With summer quickly approaching, it is important to prepare and treat your skin for the warm weather and abundant sun exposure that it may get. There are so many skin types and skin tones, and everyone’s susceptibility to sunburn is different; therefore, skin prepping, sun protection, and sunburn treatment can vary from person to person. Applying lots of sunscreen and limiting time in the sun can help prevent sunburn and skin damage universally, but sometimes getting sunburned is inevitable.

Sun exposure can lead to sunburn in response to ultraviolet (UV) exposure, indicating skin damage. As a result, the body’s defense mechanisms set out to repair the skin cells and damage that has occurred. These mechanisms include:

  • Inflammation – necessary to repair damaged cells
  • Skin peeling – the shedding of dead and potentially cancerous cells
  • Tanning/pigmentation – cells thicken and produce melanin in order to prevent UV rays from penetrating deeper into the skin.


Sunburn Treatment and Relief

Here are some simple sunburn treatments and sunburn relief products that you can use to soothe your skin.

1. Aloe vera cream and gel

With sunburn comes painful red skin that may be hard to soothe. Aloe vera is a popular medicinal plant that has been used for sunburn treatment and injuries. It is an inexpensive sunburn relief product and can be purchased by the leaf or as an ingredient in gels and creams. With a slimy gel-like texture, aloe vera contains many beneficial compounds like vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants. A review of four experimental studies shows that aloe vera can greatly reduce sunburn treatment time by almost nine days and improve symptoms of pain and discomfort.

How to use: Spread the gel or lotion directly onto the skin multiple times a day. Repeat every day until sunburn heals.

Aloe vera plant in front of wooden wall

Credit: Charles Deluvio at Unsplash.com

2. Oatmeal bath

Oatmeal baths have been used to soothe skin irritation and pain and relieve itch for generations. With various compounds, oatmeal has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that act to provide sunburn pain relief. Additionally, oatmeal hydrates the skin, helping to accelerate skin repair and peeling.

How to use: Purchase colloidal oatmeal, or grind up grocery store rolled oats into a fine powder. Then, fill a tub with warm water, as hot water will exacerbate skin irritation and itchiness. Add the oatmeal and soak for 15 minutes. Oatmeal baths can be taken up to three times a day; repeat each day as necessary.

3. Cucumbers

Cucumbers are known for their refreshing taste and use as eye covers in the spa, but they can also provide instant relief to sunburned skin. Packed with antioxidants and analgesic components, cucumbers will both promote skin healing and repair while also providing pain relief.

How to use: Sliced cucumbers can be placed directly on the skin for quick pain relief. Another use is to chill 1-2 cucumbers and blend them into a paste. Apply this cucumber paste directly onto the sunburned area for 10-15 minutes and rinse off with cool water.

Cucumber slices artistically

Credit: Pixabay at Pexels.com



4. Cool water compression

Using a cool water compress can sometimes be the most immediately soothing remedies for sunburn. Cool water helps to constrict the inflamed skin and dilated blood vessels, reducing the hot and painful-to-touch area.

How to use: Run a washcloth or small towel under cold water, and place over the sunburned area until cloth turns warm. Repeat multiple times a day or as needed.

5. Baking soda

Another sunburn relief product that can be used in a bath or on a cool compress, baking soda helps to soothe the skin and reduce itching and inflammation after a sunburn. With its alkaline properties, baking soda can help to restore the skin’s natural pH levels, ultimately acting to soothe the painful burn. Additionally, its antiseptic properties help to heal the skin and prevent infection.

How to use: For sunburn treatment, baking soda can be made into a paste by mixing two tbsp of water and of baking soda into a one to one ratio. Apply to the sunburned area using a cotton ball. Leave on for 10 minutes, and rinse off with cool water. It can also be used in the bath by adding a cup of baking soda into a tub of cool water. Soak for 20 to 30 minutes and repeat daily.

6. Dairy products

Dairy products like whole milk or yogurt are handy items that you may have at home and can be used for sunburn pain relief. It is important to use dairy products with fat content, as this will help to lock in the skin’s moisture and keep the cells hydrated. Dairy products’ fat, protein, and slightly acidic pH all contribute to soothing sunburn as they have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce pain. Lactic Acid is a type of alpha hydroxyl acid found in dairy products; alpha hydroxyl acids can function to help shed old, irreparably damaged skin cells to reveal the healthy new layer of cells underneath while also reducing wrinkling and other signs of aging, which can increase with sun damage. Dairy products also contain probiotics that can help to restore the skin’s natural barrier. Additionally, the use of cold dairy products will further soothe the skin as the cool temperatures will reduce swelling by constricting blood vessels.

How to use: Yogurt can be applied directly to the affected area. Keep layer on for 10 minutes and rinse off with cool water. Milk can be used in a cold milk compress; soak a washcloth in cool milk and apply to the skin for anywhere between 15 minutes to a few hours.

Glass of milk sitting outside on a ledge in front of grass


Credit: Pixabay at Pexels.com

7. Potatoes

An unknown fact about potatoes is that they have great medicinal properties and can be used as sunburn pain relievers. Packed with an abundance of enzymes, vitamins, flavonoids, and alkaloids like potassium, vitamin B1, B3, and C, potatoes can help to nourish the skin, remove unhealthy tissue, and reduce pain and inflammation. Though there is limited research on the medicinal use of potatoes, this is a natural remedy that has been passed on throughout generations and cultures. Additionally, boiled potato peels can be used as sunburn wound dressing, as they may promote the survival of superficial skin cells and speeds up epithelial skin cell regeneration.

How to use: Make a potato paste by skinning and cutting up raw potatoes into small chunks and pulverizing them into liquid form. Add water if it looks dry. Then, apply to the sunburned area. When using the peels, first boil the peels and place over the sunburn to create a bandage or wrap. Be sure to let the boiled potato peels cool first.

8. Lidocaine

Lidocaine is a common component of many sunburn treatments and sunburn pain relief products as it is a medication that numbs tissues in the applied areas. Lidocaine can be found in products like lotions, aloe vera, or creams that can be applied directly to the sunburn. This will temporarily numb the area and soothe the sunburn.

How to use: Products like aloe vera that contains lidocaine can be purchased at your local drug store. They can be applied to the skin multiple times a day as needed for pain.


9. Stay hydrated

When treating a sunburn, it is important to stay hydrated both internally and externally. Make sure to drink lots of water and fluids, as water is essential in bodily functions like cell repair, immune system activity, and overall wellbeing. Additionally, keeping the skin hydrated through moisturizing with fragrance-free moisturizers, especially on the sunburned areas, will lessen skin peeling and irritation as well as preventing the skin from drying out.


How to use: While it is important to moisturize throughout the day, the best time to moisturize is right after a shower or bath. Make sure that your skin is still damp so that the lotion can trap in the water for extra hydration.

10. Apple cider vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is another natural product that can help combat the burning and painful sensations of sunburn, while also reducing itching. This is due to its many beneficial properties including its antiseptic ability to kill germs and relieve pain, as well as the vinegar’s ability to balance the skin’s pH and reduce blistering. Apple cider vinegar also has a high polyphenol content, which are antioxidants that can curb cell damage that could lead to cancer.

How to use: It is extremely important to dilute the apple cider vinegar with distilled water, as the acidity of concentrated apple cider vinegar can create burns of its own. A safe yet effective dilution would be a four to one ratio of water to vinegar. After thoroughly mixing before application, this can be applied in a spray bottle or using cotton pads to dab onto the sunburned area.


Preventing Sunburns is the Best Approach

While there are many remedies to soothe an existing sunburn, it is important to prevent sunburn from occurring in the first place, as it will lead to skin damage and potentially skin cancer. Make sure to limit the time spent under the sun and apply sunscreen before and throughout this time. Those with fairer skin are more prone to burning, as they lack higher amounts of melanin that protect against penetrating UV rays. Enjoy your summer fun in the sun, but remember to protect your skin!

For further reading on sunburn and protecting your skin from the damaging effects of the sun, click on the article links below:

Three Traditional Chinese Solutions for Sunburns

Newest Sunscreen Trend: Double Application

Outdoor Activities Affect Our Skin

Ultraviolet Protection Factor Clothing

5 Surprisingly Simple Steps to Guide You to a Great (Not Just Good) Sunscreen

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