Homemade Sunburn Remedies

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Before talking about sunburns, I would first like to address the sunscreen issue. We, in Arizona, are very aware of how important it is to use plenty of sunscreen. Second to Australia, we have a very high occurrence of skin cancer and so it's very important that we stay vigilant about using sunscreen. Our children especially need to be protected. There has been much to do about sunscreens lately and, to be honest, I can't help but be a little confused about what kind of sunscreen we need to use and how safe is it? There is one source of information you may want to check out that has been trying to explain all the ins and outs of this issue. The group's name is Environmental Working Group and their website is www.egw.org. Here is a direct link to their latest sunscreen news: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/

There are several articles that you may find interesting and you will also be able to find out about the sunscreen you use. They have a rating system for what's safe and what's not.

I also found an article in my Most Favorite Magazine in the World, 'Herb Companion', where it notes all the precautions used in Australia. Here is a small excerpt:

In the 1990's The Australian government, alarmed by the rising rate of skin cancer in their country, devised an amazingly effective national health campaign: 'Slip, Slop, Slap!' Translation: Slip on a T-shirt, Slop on some sunscreen, and Slap on a hat. The message worked and the rate of skin cancer dropped. To go with those simple guidelines, here are a few more helpful tips and suggestions:

• Don't use exfoliation treatments such as scrubs or dry brushing before going out in the sun - they increase skin's sensitivity.
• Some medications, such as antibiotics, antihistamines and oral contraceptives, may increase sun sensitivity. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about your medications before spending time outdoors.
• Wear a hat with a 3-inch brim that wraps all around.
• Trees in full leaf can provide some sun protection (10 to 20 SPF), so stay in their shade whenever possible.
• Apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going out in the sun to allow cream to bind to skin and increase protection, and reapply frequently.

Saying all that, I have to admit there are those times when no matter how hard we try, sunburn happens. Then we need to address the pain and discomfort of the burns. There are several homemade remedies that I would love to recommend that I used as a child and others that I used as an adult.

There are two degrees of sunburn. The symptoms of a first-degree burn include pain, heat, redness and tender to the touch in the skin affected. These symptoms can appear from 1 to 24 hours after exposure to the sun. After a couple of days, this type of burn will 'cool' into a suntan or thin layers of skin may peel off.

The symptoms of a second-degree burn include extreme reddening, swelling, pain and even blisters can appear. The burn goes deeper into the skin's layers damaging small blood vessels and elastic fibers in the skin, and later there is wrinkling of the skin. In most severe cases, the burn may be accompanied by chills, fever, nausea, and/or delirium. This type of sunburn can be dangerous, especially to children, and a doctor's advice may be recommended.

My remedies are best used with first-degree burns or even when you used plenty of sunscreen but feel a little 'sun saturated'. Along with these remedies remember that you need to re-hydrate the inside of your body, too. Drink as much water as you can for the first couple days you have the burn.

Once a sunburn appears, it's a good idea to cool the body off as soon as possible. Take a cool shower or soak in a tub of lukewarm water for around 10 minutes. This will lower the skin's temperature and will help in the healing process. When you are done showering or soaking, try to air dry your skin or, if you need to use a towel, gently pat your skin dry as opposed to rubbing it.

There are products out there that are made for sunburns but use with caution. Check the ingredients for lanolin. The product may feel cool and soothing at first but once it's warmed by the body, the lanolin becomes heated by the body's temperature and it can get very uncomfortable. Once applied, it can't be taken off since it's soaked into the skin.

Here are some homemade remedies ranging from real simple to a little more work-intensive, depending on your needs and time.

Bath Soaks

If you choose to soak in a tub, it may help the healing process and cut down the itching if you were to use one of the following:

Baking Soda

Fill a tub with mild water and add a cup of baking soda. Baking soda returns the skin's pH to normal and acts as a great neutralizer. This bath will cool the skin down and allow for it to 'breathe' a bit, lowering the temperature naturally. You may want rinse off with clear water as, once dry, the baking soda may leave a light, white, powdery residue.

Oatmeal bath

Similar to baking soda, oatmeal is a neutralizer and is awesome for sensitive and damaged skin.  You can just throw in a ½ cup or so in the tub while the water's running or, to prevent clogging the drain, you may want to make an oatmeal 'flour' by running it through your blender or food processor. Sometimes, I'll wrap it up in a cheese cloth and toss it in the bathtub.

Aloe Vera

When my granddaughter was a toddler, she called aloe vera the 'magic plant'. I always have a plant nearby to use on those minor burns we get from working in the kitchen around hot stoves and ovens. I am a firm believer in its miraculous healing properties. It's also great for sunburns since it's a natural anti-inflammatory. It not only soothes, it accelerates the healing process and removes the itch. It also penetrates the deeper layers of the skin and helps the skin rejuvenate itself by lowering the temperature and cooling the skin. You can use a real aloe plant--cut off a spear, split it open and rub the clear gel from the inside of the leaf on the sunburn. Or you can scrape the gel from the leaf and spread it over with your hands or a sable paintbrush, if the skin is extra sensitive. You can purchase aloe vera gel from a health food store or herb store. I use a terrific herb store in Chandler called 'Desert Sage Herbs' (website: www.desertsageherbs.com) where I get all kinds of interesting ingredients. The owners are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable and willing to educate those of us, like me, who are just dabblers in all-things-natural. There are aloe vera products that can be purchased at the drug stores but be sure the aloe vera content is greater than other ingredients, especially water, in order to gain the maximum benefit. Some will also have alcohol as an ingredient and that may burn a little once applied.

Here are two homemade recipes that use aloe vera as its main ingredient.

Sunburn Mist

4 oz aloe vera gel (store-bought or taken from a fresh leaf)
12 drops lavender essential oil
4 drops peppermint essential oil
1 sprig creosote (optional); pinch off any flowers. Creosote has amazing healing properties.

Put aloe juice in 4 ounce spray bottle. Add essential oils and creosote sprig. Shake well. Label and store in refrigerator for up to 3 months. A mist is better than lotion sometimes because burned skin is so sensitive to touch.

Aloe Vera Skin Gel

½ cup aloe vera gel (store-bought or taken from a fresh leaf)
1 TBS dried chamomile flowers
1 TBS vitamin E oil
2-3 drops peppermint oil

Mix together aloe vera gel and chamomile flowers in small sauce pan or microwave-safe container. Heat mixture gently but do not boil. Let mixture cool completely, then stain off chamomile flowers and discard. Stir in vitamin E and peppermint oils. Pour lotion into clean jar with a tight fitting lid and store in a cool, dry place. To use, massage lotion into skin as needed. For extra cooling refreshment, store lotion in refrigerator.

Black Tea Bags

One remedy I used growing up was wet black tea bags. The tannic acid in the tea draws the burn out of the skin and starts the healing process. After just one application, most sunburns are no longer painful and are less red. However, this treatment will act on the pain but may not prevent peeling.

To use black tea, make a large pot of boiling water. Add several tea bags to the water and steep until it's real strong tea (about 15-20 minutes). Add ice until the tea is just slightly warm. Put a bath towel (preferably a dark colored one; a light one will probably be "dyed" brown from the tea) into the pot and keep turning the towel until it has soaked up all of the tea. Have the sunburned person lie on the floor or bed on top of an old towel to catch drips. Wring out towel slightly and place the wet towel over the sunburned area of the body. Leave the towel on for a half hour for a moderate burn and an hour for a strong burn. The slightly warm tea will actually feel very cool on burned skin, and cold water would be almost painfully too cold on the hot skin. The burned person immediately feels relief from the wet, getting cooler and cooler gradually, with the actual temperature of the skin also lowering. You can also use the wet tea bags to rub over affected area.

White Vinegar

Plain white vinegar is a popular sunburn remedy. Many who try it say it helps to relieve pain when applied to the skin as a compress. Soak clean towels in a half water, half vinegar solution. Wring the towels and apply on the affected areas, avoiding contact with the eye area. You can also fill a clean spray bottle with the half vinegar, half water solution and spritz it onto the skin.


Yes, I said yogurt! It contains enzymes and acids that can help the sunburn. It might be a bit unpleasant to begin with (a little squishy), but once you apply it, relief comes in minutes. You can either soak a cloth in yogurt, or simply apply it on the sunburn area. Leave it on until it's dry (which happens soon after you placed it since the skin exerts high temperature). Rinse it off with cool water and repeat a couple times.

You may want to add a couple drops of lavender essential oil which increases the soothing effect and diminishes the irritation and redness. And smells nice!