We’ve all been there. After a day of fun and sun you get home to find your skin has turned an unsightly shade of red, leaving you wondering how to treat a sunburn without reaching for products laced with dangerous ingredients. Not only is sunburn painful in the short term, it can also lead to premature aging and increase your risk of skin cancer. Not good. Whether you have a sunburn yourself, or (even worse) your kids are suffering from red, stinging skin, figuring out how to treat a sunburn and get quick relief is crucial. Here are some of the treatments I go to most often for myself and my kids to get rid of the pain, inflammation, and redness that comes from too much exposure to the sun.
How to Treat a Sunburn … 11 Natural Remedies that Work
There are plenty of ways to soothe the skin and take care of your body when you’re living with a sunburn. I’ve used most of these depending on the type of burn I’m dealing with and what I have on hand. While they won’t get rid of a sunburn right away, they will help speed up healing time and leave you and your skin feeling much more comfortable.
- Cold Water Compress: Simple, but it works! Wet a clean cloth with cold water from the faucet, or wrap it around a few ice cubes. Lay it on your skin until the compress warms up. It feels amazing and is one of the simplest ways to find momentary relief from a burn.
- Aloe: This one’s a classic. Aloe vera gel feels so soothing when applied to burned skin. If you grow aloe vera at home, just snip off a leaf and squeeze the gel onto burned skin. If you don’t have a plant, bottled gel also does wonders, just be careful to choose a high quality brand that doesn’t contain any nasty ingredients (it shouldn't be neon green in color). Store your bottle in the refrigerator for extra cooling relief.
- Essential Oils: If you’re a fan of essential oils, you probably have some on hand already that can help soothe and heal sunburned skin. My favorites are Lavender and Peppermint, but Geranium, Chamomile, and Tea Tree oils are also very soothing and effective. Combine 10-20 drops of oil with cold water to make a compress, or mix with aloe vera gel or yogurt and apply over the burned area with a cotton ball.
- Oatmeal Bath: Finely ground oatmeal can help to reduce inflammation when mixed in with a bath. You can buy oatmeal made for specifically for this purpose (it’s sold as colloidal oatmeal), or you can make your own by using a food processor to pulverize a cup of whatever oatmeal you have in your kitchen. Mix the oatmeal into a bath of lukewarm water, then enjoy a soak. My kids really love oatmeal baths: they’re soothing and lets them have a little extra watery playtime.
- Mint Tea: Mint tea is simple to whip up, especially if you have mint plants growing in your garden. Bring a quart of water to boil, then pour over 3 cups of fresh mint leaves and 4-5 green tea bags. Give them an hour or so to steep, then strain and chill. Use this mixture the same way you would a cold water compress. The mint creates a lovely cooling sensation, while the tannic acid and theobromine present in green tea can help to speed up healing in damaged skin.
- Witch Hazel: Witch hazel is another ingredient that contains tannic acid. When applied to the skin it helps to repair damage and reduce swelling: perfect if you’re wondering how to treat a sunburn. Witch hazel can also help reduce skin peeling and flaking. To use, pour a few tablespoons into a bowl, then soak it up with cotton balls or a clean cloth. Dab onto burned skin and enjoy the instant relief. If you don't keep witch hazel at home, check out this post by Tips Bulletin- it's definitely worth keeping on hand!
- Coconut Oil: Coconut oil can be used as a mild sunscreen, but with SPF ratings between 5-10 it’s doesn’t have enough juice to protect your skin from even moderate sun exposure. However, it does make a great remedy for sunburns. Apply it to burned skin for pain relief, reduced redness, and a reduced risk of peeling.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Like witch hazel, apple cider vinegar is an astringent. Astringents shrink body tissues, which leads to less inflammation. Perfect for sunburns, and I always have it in my kitchen. When I use apple cider vinegar for burns I usually do the same thing I would for witch hazel: soak cotton balls and dab onto the skin. I’ve also heard that you can pour a cup or so into a tepid bath and soak for a while. Before you reach for the vinegar, though, make sure you don’t have any cuts or wounds on your skin. Trust me: you won’t like the results!
- Cucumber Paste: This crunchy vegetable always ripens when the summer sun is at its most intense, so it makes sense to use it to treat sunburn. Its high concentrations of essential vitamins and minerals help nourish burned skin as it cools away the sting. If simplicity is your thing, just cut your cucumber into slices and place onto burned skin. To get a little more out of your veggies, use a food processor or blender to make a paste. Apply to burned skin and let it sit for a half hour before washing it off.
- Yogurt: I’ve always loved eating yogurt for its beneficial probiotics and enzymes. Turns out it is those same compounds can also help speed sunburn healing. Use clean hands to spread about a half cup of plain, live cultured yogurt onto burned skin. Let it sit for five minutes or so, then rinse off with cool water. Who knew yogurt was how to treat a sunburn and get relief?!
- Lettuce: I’ll admit I haven’t tried this one myself, but I have friends who swear by it. Boil a fistful of lettuce leaves in water for ten minutes or so. Remove the leaves and let the liquid cool in the refrigerator for a few hours. Use cotton balls or a clean cloth to apply to burned skin.
Sunburn Treatment Do’s and Don’ts
You can use all the natural sunburn remedies you want, but if you’re not taking great care of yourself in other ways they won’t be as effective. DO drink plenty of water. Just like any other burn, sunburns dry out the skin. They also come from spending too much time in the sun, which can lead to dehydration. Make sure your body has enough moisture to heal completely by drinking plenty of water. DON’T use soap. Soaking in soapy water, taking bubble baths, and showering with low quality gels can irritate and dry out sunburned skin. Use a mild soap while taking cool baths or showers instead. DO moisturize regularly. Natural sunburn treatments feel great, but many of them can dry out your skin. Be especially diligent about your moisturizing routine to replenish some of that moisture. DON’T overlook medications. Certain antibiotics, pills, and antifungal medication can make you much more sensitive to the sun. If you’ve recently been burned, take a closer look at the medications you’re taking to see if they might be putting you at risk.
How to Treat a Sunburn Once and For All: Don’t Get Burned!After a few good sunburns growing up I realized that the best way to treat burned skin is to avoid it altogether. Here what I do when I’m spending time in the sun to keep from getting burned:
- Apply Sunscreen: Even if it’s overcast, I’ll put sunscreen on myself and my kids a half hour before we go out. Since I burn pretty easily, I like to go with 20-25 SPF. I try to be thorough: there have been a couple times I’ve missed the back of my neck or the top of my ears, and believe me, I regretted it the next day! Don’t be stingy: buy a good quality physical, mineral sunscreen. The active ingredients should be zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or both.
- Reapply Sunscreen: If we’re spending an extended amount of time outside, I reapply every couple of hours, or more often if we’re swimming.
- Find Shade: The sun is at its most powerful between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. If we’re going to be in the sun during those hours, I try to make sure there’s a source of shade. If we’re at the beach I’ll usually bring an umbrella along, or try to find a nice shady tree if we’re at a park. As long as there’s a way to take a break from the sun, I’m happy.
- Dress Smart: Yeah, I’m the one in the big, floppy sunhat and the giant sunglasses. I may not always be the most fashionable one at the pool or beach, but it’s way better than spending the next few days with bright red skin!
Figuring out how to treat a sunburn is something we all have to deal with from time to time, but prevention can make it a much less common problem.