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Natural Sunburn Relief

By Kim Robson:

We all know that sunscreen is essential for protection from sun exposure. Recently, some sunscreens and the toxic chemicals they often contain have come under scrutiny, not just in light of human healthbut also that of the environment. Mineral sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are the safest, as they rely on a physical barrier to the sun instead of a chemical one. But they don’t look very attractive. We’ve also recommended a DIY natural sunscreenyou can make at home.

Sometimes, though, we become complacent or forgetful about sun exposure, and then we end up with the dreaded sunburn. It’s painful, exhausting, unsightly, and it lasts for days. Not to mention that it causes permanent and cumulative skin damage, which could lead to skin cancer.

Sunburn happens when UV light damages the DNA of the skin. At first, the skin responds by producing melanin, which is what makes us tan. But that lasts only a short time. When the skin senses it’s being damaged, it sends blood to the area to help with repair, which leads to redness and inflammation. The more damage, the more inflammation.

Obviously, it’s best to avoid sunburn in the first place. In addition to simply staying out of the sun, we can also help our bodies defend themselves by eating foods with plenty of Vitamin D and Omega 3 acids. But if sunburn does happen, here are some ways to help naturally alleviate the pain and inflammation:

Aloe Vera— Aloe has long been known for its soothing and healing qualities for minor burns and abrasions. Avoid that neon green stuff and look for 100% pure certified organic aloe vera gel with neitherparabens,artificial colors, nor animal testing. Better yet, make your own aloe vera gelat home. Chill it in the fridge for extra cooling on the skin.

Herbal Tea—Not just for applying to sunburn, but also for drinking. Staying hydrated will help your body recover faster. Make a brew of unflavored black tea, mint leaves, chamomile, and/or lavender flowers and allow to cool or even chill in the fridge. Apply to sunburnt areas with a cold compress.

Folk remedies for sunburn

Apple Cider Vinegar— It may not smell great, but ACV is considered an excellent sunburn remedy. Dilute with cold water in a 1:1 ratio, and spray directly onto sunburnt areas. Re-spray as needed for cooling and pain relief.

Milk Bath— Draw a lukewarm (not hot!) bath and pour in an entire quart packet of evaporated milk. Stir into water until dissolved and no clumps remain. Soak until your fingers wrinkle. It works because enzymes in the milk help boost the skin’s healing, and the warm moisture helps hydrate it.

After the sunburn has healed a bit, you can apply certain oils to reduce peeling and redness. But during the first few days, oils can actually heat the skin and delay healing. Give it a day or two, then try adding these oils:

Vitamin E Oil— A powerful antioxidant that can reverse skin damage from sunburn. Add a few drops to your aloe vera gel before applying. Also, eat plenty of vitamin E rich foods like leafy greens, avocados, nuts and seeds. 

Coconut Oil— Antioxidant properties reduce inflammation, boost immune system function and protect the body from harmful free radicals that cause premature aging and disease. Its high levels of saturated fats moisturize the skin.

Essential Oils— Add a few drops of lavender, helichrysum, chamomile or mint essential oils to your aloe vera gel or spray.

Here’s a great recipe for a soothing all-purpose sunburn relief spray.


  • 4 cups filtered or spring water
  • ¼ cup fresh peppermint leaves
  • ¼ cup fresh chamomile flowers
  • 1 TBSP loose leaf yerba mate tea
  • 1 TBSP green tea leaves
  • ½ cup aloe vera gel
  • 10 drops peppermint essential oil

Boil 4 cups of water in a saucepan. Remove from heat and add the herbs and tea, stirring with a spoon to moisten thoroughly. Let the infusion steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain the herbs and discard. Pour the tea into the jar. Place in the refrigerator and let cool completely. Once the brew has cooled, add the aloe vera and essential oil. Seal the lid tightly and shake well to blend. Transfer to a spray bottle or use as a cold compress. Makes 1 quart.

Hint: If you can’t find fresh peppermint and chamomile, or loose leaf yerba mate or green teas, substitute tea bags: 1 peppermint, 1 chamomile, 1 yerba mate, 1 green tea. Just be sure the tea bags contain only the pure herb without any flavorings or additional blended herbs.

A Few Additional Notes:

  • Avoid the temptation to pick at and peel your skin. Let it happen naturally.
  • Avoid oils for the first day or two of your sunburn.
  • Avoid all further sun exposure.
  • Wear loosely fitting clothes.
  • Don’t wear makeup over your sunburn.
  • Eat vitamin-rich foods and stay well hydrated.
  • For a severe sunburn, it’s best to see a doctor for treatment.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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