Sunburn Basics: Causes and Naturopathic Tips
Picture this: you’re basking out in the sun, and you forgo the sunblock in order to get that sweet summer tan…only to find yourself with something a bit more painful. Laying out in the sun is great, until you’re left with the painful aftermath that is sunburned skin. Luckily, there are many natural and home remedies to help relieve mild to even the most severe sunburns. Here are some helpful naturopathic treatments to speed up the healing process and get your skin back to its optimal health.
The Basics: What is a Sunburn?
Striking the delicate balance between enough sun and too much sun can be tricky, especially when you lose track of time during those long summer days. A sunburn happens when your skin has an inflammatory reaction to the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, damaging the skin’s outermost layers.
Symptoms of a Sunburn can include…
- Skin that is warm and tender to the touch
- Swelling and/or blistering of the skin
- Redness of the skin
- Itchiness and peeling of the skin
- Skin that feels tight, or slightly painful
When you should seek medical help:
While the average sunburn can be very painful, and makes life a bit uncomfortable for a few days, it usually doesn’t require medical attention. A severe sunburn however, often referred to as sun poisoning, can lead to a number of more serious symptoms such as; painful blisters that cover a large area, facial swelling, nausea, vomiting, fevers, chills and headaches. If you experience these symptoms you should ditch the home remedies and seek immediate medical attention.
Top Naturopathic Treatments for Sunburn
1. Aloe Vera
There’s a good reason many drugstores are lined up with sunburn relief products that include Aloe Vera during the summer season. Known as the “wonder” or “burn” plant for its effective healing properties, Aloe Vera has been used for years to aid in healing wounds and various skin conditions. While store-bought aloe gels provide much needed soothing and cooling, be sure to avoid those containing alcohol which will sting and dry out the skin. Extracting aloe straight from the leaf of an aloe plant is also an option and can ensure the most concentrated and potent healing, however some people may experience aloe allergies so it’s always best to test it out on a small patch of skin first.
2. Witch Hazel
Witch Hazel is a natural skin healer touted for its astringent properties and its ability to reduce inflammation thanks to the tannic compounds found in the bark of this flowering shrub. This old botanical remedy has been used since Native Americans first discovered its anti-inflammatory properties by grinding up the flowers and bark of the witch hazel into a poultice and applying it topically. If you have a Thayers Witch Hazel Facial Toner lying around, grab a cotton ball to dab a bit of Witch Hazel onto overexposed skin. It should provide instant relief and will promote the healing process by alleviating inflammation and swelling.
Oatmeal is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties and as a result is a common ingredient in many daily moisturizers. Adding a cup of finely ground whole oats to a cool bath will moisturize, reduce the urge to itch, and its anti-inflammatory properties will help to soothe irritated skin.
4. Coconut Oil
You’re probably aware of its moisturizing properties which will of course reduce peeling, but coconut oil can also reduce itching, inflammation and has analgesic abilities. Don’t apply it immediately, instead first apply a cool compress, and wait until the skin has cooled before rubbing plain, natural coconut oil over any burned areas.
5. Baking Soda
By neutralizing acids and balancing the pH of your skin, baking soda can help to take the sting out of a sunburn. Pour half-cup to a cup of baking soda in a cool bath, or add a few spoonfuls to a small bowl of water, then soak cotton balls in the solution for a few minutes before rubbing them on the burned areas.
Tips to Remember
- Prevention is KEY: SPF is your best friend when it comes to avoiding painful sunburns. By helping to absorb the harmful UV rays of the sun, your skin is protected and you’re less likely to be at risk for long term skin issues, such as fine lines and wrinkles, and more serious issues like melanoma. A broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB rays is recommended, apply sufficient sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun and be sure to reapply every couple of hours or more, and after water activity
- Seek shade: UV radiation is strongest at noon. Plan your days accordingly to limit sun exposure between 10am and 3pm when the UV index is high.
- Clothing: Protective clothing goes a long way! Wear a hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves – less skin exposed means less chances for sunburn.
- Hydrate: Drink plenty of water! Sunburned skin retains fluids within the skin barrier, which is what causes the swelling and inflammation of newly burnt skin. Keeping hydrated will help to make sure you don’t suffer other negative side effects such as dehydration.
By Dr. Maura Henninger, Licensed and Board-Certified Naturopathic Physician. For more information on Dr. Maura, please visit drmaura.com