Sunburn relief toolkit

Oops. You tried your best. You know that the sun can damage your skin, causing premature signs of aging and boosting your risk of developing skin cancer. So you packed your sunscreen and you remembered to smooth some onto your skin before you headed out into the sunshine. But you still ended up with sunburn.

Perhaps you forgot to reapply every couple of hours? Perhaps you forgot to reapply after that quick mid-afternoon shower? Perhaps the SPF just wasn't enough for your skin type. For whatever reason, you're now over-baked, burned, and bemoaning your fate. What to do?

There is no quick cure for sunburned skin. Time heals. But as you wait for your charred skin cells to slough off and regenerate, you can take steps to soothe the pain, burn, and swelling associated with sunburn.

Here are 18 conventional and not-so-conventional items to add to your sunburn relief toolkit. Some you might have sitting around the house, others you may have to hunt down at health food stores or in the produce section. If your sunburn has blisters, don't apply anything on the burn without checking with your health care provider first.

The burn basics:

  • aloe vera: The gel of the succulent aloe plant has always been tops for treating sunburn, since it helps to stop pain and inflammation. The gooey mucilage acts as a protective layer over a burn, protecting the sensitive and exposed nerve endings. Squeeze the gel right from an aloe plant or rub on lotions, gels, or ointments containing aloe as a main ingredient.
  • Calamine lotion: This pink, milky lotion will soothe and calm reddened skin and can decrease the itch that often occurs as skin begins to heal.
  • OTC (over-the-counter) pain medication: Choose acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen to quell the all-over aches and pains that often accompany a burn. ASA (acetylsalicylic acid or aspirin) should not be given to children or teenagers because it may cause a rare but potentially fatal disease called Reye's syndrome.

Bathe your burn: sunburned skin begs for a soak.

  • water: To turn down the heat, turn on the tap for a cool bath or shower. You could also drape wet, cold cloths or an ice pack with a cloth wrapped around it (do not apply ice directly to skin) across burned areas for 20 minutes a few times a day. Drink plenty of water – sunburn can make you dehydrated.
  • baking soda: Shake half of a cup into a cool bath to relieve pain. Keep your baking soda bath brief to avoid drying out your skin – 15 to 20 minutes max. Also, when you're done, air-dry your skin so the powder can stay on your skin for awhile longer.
  • oatmeal: The benefits of oatmeal go beyond breakfast. Half a cup of uncooked oatmeal stirred into a lukewarm bath can calm irritated skin. You might also create a cool oatmeal compress: wrap oats in a loosely-woven towel (or cheesecloth), run cool water through cloth into a bowl, discard the oats, soak the cloth in the oatmeal water, and apply the towel every 2 to 4 hours.
  • vinegar: Another soothing bath trick is to pour a cup of white vinegar or apple cider vinegar into cool water and soak. Or soak a soft cloth in apple cider vinegar and gently pat onto sunburned areas.

Smoothing, soothing strategies:

  • corn starch: Pat a little corn starch on the spots where you might experience uncomfortable chafing.
  • talcum powder: Another anti-chafing tool, talcum powder can be shaken over your skin before you put on clothes or between your sheets before you tuck in to bed.

Easy on the eyes:

  • cotton swabs: Wet the tip of a cotton swab and stick it in the freezer for a while. Once it's good and chilled, use it to cool down burns on the delicate skin around the eyes.
  • cucumber: Like the cotton swab strategy, cucumber slices are meant to cool sunburned skin around the eyes. Simply slice a cucumber into thin wedges and rest them over closed eyes – then lie back and enjoy the cool, refreshing sensation!
  • tea bags: A cooled-off tea bag is the perfect fit as a comforting, cooling eye pillow.

Botanicals vs. the burn: These herbal ingredients should be used cautiously, and you may want to do a spot check first on healthy skin to see if there is any irritation or reaction from it. Check with your doctor before trying these herbal remedies.

  • calendula: Also known as marigold, this herb turns up in ointments and creams to treat many different skin conditions. Its anti-inflammatory properties could offer some comfort to red, angry sunburn.
  • eucalyptus: With its familiar mentholated coolness, eucalyptus seems like a natural option for soothing sunburn. The oil of eucalyptus can be applied to minor burns and sunburns, lending its germicide properties to the skin's healing process.
  • echinacea: Aside from its reputation as an immune-booster, echinacea has also been used to treat skin wounds, including acne and boils. New research is revealing its potential as a protector against sun damage. Try diluting echinacea essential oil with water in a spray bottle and spritzing it onto areas where skin is peeling and raw.
  • lavender: The oil of this fragrant shrub offers gentle pain relief. Lightly massage a few drops onto sunburned skin for a cooling sensation.
  • stinging nettle: You may be stinging already, but there is a homeopathic sunburn remedy made from a prickly flowering plant called stinging nettle. It is taken internally for mild, non-blistering sunburns.
  • witch hazel: Oh yeah, that oddly-named tonic Grandma always kept in her medicine cabinet! Witch hazel is an astringent made from the shrub of the same name, rich in tannins and catechins that can help quell inflammation from sunburns. Moisten a cloth or cotton ball with witch hazel and gently apply it to inflamed spots.

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