A small amount of exposure to the sun does you good, providing you with the vitamin D your body needs – but too much is definitely bad for you! If you do happen to overdo it, here are a few natural after-sun treatments to ease your discomfort.
As Woody Allen so famously said about the requisite Hollywood tan: ‘I don’t know how many out there noticed, but I do not have what you call a “stock theatrical sun tan”, I’m redheaded and fairskinned and when I go to the beach, I don’t tan, I stroke.’
I’m also one of the strokers, not the tanners, so I fully empathise with Woody. But, what to do when you’ve been zapped by the sun’s rays and look and feel like a lobster in a pot of boiling water? Well, first give yourself a good talking to for not being more sun savvy, and undertake not to do it again! And don’t despair – there are a few natural remedies that can bring relief to scorched skin, while you wait for Mother Nature to heal the damage.
HOME REMEDIES FOR SUNBURN RELIEF
Aloe vera gel. Split a fresh leaf and apply the gel directly to the skin several times a day. Keep the leaf in the fridge to provide even greater relief.
Bicarbonate of soda. This good old kitchen cupboard standby often has my family quoting ‘bicarb to the rescue!’, as we use it for all and sundry. Add ½ – 1 cup to a tepid bath for sunburn relief. It balances the pH and is very soothing with- out being dehydrating.
Bulbinella. The sap of this fabulous indigenous succulent (Bulbine frutescens) is also a sunburn soother of note. Use it in the same way as aloe vera gel/sap.
Cornﬂour (Maizena) can be used to ease chaffing, e.g. on areas like the groin (panty line), shoulders (bra straps) and under the breasts, but don’t apply it if blisters have formed. Application of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and oils should also be avoided at this stage, as they don’t help.
Honey. The antiseptic and healing properties of honey are said to be useful for helping new epithelial cells to grow, but keep it as an option for the post-acute treatment phase.
Oats. A bath of tepid water to which you’ve added ½ – 1 cup of oats is very soothing – but remember not to soak for too long, and pat dry if you have to, or else air-dry your skin.
Tea. Many of the constituents found in green tea, for example, such as the polyphenols, tannic acid and theobromine, assist in soothing and healing sunburn. Infusions made from other teas, like herbal chamomile and rooibos, can also be used in the form of spritzers or compresses – and drinking healthy teas while recovering from sunburn aids rehydration.
Essential oils. Lavender, spike lavender, chamomile, peppermint, helichrysum, tea tree, rosewood and eucalyptus are all good choices for inflammation, pain and skin repair. Use at 1 – 5% in dilution, depending on how, where and on whom it’s being used – or consult a health care practitioner qualified in the use of essential oils for personalised advice.
Milk. A compress made with cold milk in which dry oats have been soaked is a simple soothing remedy for acute sunburn. Once the compress has warmed up, soak it in more milk-mix and apply as often as needed.
Vegetable oils. Once the skin is less sensitive and inflamed, you can shift from an acute treatment intervention to repair mode. Certain natural vegetable oils, such as calendula, calophyllum (tamanu), coconut, St John’s wort (hypericum) and rosehip seed oils, have wonderful regenerating powers. The addition of specific cicatrisant or skin-regenerating essential oils can further enhance the healing process.
Vinegar. Apple cider vinegar, in particular, is a soothing sunburn remedy. Add 2 cups to a tub of tepid water for a 10-minute soak, or just spritz a 50:50 vinegar/water dilution onto the skin as often as needed. In theory, vinegar minimises the stinging sensation of sunburn by balancing pH levels. However, simple evaporation is likely to be equally responsible for the cooling sensation.
Cucumber. It’s not only puffy eyes that benefit from this terrific veggie. Liquidise or grate cold cucumber and apply to scorched skin for instant relief. It also works well in a gauze compress.
Yoghurt. Plain, cold, unflavoured yoghurt has a wonderful refrigerant action on sunburn, and the enzymes in it help to speed up healing.
Potato. Pulverise or grate a clean, cold, raw potato and apply to the skin several times a day. It can also be applied as a compress, which is a bit less messy.
Zzzzzzzzzzzz’s. And when all else fails, get between some cool sheets and try to get as much healing sleep as possible to help your body and immune system recover from the damage.
10 TIPS THAT CAN ASSIST IN BURN CONTROL AND SKIN REPAIR
- Drink. Glug lots of water to rehydrate from the inside. Burns heal better when you’re well hydrated.
- Spritz. Make a spray with water, aloe gel, a bit of bicarb and a few drops of anti-inflammatory essential oils. Keep it in the fridge for optimal relief, shake well before use, and use as often as needed.
- Bathe. Cool baths and compresses are great for relief, but they can add to the dehydrating and moisture-loss effects of sunburn. Add some bicarbonate of soda, oats or vinegar to soothe flaming skin. Compresses can be left on for 10 – 15 minutes before reapplying.
- Moisturise. After bathing, apply a natural, alcohol-free moisturising lotion or gel (preferably one containing aloe) to immediately rehydrate your rosy-red glow. It’s easy to make your own, especially if hydrosols (plant waters) or teas are used as the main proportion of the recipe. Including essential oils ups the ante too.
- Refrigerate. Pop your after-sun product in the fridge to enhance the cooling and soothing benefits.
- Re-fry & Refrain. Wally-warning. In the future – revel in the rays with greater care, as each excessive sun exposure ups your skin cancer risk! And don’t prick blisters – the skin can get infected.
- Oil & Ice. Avoid using pure vegetable oils or vitamin E oil at this stage. Save the veg-oil treatment for when the inflammation has settled. There’s no conclusive evidence that vitamin E oil has any sunburn relief or post-burn skin repair benefits, though it is indicated for internal, preventive use. Likewise, avoid putting ice directly onto burnt skin – you don’t want to add an ice-burn to your sunburn!
- Soak & Shrivel. More than 10 – 15 minutes of soaking in the tub can exacerbate your lizard-skin impression significantly, and is likely to further desiccate and prune-up your painful human-torch-like skin into the bargain, too.
- Bubble & Dry. Soap and bubble-bath products can dehydrate the skin further, so avoid using them for a few days. And remember, it’s better to air-dry rather than towel-dry.
- Expose & Repose. This one’s a no-brainer, but must be stated. Avoid further sun exposure to skin that is already compromised, and don’t fall asleep in the sun – ever!