If you’ve been burned, Mother Nature’s medicine box holds relief. (Photo: Getty Images)
Whether you live in the tropics or less consistently warm climes, there’s no question about it: The siren call of the sun is irresistible.
Unfortunately, with sun exposure comes dangerous ultraviolet (UV) ray exposure, which can cause premature aging, sunburns, and even skin cancer. Health experts recommend slathering on sunscreen to protect your skin, particularly a kind that offers broad-spectrum protection (meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays), has an SPF of 30 or higher, and is water-resistant. (Just make sure you pick the right kind!)
But no one is perfect, and sunburns do happen (whether you forgot to apply sunscreen for the day, or you didn’t keep reapplying even after it had been sweated or washed off). But when the damage has already been done, there are ways to alleviate the discomfort, thanks to Mother Nature. Here are some simple and effective home remedies that can help cool, soothe, and bring the skin back to health after a sunburn.
(Photo: Flickr/Andreas Issleib)
This is possibly one of the best sunburn remedies, says health coach and licensed aesthetician Rachael Pontillo, who is also the president and co-founder of the Nutritional Aesthetics Alliance and author of Love Your Skin, Love Yourself. The reason? It has both humectant and emollient properties, meaning it attracts and binds water to the skin and also forms a protective coating over the affected area as it heals. Plus, aloe vera is naturally cooling, contains antioxidants, and helps to reduce skin inflammation.
In beautician Michelle Yap-McKay’s homeland of Jamaica, “almost every home has one or several aloe vera plants,” she tells Yahoo Health.
“We don’t buy gels here, we just pick the plant, cut the prickles off, cut it in half, and rub it along our skin,” Yap-McKay, the creator of natural skincare brand ItalBlends, explains. “Aloe has a whole heap of nutrients and a bunch of phytochemicals, all of which help the skin to heal.”
(Photo: Flickr/Luz Adriana Villa)
Also known as the marigold plant, calendula can help soothe burns and skin inflammations, and has traditionally been used to treat acne and eczema, Yap-McKay says. “We put the petals in water and boil it as a tea, let it steep, cool down, and then we bathe the skin with it.”
Calendula also encourages collagen and elastin production, Pontillo says, and is “wonderful in post-sun compresses, baths, and also in infused oils and salves.”
(Photo: Flickr/Hidetsugu Tonomura)
The menthol in peppermint is one of the most effective cooling substances that nature has to offer. It works both as prevention and cure, Yap-McKay says, keeping the body cool from the inside out. She advocates drinking iced peppermint tea during the hot months, and recommends soaking the mint leaves in water to extract the menthol, then dabbing the liquid on the burned parts of the skin.
But even though peppermint is extremely cooling to the entire body and is known to decrease inflammation, the mint family does contain some volatile compounds that are known to cause photosensitivity — sensitivity to UV rays — when used topically, Pontillo warns. “If you do want to use a peppermint infusion as a compress or poultice, be sure to do so at night and rinse it off the skin well before bed,” she advises.
Yogurt and Milk
The lactose in yogurt and milk help provide skin hydration — which is very welcome after a sunburn, Pontillo says. “Just be aware that if someone’s lactose or casein intolerant or allergic, milk or yogurt would be contraindicated,” she adds.
Yap-McKay is a strong proponent of goat’s milk as a sunburn remedy. It contains high amounts of alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), in particular lactic acid, which slough off dead cells when applied topically. Goats’ milk is also packed with vitamin A, which repairs damaged skin tissue, she says, and minerals such as selenium that effectively guard against the harsh effects of the sun.
Sandalwood, Saffron and Turmeric
(Photo: Flickr/Steven Jackson)
For centuries, women in India have turned to the cooling and healing properties of sandalwood, saffron, and turmeric. Gita Ramesh, co-director of the Kairali Ayurvedic Group, recommends dissolving a few shreds of saffron and some sandalwood powder (both available at Indian grocery stores) in milk and applying the mixture to the damaged skin. Together, she says, these three products can help the skin to heal smoothly. Saffron freshens the skin and turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties. Both are high in antioxidants, which can also help combat free radical damage from the sun.
(Photo: Flickr/Vanessa Chettleburgh)
Like aloe vera, honey is a powerful humectant, Pontillo says. And as long as it’s raw, it also contains probiotics and enzymes beneficial to the skin. Honey is also very high in antioxidants, has strong antimicrobial properties, and is anti-inflammatory.
“I highly recommend using honey as a cleanser as well as a treatment mask for sensitive or sun-damaged skin,” Pontillo says. Gently rubbing honey on tender, burned skin right before a shower also helps protect the skin, minimize discomfort and speed up the healing process, Yap-McKay says.
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