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 sunscreen 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
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. 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.
Natural Antioxidant Protection for Your Sunburn
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!
- 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.
- peppermint Note: not recommended for young children, elderly or pregnant women.
- 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.
I 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 digest?
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 find it later, but you’ll also be taken right there to reduce overwhelm!
Better a Sunburn that Sunscreen at School!
I can’t talk about sunburns without also discussing the most common way to prevent sun damage, which is chemical sunscreen (even though it should be protective clothing and staying out of the hottest sun).
I reminded you last year that it’s WORSE to put chemical sunscreen on your child in the morning before school than to risk a sunburn at lunch recess.
By recess time, that chemical sunscreen has penetrated so deeply into the skin that it (a) is NOT protecting the skin anymore at all, and (b) will react with the sun to form additional free radicals. Once you put chemical sunscreen on, it’s like a contract to reapply every two hours or more for the entire time you’re in the sun or accept the fact that you did more damage than you would have if you had done nothing.
It’s a BIG deal, and I plead with you, don’t do it!!!
Someone asked me recently for my baby steps to better sun protection, how to switch painlessly from the cheap Coppertone bought with coupons to the mineral-based sunscreens I review and recommend HERE, which are nearly always more expensive.
There are no baby steps.
You just have to make the switch.
If you want to work to stay out of the sun and be more cognizant of how often and when you apply sunblock, you can use less, which is a baby step for the budget I suppose.
For example, if it’s after 3 or 4 p.m. or before 10 or 11 a.m., we don’t bother. We try to take a break from sunshine midday, so maybe we only have to apply once or twice on our children. We certainly don’t put sunblock on at 7:30 a.m. and expect it to be doing anything by noon at school.
Learn more about non-toxic sunscreen and sun safety:
- Natural Sunscreen Review: Over 100 Mineral Sunscreens Tested by One Family!
- Have Some Hormone Replacement Therapy with your Bikini
- Sun Protection from the Inside Out (VIDEO INTERVIEW)
- Best All-Day NATURAL Facial Moisturizing Sunscreens with SPF
- Your UVA Protection Probably Isn’t Working (Especially in the Pool)
- Why I Won’t Listen to Consumer Reports on Sunscreen
- You CAN Put Sunscreen on Babies Safely – Best Choices Here!
- 3 Reasons You Should Never Touch Spray Sunscreen
- Frugal Options to Protect your Family NATURALLY from the Sun
- Sun, Sunscreen, Skin Cancer and Safety: How Much do You Need?
- Hawaii’s Ban on Toxic Sunscreen Ingredients
- Will the FDA Really Remove “Safe” Status from ALL the Conventional Sunscreens??
- Sun Protection Trends Finally Moving in the Right Direction! (VIDEO Interview with a lawyer and safe sunscreen advocate)
Need Some Baby Steps?
Here at Kitchen Stewardship, we’ve always been all about the baby steps. But if you’re just starting your real food and natural living journey, sifting through all that we’ve shared here over the years can be totally overwhelming.
That’s why we took the best 10 rookie “Monday Missions” that used to post once a week and made a printable checklist so you can track your progress.
Sign up to get the checklist and weekly challenges and teaching on key topics like meal planning, homemade foods that save the budget (and don’t take too much time), what to cut out of your pantry, and more.