Sunburn is the bane of summertime, thwarting tans and forcing people to cover up. It can happen at any time of the year though, because it is the exposer to the ultra-violet rays of the sun that cause it. When you’re getting bombarded with UV light, your exposed skin ups its production of melanin. Melanin is the dark pigment in the top layer of your skin (the epidermis) that gives it its color, and also determines how tan you can get. Upping the production of melanin is the bodies’ way of protecting the deeper layers of the skin, and the tan acts as a shield against UV light. However, the amount of melanin produced to protect you is determined by genetics (so people with fair skin produce less melanin and are more likely to burn) and all in all you end up with a natural shield equal to around SPF 4. The best thing to do is prevent sunburn, but even when you do try to protect yourself, you may end up burned anyways. To avoid peeling and get rid of the redness and stinging, here are 17 tips and home remedies for sunburn that are simple, fast, and effective.
1. Potato paste
If you’ve found yourself with searing hot red skin, root up a few potatoes. Potatoes have been known as a pain reliever throughout the years, working particularly well on minor skin irritations and soothing scratches, bites, and burns, as well as possibly reducing inflammation. Some people feel that the juice of the potato works the best, while others feel just slices are sufficient. Try both, and see which one is the best remedy for your sunburn.
You will need…
-A grater, blender, or knife
-Cotton balls, cotton pads, facial tissue, or gauze
Wash and scrub your potatoes thoroughly, and then either grate them over a bowl or cut them up and put them in a blender. There is no need to remove the peels. If you’re using a blender, give them a whirl until they’ve become quite liquid. If they seem too dry, you can add a small amount of water. Pour out the mixture, soak cotton balls thoroughly in it, and apply to sunburn. An easier perhaps more effective method would be to soak gauze and lay it over the burn.
If you’re using a grater, grate the potatoes over a bowl and apply the pulp, trying to get as much juice as possible. You can also try simply slicing the potatoes, and lying the slices directly on your burn.
2. Cool milk compress
A cool milk compress is one of the quickest, simplest and low-cost ways to treat sunburn. It doesn’t get much easier than just heading to the refrigerator for relief-and easy is good when treating anything. The initial coolness of the milk will ease the heat, while it also creates a layer of protein to protect your skin, help it heal, and further soothe discomfort.
You will need…
-Gauze or a clean, soft, washcloth
Pour a bowl of milk high enough so that you can thoroughly soak your compress in it. When the gauze or washcloth is saturated, let the excess liquid drain off. Drape across your burn, pressing gently so that it stays in place, and leave it on for as long as needed. If the milk in the bowl becomes room temperature chill it before re-dunking your compress.
3. Cornstarch/baking soda for fighting burns
Cornstarch, with its cool, silky texture, is a good way to naturally soothe your sunburn. Like milk, it is one of those things that you probably have lying around your house regardless of whether or not you planned on sizzling out in the sun. If you don’t have cornstarch, try some baking soda for quick relief. Both can diminish the pain and lessen the blazing red appearance of the burn.
You will need…
-Cornstarch or baking soda
How much cornstarch or baking soda you need will vary depending on how big of an area you want to cover. Whichever one you are using add cool water-not cold- little by little until it has reached a paste-like consistency. Smear the paste gently over your burn and leave on until the heat or pain has let up some. Rinse off completely.
4. Drink up
Sunburn is a burn. It sounds like stating the obvious, but we often don’t think about the fact that we really, truly, seared our skin. As with any other thing that burns your skin is dried out, and your body is probably dehydrated too. Keep a tall glass or bottle of ice cold water on hand at all times to make sure you’re keeping yourself full of H20, which is necessary to heal your damaged skin.
5. Cool off with mint & tea
Mint naturally cools and soothes whatever it touches, and sunburns are no exception. The tannic acid and theobromine found in green tea also helps relieve pain and heal damaged skin when applied topically.
You will need…
-1 quart of boiling water
-5 green tea bags
-3 cups of fresh mint leaves
-Cotton pads or a clean soft cloth
Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Remove the strings and tags from the 5 tea bags and add them, as well as 3 cups of fresh mint leaves, to a pan. Pour the boiling water over the mint leaves and tea bags and cover with a lid, letting is sit for approximately an hour so you can get all the good stuff out of it. Strain and then chill. When the mixture has chilled thoroughly, use cotton pads or a clean soft cloth soaked in the liquid and apply directly to the burn. You can also pour it over the burn if you wish. If you find yourself without green tea you can substitute black tea, which also contains tannins.
6. Indulge in some aloe
Aloe vera gel is many peoples go-to when they have sunburn. It’s cool, soothing, and seems to suck the sting and redness right out of your sunburn. Because aloe is useful for a number of other ailments (such as acne or heartburn) it’s handy to have a plant growing in your house. They’re easy to maintain, free from any additives, and you won’t have to keep running out to buy more from the store all the time once it’s big enough. If you would really rather prefer not having the plant, getting some good quality aloe vera gel from the store is the next best thing-it’s also more practical for treating larger areas.
You will need…
-An aloe plant with thick, juicy, leaves
-Enough store bought gel to cover your burn
If using the plant, slit several big leaves down the middle, not cutting all the way through. Spread them flat, and lay on your burn. You can also squeeze the gel out. If you’re using gel that’s already been extracted, apply however much you need to your sunburn. The plant is usually more practical when treating smaller areas, while the purchased aloe gel is easier to spread over a big burn. A combination of both works as well.
7. Season with vinegar
Vinegar has been part of family lore for literally hundreds of years. While there is no official research done on how it helps sunburns in particular, there are a vast amount of people out there who swear up and down that vinegar helps heal sunburn, or mildly burned tissue in general. Pure unfiltered apple cider vinegar seems to work the best, and often times proponents of this method say is most effective after a cool or tepid shower.
You will need…
-1 cup roughly apple cider vinegar
-a spray bottle (optional)
-Cotton balls or something similar for application
Try this after taking a water only shower if possible. Fill a spray bottle with pure unfiltered apple cider vinegar, and spritz it onto your burn, or soak cotton balls and apply. Let it dry.
8. Wash it with witch hazel
Witch hazel is a staple when it comes to healing a number of ailments and maladies. Witch hazel is a plant, but only the leaves bark, and twigs, are used medicinally. They contain chemicals called “tannins” which, when applied to directly to the skin, can help reduce swelling, repair damaged skin, and ward off nasty bacteria. You’ll most likely find witch hazel in a distilled liquid extract form, which simply distilled from the dried leaves, bark, and twigs of the plant. It may also be called witch hazel water.
You will need…
-3 tablespoons of witch hazel, approximately
-Cotton balls or a clean soft cloth
The amount of witch hazel you will need will depend on the area of the burn you want to cover. Pour the necessary amount into a bowl, and soak cotton balls or a clean cloth in the liquid. Dab on just enough to cover the burn-it doesn’t need to be dripping off. Reapply as needed for pain.
9. Take a bath with the Quaker guy
I should specify that I mean add oatmeal to a bath, and the one with the nice looking fellow wearing a hat tends to be the one most people have. That being said, any plain rolled oats will do. The polysaccharides in oatmeal will coat and heal your skin, while the water cools you down and keeps your skin hydrated and moist. Make sure your bath is tepid, or slightly on the cooler side. Cold water will seal off pores and your body will want to trap heat. The burn is hot enough that tepid water will still soothe it.
You will need…
-Roughly 2 cups of rolled oats, uncooked
-a clean tube sock
Fill a clean cotton tube sock with uncooked oatmeal and tie off the top. Make sure the top is really cinched off; otherwise the oatmeal will leak out and float around. Run a bath full of tepid water, only a little on the cool side if you feel even tepid is too warm. Toss in the sock and let it soak for a few minutes before getting in the tub. Squeeze the out the sock to get all the healing goodness, and repeat every few minutes. The water will get cloudy, and your skin may feel somewhat slick-which is a good thing. Let yourself air dry, or pat dry gently with a clean soft towel when you’re finished.
Note: Don’t linger for hours, as a super long soak may dry out your skin more in the end.
10. DIY burn cream
Whipping up a cream to soothe your sunburn at home can be easy, provided you have the right ingredients. Not surprisingly, this cream contains water, witch hazel, aloe vera gel, mint leaves, and baking soda, all of which relieve sunburn for various reasons. You can experiment by adding or subtracting other helpful ingredients to find out what works best for you.
You will need…
-1 tablespoon of witch hazel
-1 teaspoon of aloe vera gel
-2-4 teaspoons of baking soda or cornstarch
-1-2 cups of fresh mint leaves, or 1 teaspoon of peppermint oil
-2 tablespoons fresh, clean, water
Put 2 tablespoons of fresh water, 1 tablespoon of witch hazel, and 1 teaspoon of aloe vera gel, in a small mixing bowl. Stir together and then cover, letting the mixture blend and infuse for 2 hours. After 2 hours, add 2-4 teaspoons of baking soda or cornstarch, and 1-2 cups of roughly chopped fresh mint leaves. If it seems too runny add more baking soda or cornstarch slowly, or if it’s too thick, add small amounts of water slowly until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a jar or similar container with a tight fitting lid, and store in a cool dark place for 24 hours to let the cream fully infuse. You can than apply as needed. Making some ahead of time and keeping it in the refrigerator ensures you always have a handy cream to heal any sunburn you get during the hot summer months.
11. Don’t get burned
This had to be listed at some point-the best way to treat a burn is to not get burned in the first place. Forget about getting a ridiculous tan a.s.a.p. and apply some sunscreen. You’ll darken your skin gradually, and in a much healthier way.
12. Use plain yogurt
Live cultured plain yogurt contains an abundance of probiotics and enzymes that help heal our skin. When you find yourself red and sunburned, it can help you recover faster. Make sure it’s truly plain yogurt, not vanilla, and that it has probiotics.
You will need…
-1/2 cup or so of plain live cultured yogurt
A half cup of plain yogurt should be sufficient to treat facial burns at least, but feel free to use more if you want to cover more area. Wash your hands and apply cool yogurt directly to your burn, and let it sit for at least 5 minutes. When the pain has subsided, gently rinse it off with cool or tepid water.
13. Avoid suds
Do not soak your burn in soapy water, or take a bubble bath. Soap can dry out and irritate your already irritated skin. If you want to soak or submerge it, do so in a cool or tepid bath. When you’re done, pat yourself gently dry with a clean soft towel (be sure not to rub.) If your skin feels tight or dry afterwards, apply aloe vera gel or a similar moisturizer.
14. Double check your meds
Various antibiotics, creams, pills, and antifungal medication can make you ultra-sensitive to the sun. When I was treating my acne I would awe people with how I functioned in spite of my sizzling red my skin (if you count taking 30 minutes to pull on clothes functioning.) The medications I was on made me extremely sensitive to sunlight, and I burned after about 10 minutes outside. Check with your doctor or read the side effects of your medications if you find yourself getting burned easier and on a more frequent basis than usual. It could be that you have to use a little extra protection if you’re compromised due to medicine.
15. Apply, reapply
To get the most out the SPF (sun protection factor) of your sunscreen, apply it 30 minutes before you even go outside. Don’t neglect sensitive areas like your ears, the back of your neck and shoulders, and the backs of your legs and arms. If you’re sweating or swimming, reapply as needed. Don’t get too big for your britches when you’ve been cooking yourself on the beach all day and haven’t gotten burned. A sunburn doesn’t truly set in until 24 hours after sun exposure, and chances are you’ll be feeling the consequences of not covering up later.
16. Watch the clock
While it would be impractical to advise people to stay indoors during the prime hours of the day, keep an eye on what time it is. The sun is the most powerful, and damaging, when around its highest point. Between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm is when it’s at its strongest, so make sure you’re being wise about how you expose yourself.
17. Cool it, cucumber
Instant relief-that’s what a cucumber is to scorched skin. Not only is a cool cucumber soothing to the burn simply because its cool, but its antioxidant and analgesic properties promote healing and further relief from discomfort. You can apply it in a couple of ways, but however you do it, the swelling, redness, and pain should diminish soon.
You will need…
-1 or 2 fresh cucumbers, chilled
-A blender or a knife
If you’re going for mainly quick pain relief, slice up a chilled cucumber and lay the slices on your burned skin. Flip the slices when the first side heats up, like how you flip a pillow to get the cool side up. For a longer lasting effect, chill 1 or 2 cucumbers and toss them in a blender to create a paste. Feel free to add in some aloe vera gel or cornstarch if you want it a little thicker.
Sunburn is the perfect case of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That being said you’ll still get burned from time to time, no matter how diligent you are. It’s also a great example of an ailment you can treat at home, without needing a bunch of special creams. On top of that, home remedies for minor sunburns are generally easy to whip up, and usually cost little to nothing. Also, forget racing to get a tan, the long term effects just aren’t worth it. Be patient; protect yourself from harmful rays, and rest assured knowing that when you get older you’ll radiate a healthy glow that can’t be beat, no matter what color your skin is.
You may also like our list of the best natural remedies for heartburn & acid reflux
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By Claire GoodallClaire is a lover of life, the natural world, and wild blueberries. On the weekend you can find her fiddling in the garden, romping with her dogs, and enjoying the great outdoors with her horse. Claire is very open-minded, ask her anything :) Meet Claire→
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