Sunburn Home Remedies: 11 Natural Cures for Instant Relief

Sometimes you simply miss a spot with your sunscreen and end up with an itchy and painful sunburn. But, don't fret; check your pantry or fridge because you'll likely find remedies to give you some relief.

August 30, 2021 6 minutes read

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We've all been there – after a refreshing day at the pool or beach, we often wind up with a fiery-red sunburn later in the evening. The skin is itchy, swollen, and painful even to the slightest touch. Luckily, there's plenty of home remedies for sunburns that can do wonders and serve as the first aid.

So, no worries if drugstores are closed and you can't get your favorite healing ointment. Your skin will heal fast with these home remedies, and the redness and pain will quickly subside.

But, before we dive into all the home goodies you can use, let's find out why we get sunburns in the first place.

Sunburn: Causes and Symptoms

Yes, the Sun gives us life, light, colors – without it, we simply wouldn't exist, nothing would. But it also gives us three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

And while UVC rays are nothing to worry about since they don't reach the Earth's surface or your skin, UVA and UVB rays can get to you and will undoubtedly leave a mark on your skin after prolonged, carefree Sun-time. Not only do these rays reach the surface of your skin, but they penetrate its deeper layers, causing all sorts of issues – from skin aging to skin cancer and, of course, sunburns in between.

The first symptom of sunburn is usually skin redness, itching, and touch sensitivity that can occur several hours after unprotected exposure to UV light (especially UVB), from either sunlight or artificial source, such as tanning beds. Essentially, it's your skin's inflammatory reaction to excessive UV radiation and damage to the outermost skin layer.

Your skin will usually need about four to seven days to recover. During this process, the redness and pain will turn into skin peeling, a sign your body's trying to get rid of damaged skin cells.

Other, more severe sunburn symptoms, a.k.a., sun poisoning, may include blistering, dehydration, infection, fever, headache, fatigue, general weakness, nausea, and more intense pain, swelling, and skin sensitivity to the touch.

Sunburn Home Remedies and Treatments

Of course, you can always reach for creams and ointments that will help regenerate your burned skin faster. However, these might not always be readily available. In that case, you can use a number of household items and natural remedies to cool and soothe burning, pain, and itching.

Here are some of the most potent home remedies for sunburn that can bring you instant relief:

#1: Cold Compress

To reduce itching, pain, and swelling, you can place a cold compress on sunburned skin. Wrap a bag of frozen veggies (or an ice pack if you have one) in a soft cloth or towel and apply to damaged skin. You should never apply ice directly to the skin (without wrapping it in something first), as it can irritate your skin and cause further damage. Use it throughout the day, for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

#2: Cool Shower or Bath

Another way to cool down the affected area is to hop into a cool shower or bath. The water shouldn't be too cold but tepid. Also, it would help if you avoided scrubbing or using soaps, bath oils, or bubble baths because these can dry your skin out and worsen its condition. After the bath, pat your skin with a soft towel (no rubbing) but don't dry it completely.

#3: Oatmeal Bath

You can make a refreshing and regenerating oatmeal bath that will soothe and hydrate your skin and reduce tingling and pain. You'll need whole, uncooked oats (and a tub, of course).

Blend the oats using a blender (or a food processor) until you get a fine powder. Then, while your tub is still filling with water, slowly disperse the oatmeal powder into it (the water should be milky white). Again use lukewarm or tepid water. Soak yourself in it for about 20 minutes. Oats will soothe and cleanse your skin and help it heal faster.

#4: Milk

This is the one ingredient that you likely have at home. And if not, you can easily get it at the nearest store. Soak a compress in chilled milk – it shouldn't be too icy but pleasantly cold. Put the dressing on your red and painful skin and leave it on for about 10 to 15 minutes. Milk will hydrate and soften the skin, relieving dryness and tightness caused by sunburn – exactly what your skin needs at that moment.

#5: Yogurt

This traditional sunburn medicine is rich in protein and probiotics. As a result, yogurt has strong soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, ideal for healing and nourishing sun-damaged skin. Use Greek yogurt as it's easier to spread, and simply apply it in a thick layer to the affected area. Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes. You can reapply it several times a day.

#6: Cucumbers

Packed with a variety of natural botanical compounds, cucumbers have both analgesic and antioxidant properties. They will refresh your skin and reduce pain and itching. It would be best to chill the veggie before applying it to your sunburned skin to relieve heat and swelling. Use a blender to make a cucumber paste and then apply it to the affected area.

#7: Honey

Honey has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, reducing sunburn-induced inflammation and prompting the skin to heal faster. It also has moisturizing properties, soothing the tightness and pain of your injured skin. Apply a thin layer of honey to the skin and leave for a couple of minutes. Then rinse with cool water.

You shouldn't treat your kids' sunburns with honey, especially if they're younger than 12 months. This is because honey and honey products contain Clostridium botulinum spores, and ingesting them can lead to developing infant botulism, an intestinal disease.

#8: Aloe Vera

Aloe vera gel is excellent for hydrating and soothing inflamed skin. It eases discomfort, dryness, and tightness of sunburned skin and speeds up its healing process. If you have the Aloe vera plant, you can extract its gel yourself by cutting its leaf along its length with a sharp knife (it's best to use flashy, thicker leaves as these will contain more sap). Then use a wooden spoon to scrape the gel out. Apply the extracted gel directly to the skin and leave for about half an hour.

Bear in mind that some children may be allergic to the Aloe vera plant. So, if you're not sure if that's the case with your youngsters, you should avoid using aloe to cure their sunburns, just in case.

#9: Cornstarch or Baking Soda

You can make a cornstarch (or baking soda) bath and soak in it for about 15 to 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can create a paste by mixing cornstarch with some water and apply it to your skin. Cornstarch will draw the heat out of your sunburned skin, cooling it and giving it that much-needed relief.

#10: Green Tea or Chamomile Tea

Green tea, or green matcha tea, is packed with antioxidants like tannins, which can help heal damaged skin and relieve sunburn pain when applied topically. Additionally, chamomile tea contains bisabolol, flavonoids, and a bunch of fatty acids, acting as an emollient and soothing inflamed skin.

So you can use them individually or mix and use them together. First, prepare the tea as you normally would. Once it's cooled, soak a cotton gauze (or a cloth) in it, and place it on the affected area. You can even use tea bags for your eyes (once they are cooled, of course).

#11: Witch Hazel

Like green tea, witch hazel is packed with tannins, potent antioxidants that relieve pain and soothe damaged skin. If you have witch hazel extract or oil, you can use it by applying it directly to the skin using a cotton pad or your fingertips. Or you can dilute several drops of witch hazel extract in a glass of water, put the solution in a clean spray bottle and sprinkle it on your skin.

Other Ways to Help Your Sunburned Skin

Treat your sunburned skin by giving it what it needs, which is a lot of TLC and hydration. So, follow these tips for the best possible outcome and the quickest recovery:

Stay hydrated

The swelling and blisters pull a lot of water to the skin's surface. So, make sure to get enough water throughout the day to replenish the fluid in your body and help it recover quicker. This also means eating foods containing lots of water, like cucumbers, watermelons, pineapples, bell peppers, and other fresh fruits and vegetables.

Avoid Applying Oils to Burned Skin

Although often recommended, oil-based skincare products as well as pure oils, such as coconut oil or calendula oil, shouldn't be applied to freshly sunburned skin. While otherwise very beneficial to the skin, oils can trap the heat under the burned skin and make things even worse. Instead, wait until your burns are healed to use these oils as a body moisturizer.

Wear Lightweight and Loose Clothing

While it's important to protect your skin when outdoors and cover it with clothes, you should avoid wearing too tight clothes. They will irritate your skin even more, potentially causing inflammation and permanent damage. Therefore, choose loose clothing with lightweight and natural fabrics (like cotton) to allow your skin to breathe and heal faster.

Don't Pick on Your Blisters

Don't peel your skin or burst your blisters because it could potentially cause inflammation and leave scarring. Let your skin peel and heal on its own. If the blisters burst on their own, wash them with water, apply a topical antibiotic, and cover the area with gauze. Be gentle.

Protect Yourself From the Sun

During the first several days after your sunburn, you should be particularly meticulous about wearing sunscreen with an SPF 50 (and reapply it every two hours), especially if you can't escape spending hours outdoors. If possible, avoid going out between 11 am and 4 pm when the Sun is at its strongest. And when you do go out, don't forget to put your sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat on.

When to See a Doctor?

If you’re unsure what to do about your sunburn, you should always consult with your doctor.

Oftentimes, things can go out of hand, and your household items and ingredients might not be enough. In that case, ask for professional help and a doctor’s advice.

Be particularly mindful of certain prescription medications you might be taking, like antidepressants, antibiotics, antifungal meds, oral contraceptives, diabetes drugs, or diuretics. These meds may increase your skin’s sun sensitivity and cause adverse reactions.

Some Parting Words of Advice...

So, the key to treating sunburns is a lot of patience and extra care for your skin while it's recovering. Your skin can heal on its own, but to speed up the process and help it heal without scarring, you need to help it a little bit. Therefore, make use of these home remedies, keep cool, stay hydrated, and protect your skin as much as possible.

Nevertheless, it's always better to be safe than sorry – so, try not to get sunburned in the first place. Always wear sunscreen and protective clothing, especially during hot summer months.

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