioxidants in your body, that counteract the negative effect of the free radicals produced by the sunburn. That means that vitamin E prevents other healthy cells in your body to die, protecting the burnt area.

Capsules of Vitamin E oil

You can buy capsules of Vitamin E oil, cut a few open and get enough of the gel to apply on the sunburn. Be sure to massage the skin gently, in order to prevent further irritation and swelling.

At the same time, you can also take this capsule with water but it has a delayed effect unlike the topical application directly on your skin. However, it will still fight off any swelling and help your body heal faster. Don’t take more than 5 capsules per day though, because that’s the recommended amount for over the counter use.

Keep in mind that you can also use vitamin E oil locally even when you start to peel, so as to moisturize the skin and prevent dryness.

#11 Black tea

Tea does wonders for your body, and now it can also be used to alleviate the undesirable effects of sunburns. There are many different teas you can use, and one of them is chamomile tea – but we’ve already discussed the advantages of chamomile on sunburns.

Another type of tea which can be employed successfully is black tea, because much like vitamin E it also has antioxidant properties. To prepare your black tea remedy, you’ll need to soak three tea bags in a jug until the water has become completely colored.

At this point, you’ll get a clean cloth and soak it in the tea in order to wash the sunburnt area. Don’t rub though, just dab your skin gently.

Black tea for sunburn

Keep in mind that this remedy only works in the first stages of sunburn, so it may not be as effective if you wait a few days before applying black tea on it. That’s because black tea is rich in tannic acid, which cools your skin and makes it less acidic, but it doesn’t work at full speed if the burn is more advanced.

Another way to improve this remedy is to add mint to the whole concoction, because mint also has cooling and antibacterial properties. Even freezing the tea in the form of ice cubes that are later topically applied on the sunburn is another ingenious at home cure.

Don’t forget that if you have sunburns on your eyelids, you can simply put tea bags on your eyes to make the swelling go away faster.

#12 Cucumbers

Another great way that actually works to relieve sunburns is with the aid of cucumbers, because they:

  • Reduce inflammation caused by enzymes like COX-2 (cyclo-oxygenase 2) that becomes activated after a sunburn.
  • Contain various substances with antioxidant properties, like vitamin C and some flavonoids.
  • Decrease pain because of their analgesic characteristics.
  • Contain a lot of water, so they hydrate your skin.

If you have some fresh cucumbers in your home, you can use them in a few inventive ways:

  • Make a paste out of cold cucumbers in your blender to apply on the sunburn or on the peeling skin.
  • Apply cucumber slices on your face or eyes to moisturize your skin.
  • Mix cucumbers with the various remedies we’ve talked about before, like yogurt, Aloe Vera or baking soda.

Preventive Measures

  • Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you need to go out, try to stay in the shade.
  • Wear hats with large brims in order to protect your shoulders and neck along with your head from sun damage.
  • Consider sunglasses that provide UV protection, because your eyes can also be damaged by the sun.
  • Wear loose clothes, that actually cover your body even if it may be hot outside.
  • Choose clothes with UV protection on their label.
  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen which has a sun protection factor of minimum 30.
  • Your lip balm should also have an SPF of minimum 30.
  • Consider an even higher SPF if you’re at the seaside or in the mountains, where the sun rays are more powerful.

Some over the counter medicine you can use

  • Naproxen. Used for mild pain relief and for anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Aspirin. Reduces pain and counteracts fever.
  • Ibuprofen. Analgesic for moderate pain.
  • Acetaminophen. Works for people who are allergic to aspirin and helps reduce pain, but it’s not a good anti-inflammatory. It’s considered better for older people.
  • CorticosteroidsThey modify the way in which your immune system works, in order to constrict blood capillaries and thus reduce redness.
  • Prednisone. Will reduce swelling caused by dilated blood capillaries, but doesn’t do much for pain.

Is That It?

With all the home remedies we’ve talked about, you can easily start a contest with your other friends or family exposed to sunburns to see which one works faster so you can all use it next time.

Cucumbers for sunburn

But there are additional things you can still do, like remembering to drink plenty of water because your skin isn’t moisturized only from outside. If you’re not properly hydrated, your burn will heal slower since your body doesn’t have enough water to create new skin cells.

Besides, the burning doesn’t stop once you get out of the sun, it continues to destroy healthy cells well after you’ve gone inside.

Just remember to use the protective measures for future reference, but for now keep the temperature in your home cool, pamper yourself and don’t pop your blisters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dennis Owens
Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.

  • Jason Delgado

    Speaking from experience i know that baking soda and organic apple cider vinegar mixed together is a great home remedy for sunburn. Also i know that aloe vera is also useful for sunburns. The only downside that wasnt mentioned in this article is the smell that come from some of these home remedies, also what about finding these items in the wild? Could you find some of these ingredients in the wild in case you suffer a sunburn while traveling?

    • Dennis Owens

      The quick solution outdoors is a source of cool water and shade. These factors can significantly help reduce the extent of the sunburn and other complications. Another often overseen remedy in a more systematic way is to hydrate yourself. Hydration allows better healing and restoration process, and speeds up the repair of the damaged cells.

  • Justin Banks

    I wonder why the author does not tell about the benefits of coconut oil in these situations. It is effective in the treatment and healing of wounds and burns, prevents putrefaction and accelerates the regeneration of tissues, protecting from penetration of infection into the body. Has a local analgesic effect when applied on the affected area. When applied to affected areas, coconut oil forms a layer that protects from external dust, air, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Coconut oil is often used to effectively treat bruises because it speeds up the healing process of damaged tissues.

    • Dennis Owens

      Coconut oil is a good remedy for sunburn as part of the supplementary management. As you’ve already mentioned its great benefit and features, it really is a remedy worth noting.

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