Sunburns occur when the skin is exposed to too much sunlight. “Too much” is subjective, of course, because different skin types react differently to varying degrees of sun exposure, but a recent Skin Cancer Foundation survey found that 42% of all adults reported getting sunburned at least once in the past year.
Sunburn symptoms can vary in degree, from red skin and mild discomfort to blistering and peeling of the skin and severe pain that can be disabling for days. The most severe risk of prolonged sun exposure is skin cancer, more specifically melanoma. One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, and a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if they have had five or more sunburns at any age.
Sunburn is possible any time of year (and even artificial sun light, like tanning beds, can cause sunburn) but it is most common in the summer when the sun’s harmful UV rays are at their strongest. If you do get a sunburn, there are a few home remedies you can use to ease discomfort and speed the healing process.
1. Cool Compress
Cool down the affected area by placing a cool compress on your sunburned skin or take a cool shower or bath.
Apply cool milk to your skin with a clean cloth. The milk will create a protein film that will help ease any discomfort and pain.
3. Cider Vinegar or Black Tea
Add one cup of cider vinegar to your bath water to help balance the pH of your sunburned skin and speed healing. Black tea can do the same thing: Apply freshly brewed, then cooled, black tea to your skin using a clean cloth. The tannic acid found in the tea helps to draw heat from sunburned skin while restoring the pH balance.
Soak in an oatmeal bath. Just like with chicken pox, oatmeal can soothe the itchiness associated with a sunburn.
5. Aloe Vera
Use aloe vera to soothe and moisturize affected skin. Look for aloe products and lotions that contain lidocaine, an anesthetic that can help relieve sunburn pain.
6. OTC Meds
Topical over-the-counter medications, like 1% hydrocortisone cream, and pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help relieve pain, swelling and inflammation.
7. Vitamin E
Vitamin E, a strong antioxidant, can help decrease any inflammation caused by a sunburn. You can apply vitamin E oil directly to the skin, or take it in supplement form regularly.
There’s a reason people put cucumbers over their eyes to remove puffiness: Cucumbers have natural anti-swelling properties, as well as antioxidant and painkilling properties. Chill sliced and peeled cucumbers, then mash with a fork, or blend in a food processor to create a paste and apply to any affected areas.
The best remedy for sunburn, of course, is prevention. Always use sunscreen and reapply as needed, use makeup with added spf, wear protective clothing like hats and sunglasses, and avoid as much direct sun exposure as you can to protect your skin and your health.