Ouch! Most of us know the tight, red-hot feeling of a sunburn. When the sun gets the best of you, count on these easy and effective remedies for quick relief.
Tips for Soothing Sunburns
Apple Cider Vinegar
Believe it or not, apple cider vinegar is an effective remedy for soothing sunburned skin. Herbalist Kiva Rose speeds healing after a sunburn with a rose petal and leaf vinegar. (Learn how to make your own infused vinegar here.) Rose (2008) advises diluting 1 part rose vinegar with 7 to 10 parts water and frequently applying the mixture as a compress the first day after a sunburn. Adding a cup or two of infused vinegar to a tepid bath is another way to use vinegar for sunburns. Don’t have rose vinegar? You can use apple cider or vinegar made from any of the herbs listed below to encourage healing.
Ways to use: compress, bath, spray
Another well-known remedy for sunburn, aloe vera soothes, moisturizes, and helps damaged skin heal. Use the gel, not a lotion, and apply it to sunburned skin for cooling relief. Or you can mix aloe with essential oils, hydrosols, or even herbal tea to increase its healing effects. Harvest your own gel from aloe leaves, or by it in the store. If you opt for a store-bought gel, check the label for additives and search out the purest aloe you can find. If you harvest your own aloe, you can store it in your refrigerator for up to a week. You can also freeze aloe for future use.
Ways to use: compress, spray, gentle rub
Did you know that honey can help damaged skin heal? As a humectant, honey encourages the skin to retain moisture, which makes it a wonderful hydrating remedy for sunburns. To use, gently spread honey over the burned area. Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes then rinse with cool water. Reapply every few hours for further relief. Follow up with aloe vera or a cooling hydrosol spritz.
Ways to use: mask, ingredient in homemade remedies
Yogurt is one of my favorite ways to care for the skin; it cools, nourishes, and moisturizes. Use plain yogurt with active cultures, and spread it over the burned areas, letting it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Improve the healing power of yogurt by blending it with a bit of cooling cucumber (Mars, 1999).
Ways to use: mask
Lovely, fragrant hydrosols can help to cool and soothe burned skin and can hasten healing. They are generally considered safer than their essential oil counterparts. Favorites for sunburn include: lavender, calendula, chamomile, rose geranium, peppermint, yarrow, and witch hazel. Keep a spritzer bottle of hydrosol in the fridge and use it as a healing spray. You can also use hydrosols as compresses, in the bath, or as a substitute for water in homemade preparations.
Ways to use: compress, bath, spray, ingredient in homemade remedies
Herbs To Use
When using herbs for sunburns, choose those that are high in tannins, that calm inflammation, and those that promote healing. Good choices include rose, elder flower, green and black tea, plantain, comfrey, calendula, lavender, St John’s wort, witch hazel, and chamomile.
Ways to use: compress, poultice, bath, spray, ingredient in homemade remedies such as lotions, creams and salves
Lavender essential oil can help speed healing of skin that has been burned, either by sun or other burns. Other essential oils to consider include: rose geranium, helichrysum, chamomile, and tea tree. These essential oils should be diluted prior to application. A thick aloe gel works well for this. In addition, see this expanded list on the best essential oils for sunburn.
Ways to use: compress, bath, spray, ingredient in homemade remedies, such as lotions, creams, and salves
Methods Of Application
Spray It On
Spritzers are simple to make and easy to apply. Use hydrosols, aloe gel, infused vinegars, or essential oils to make your own burn spray. You can also use herbal teas, but they will spoil quickly. To prolong the life of your spray, store it in the refrigerator. As an added bonus, a cold spray will give you extra cooling relief.
General Sunburn Spray Recipe
This is a basic recipe for making a sunburn spray. You can use the hydrosol, herb infused vinegar, and essential oils that call to you, or you can use those you already have on hand to create this cooling spray.
1 ½ fl oz aloe vera gel
1 ½ fl oz hydrosol, such as rose (Rosa spp.), calendula (Calendula officinialis), or witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
1 tbsp herb-infused or plain apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp fractionated coconut oil
30 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) essential oil
10 drops peppermint (Mentha x piperita) essential oil
4 fl oz glass bottle with spray top
- Combine the coconut oil and essential oils in the bottle and stir or shake to mix well. For adults, use up to 40 drops of essential oil to make a 2% dilution. For children, omit peppermint essential oil and reduce lavender essential oil to 20 drops for a 1% dilution.
- Add aloe vera gel, hydrosol, and vinegar and stir or shake to mix well.
- Cap and shake well to combine the ingredients.
- Store in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks before making a fresh batch.
- Shake well before each use, and spray evenly over skin.
Cold Compresses & Poultices
From a simple compress of diluted apple cider vinegar to a messier poultice, these two methods of application will soothe a sunburn and promote healing. I like to use compresses and poultices when a sunburn is extreme and doesn’t cover a large area of the body. For compresses, soak a cloth in cool herbal tea, hydrosol, or diluted infused vinegar. Wring out the cloth and lay it over the affected area. When the cloth warms up, replace it with a freshly-soaked one. Repeat until the burn cools and follow-up with a gentle rub of aloe gel. To learn more about making and using an herbal poultice, visit here.
In The Bath
Adding a healing agent (vinegar, herbal tea, essential oil, etc.) to a tepid bath can be another way to soothe sunburned skin. Baking soda, oatmeal, milk, and cornstarch can help, too. For messy ingredients, such as oatmeal, try making a sock bath. Follow up your healing bath with a spray, aloe rub, or, if the sunburn has cooled enough, you can apply a salve.
Salves, Creams & Oils
These remedies can encourage healing after the heat of the sunburn has left the skin. If you apply an oil-based preparation when the skin is still hot, it can seal in the heat and cause further pain. A simple infused oil made with any of the herbs listed above would be great to encourage healing. Or you can use an infused oil to make this herbal burn salve.
Keeping Cool On The Inside
Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus), also known as Siberian ginseng, is an adaptogenic herb that can help the body cope with stress. When taken during the summer, it can offer relief for people who have a hard time in the heat (Mars, 1999).
Seasonal fruits and veggies can also keep our bodies healthy and hydrated during the summer, too. Fruits and vegetables often have a high water content, as well as vitamins and minerals that we need to replenish after a day in the hot sun. Enjoy munching on cucumbers, watermelon, mango, celery, tomatoes, peaches, honeydew melon, leafy greens, grapes, mints, and coconut.
Staying hydrated in the heat of summer is essential to your comfort and health. Drink plenty of water or herbal teas to help hydrate you and cool you down from the inside. Cooling herbs for a delicious summertime teas include: peppermint, rose, lemon balm, hibiscus, and oatstraw. Try serving these with a splash of lime or lemon juice—yum!
Consider your activity level, too. Strenuous exercise during the heat of the day can cause heat exhaustion. Save big workouts for the mornings and evenings when outside temperatures cool. Gentle yoga and swimming are great summertime exercise options that won’t cause heat to build-up inside the body.
*Please note: heat stroke can be fatal and warrants medical attention. The suggestions above are for keeping cool during the summer and are not sufficient for addressing heat stroke. If you experience hot, dry skin, a racing heart, rapid breathing, dizziness, altered behavior, nausea, vomiting, a throbbing headache, or a body temperature of 104 or higher, please seek medical attention.
Find more helpful summertime herbal tips and tricks here:
- Cool As A Cucumber: 5 Ayurvedic Tips For Summer
- Summertime Foot Care Tips For Kids
- Allergy Home Remedies For Families
Cooling Summertime Recipes
- Healthy High-C Herbal Ice Pops
- Hibiscus: Herbs We Love For Summer
- Summertime Maca Smoothie
- Strawberry Avocado Hemp Seed Kale Salad
Clark, Marge. (2007). Hydrosols For Skin Care. Retrieved from http://theessentialherbal.blogspot.com/2009/10/hydrosols-for-skin-care.html
Harris, Lea. (2015). Hydrosols, Hydrolats, Aromatic Waters – Oh My! Everything You Wanted To Know About Hydrosols. Retrieved from http://www.usingeossafely.com/hydrosols-hydrolats-aromatic-waters-oh-my-everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-hydrosols/
Mars, Brigitte AHG. (1999). Natural first aid. Vermont: Storey Books.
Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Heat Stroke. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heat-stroke/basics/symptoms/con-20032814
Rose, Jeanne. (1999). 375 essential oils and hydrosols. California: Frog Ltd.
Rose, Kiva. (2008). Rose Vinegar: My Favorite Sunburn Soother. Retrieved from http://bearmedicineherbals.com/rose-vinegar-my-favorite-sunburn-soother.html
WebMD. Heat Stroke Symptoms & Treatment. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/heat-stroke-symptoms-and-treatment