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Monday Mission: So You Say You Got a Sunburn?

Treating a Sunburn Naturally

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to prepare for the inevitable red cheeks, singed shoulders or peeling nose this summer. Today we’re talking about how to heal, soothe and repair your damaged skin after a sunburn – naturally.

The picture above is my oldest on Easter morning – not a very bad sunburn, but a huge surprise nonetheless. The first sunny day of the year after many months of cold temperatures often catches me off guard. We had soccer games (windy and chilly!) the day before, and my son  had spent much of the afternoon running around outside, playing.

In spite of the fact that I had four new sunscreen brands that I was dying to test out to update the massive natural sunblock review, I don’t think the sun crossed my mind once, other than in gratitude that it was finally back, and warm.

Even though the burn wasn’t bad, and I knew he wouldn’t even peel, I still wanted to protect his skin as much as possible from sun damage. Shortly after taking this photo and giving the kids time to dig through their Easter baskets (organic raisin boxes, natural fruit strips, a Larabar, corn-free/no-artificial-sweetener gum, gardening gloves and seeds, and soy-free chocolate chips, if you’re wondering), I put my knowledge of the sun into action.

Is it Too Late Once You’re Already Burned?

Once you’ve eaten the doughnut, it’s pretty much too late, but you can still exercise to fight the negative effects. Once you’ve lost your temper with your kids, it’s pretty much too late, but you can still be a good example of humility and apologize and ask for forgiveness.

Sunburns are a little like that.

Yes, you’ve messed up. You’ve let the sunshine get a point for the round, and the skin is already damaged (true for both sunburn and suntan, to be honest).

But it’s not too late to clean up the mess a little bit and do what you can to mitigate the negative effects.

How the Sun Works

3 at beach

When you’re exposed to the sun, the UV rays (both UVA and UVB) penetrate your skin, a lovely image, and over time the radiation causes DNA damage.

That “time” can be as short as 15 minutes at high noon, for fair-skinned people, those under 6 years old, at high altitudes, lower latitudes or with the reflection of water to enhance the rays.

When the DNA is damaged, your skin ages prematurely (wrinkles) and releases free radicals. Nobody likes free radicals, even the children of the 60s. Winking smile Free radicals cause cancer, and they’re the little buggers everyone is battling when they focus on their “antioxidants” like the TV commercials tell you.

And there’s the key – if you’ve got a sunburn (or even a suntan, in reality) – you can use antioxidants to help heal the damage and prevent future problems.

And while you could rub mashed blueberries on your sunburn, I suppose, I figure it’s far better to eat the blueberries (which will help your skin build up defenses, too, double bonus!) and use other antioxidants on the skin.

Sources: Medical News Today, WebMD, Wikipedia

Natural Antioxidant Protection for Your Sunburn

How to Heal a Sunburn Naturally

The quickest antioxidant you can grab for your skin is something you likely (hopefully!) already have in your kitchen: the oil of 1000 uses, coconut oil.

You’ll want to buy virgin coconut oil for this purpose (and because it’s delicious) because it’s been shown to have higher antioxidant properties than refined oil (International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition), along with a host of other health benefits that are reduced by processing.

By consuming good foods like coconut oil, other anti-oxidant rich foods, and foods high in Vitamin F (fish, nuts, cod liver oil), Vitamin C, and Vitamin A (long term), you’ll build the foundation for the prevention of sunburn, or at least the reduction of DNA damage from the sun. [RELATED: Great interview with a Harvard-trained dermatologist about sun protection from the inside out!]

But you know it’s still going to happen here and there.

You can pump up the potency of your coconut oil by blending it with antioxidant-rich essential oils such as:

  • all citrus oils (orange, lemon, lime) Note: most citrus oils can increase sun damage IN the sun, so use at night only!
  • lavender
  • tea tree
  • eucalyptus (which is also anti-inflammatory and a pain reliever, so use this one if you have it!) Note: not recommended for young children or elderly.
  • rosemary
  • peppermint Note: not recommended for young children, elderly or pregnant women.
  • cinnamon
  • frankincense
  • oregano
  • basil
  • Roman chamomile

*Be sure to research any essential oil you use, since they really can be quite potent and there are many contraindications for youngsters, pregnant women, and more. The essential oil site shares a lot of information about how to take caution with EOs…I don’t want to use them without knowing what I’m doing! I wrote this post about what I learned that I wish I had known years ago…

One sunburn relief that doesn’t involve getting a little greasy is to mix 10 drops lavender essential oil (here’s how to find medicinal lavender and not just aromatic) with 4 oz. water in a spray bottle. Shake well and spray on location to help ease the pain and heal the skin.

source: Modern Essentials, 3rd edition

We have an old review sample on hand that combines coconut oil, beeswax (to thicken, although it’s still liquid in mid-summer!), and organic essential oils of lavender and eucalyptus. Those are both pretty potent antioxidants and relief for the immediate sunburn pain, so if you were mixing your own, I’d highly recommend both.

Kabana antioxidant serumI also appreciate having this little bottle around, which is intended to help protect facial skin daily and prevent wrinkles and such, but the high antioxidant properties and direct delivery of Vitamin E, A and D3 to the skin makes me think it has to be a good thing as a sunburn healing agent as well. It doesn’t last very long, so I need to toss out last year’s bottle and get a new one. You really should only keep a bottle for one summer, no more, because of the sensitive fats.

Too much to look through right now?

I organized alllll the sunscreens we reviewed in their recommendation category – one page at-a-glance to find out what is safe to buy AND works! Print it or save to your phone for reference!The guide also includes answers to questions people ask me all the time:
  • Which brand rubs in the clearest?
  • What’s the best for all day outdoor sports?
  • How do I save money on natural sunscreens?
  • What looks good on ladies’ faces?
  • Is there an option that is FAST to apply to wiggly kids?
I’ll send a copy to your email so you can see it right away and find it again later!

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

About The Author

16 thoughts on “Monday Mission: So You Say You Got a Sunburn?”

  1. Katie, your link to the informing article about essential oils doesn’t work. Do you have any other resources where I could find out what *not* to do with essential oils?

  2. My favorite sunburn relief is vinegar. You smell like pickling brine but it completely removes the burning within a couple minutes.

    Witch hazel works really well too…but there is a couple minutes of intense burning and then the redness is gone (literally) by morning!

    I think I’m going to try mixing vinegar, aloe, and lavender essential oil in a spray bottle to see if that works!

  3. Sheila via Facebook

    Yesterday I took the kids to the park. It was 90 degrees and clear …. so I really should have put on sunblock and hats, but I didn’t. The kids ran around in the sun for two hours, and I sat in the shade. Who got burned? Only me.

    Sigh …. at least they have more resistance to the sun than I have. (They’re 1/4 Hispanic — don’t look it, but it seems to make a difference in how they never burn.)

  4. Marilyn via Facebook

    Whew! We got sunburned during Easter break – a few spots on everyone here and there. Glad to see that I did what I was supposed to do w/o being sure it was the best at the time! lol Thanks for the info.

  5. A couple of notes about the essential oils you recommended, most citrus oils are photo sensitive and can cause a sunburn toe of burn if put in the skin and exposed to sub, so be careful with that. Also Eucalyptus and a few other oils (like Peppermint) cause slowed breathing in children and the elderly and so are not recommended for those groups (even if you buy the special oils that are the only pure oils, the purer they are, the stronger they should be and so possibly more dangerous.) I would also be careful with Peppermint if you are pregnant as it can cause miscarriage. Please research the essential oils that you use to make sure they are the right one for your situation!

    1. Melanie,
      Thank you for this note! I read about some of those precautions with essential oils a while ago and made a note to myself to always mention doing your research before using any EOs, and then in this post completely forgot. I’m so glad you mentioned these! I’ll update the post now…
      🙂 Katie

  6. Colette Souder

    I make a sunscreen with three oils that help block the sun: Sesame seed oil, coconut oil and Shea butter. Zinc is added, but not enough to make one look like a mime. It is scented with Rosemary, Lavender and Palmarosa.

    For sunburns, Rainwater Farms Healing Salve is wonderful: Olive oil, calundula, comfrey, goldenseal, plantain, beeswax, vitamin E oil and lavender. This is also good for cracked fingers, poison ivy, bee stings, burns, eczema and psoriasis. No parabens, petroleum or sulfates.

  7. Christy S. Lube

    I read a remedy here on your blog previously (it may have been a comment by another reader) about fish oil and vitamin C, which helps your body make vitamin D from your sun exposure, even after the fact (to a point). It is AMAZING how well and how quickly this works. My daughter got a sunburn in FL when we were last down visiting family, she took C and fish oil before bed, and was not even pink in the morning.

  8. I got my first sunburn of the year Saturday. I went outside at 3pm and didn’t think I needed sunscreen. WRONG! I burn easily, though, so I should have known better. I also have an allergic reaction any time I get burned, so I’ve been suffering with that this week. I always heard that vinegar helps soothe a sunburn, and Saturday night and Sunday, it really helped take the pain away. My allergic reaction didn’t start until Monday, when the burn was starting to heal, and unfortunately the vinegar doesn’t do a thing for that. Right now, I’m taking Benadryl round the clock. A few years ago, I couldn’t stay on top of it and ended up going to the doctor for a steroid shot, so hopefully that won’t happen this time! Anyway, the lesson I’ve learned is that I should ALWAYS wear sunscreen!!!

  9. Apple cider vinegar also works really well at helping to relieve the stinging and not peel so badly! After getting sunburned I start with ACV then coconut oil later, applying both multiple times.

  10. Kristina Munsey

    I tend to treat after my burn with vit c and a luke warm bath with a combination of oatmeal, epson/sea salts and chamomil. I swear by the bath as my burn is gone in 12 hours. I’m fair skined and no matter what I do I get a burn.

  11. Aloe Vera is the best! Works better than coconut oil for me AND it’s not greasy. Coconut oil makes my eyes itch too. I buy a tube of gel; but you can snap a leaf off if you have a plant. It’s also excellent for burns, and effective for eczema and contact dermatitis .

  12. Yes, coconut oil works great!! That’s my major go-to, and there have been many times when I got more sun than I realized (and everything starts turning pink by that night), and I lather on coconut oil, and it is completely gone/tan by morning. Those few times when I can tell it’s going to turn into a real burn (i.e. it actually starts to sting, etc.), I use a high-quality organic aloe all over then follow up all over with the coconut oil which helps with the stickiness of the aloe (and also helps with the burn), it’s my secret weapon :-).
    I was actually in Florida back in February and got more of a burn than I have gotten in a while (I was bright red when I came inside, yikes!, not a good sign…), and I did all of the above . That first evening I definitely was feeling warm and stingy, but by the next day, I was still red, but it didn’t hurt. I kept up with the aloe/coconut oil, and even though I could tell the burn was bad enough I would eventually peel, I was still amazed at how quickly all the redness faded and how little it stung (the same kind of burn years ago would have been painful for at least a couple days). My face especially was bad enough that first day that a guy at Panera even commented on it, haha :-). But, by the next day, my face looked pretty much fine. And, it was the only part of me that didn’t end up peeling, and I attribute that to the fact that I use coconut oil on my face twice a day after washing it compared to the rest of me that I was not as diligent about applying after the first two days (although I still didn’t peel as bad as I would have in years past).

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