6 Natural Sunburn Remedies for Cool Relief Already in Your Pantry

August 14, 2018

My dad likes to joke that our family’s so pale that we sunburn from a refrigerator light bulb. It’s just barely an exaggeration. When it comes to planning for sunburns, it’s not a question of “if,” but “when.” And no matter how much sunblock I apply or the amount of reminders I’ve set to wear a hat, I always need cool relief for my fiery skin.

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of a sunburn, you know that in addition to the stinging, hot pain, it zaps away your energy. And when you can’t move, the best treatments are close to home. Specifically, in your kitchen.

Curious to see what sunburn relievers I might already have handy, I spoke to Dr. Diane Madfes from the American Academy of Dermatology for advice.

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“There are two different phases of treatment,” Madfes says. ”First, you have ingredients that give immediate soothing relief. Next, you need to apply things that form a barrier and repair the skin’s moisture, which helps it heal. Both are very important.”

Phase One: Soothing the Skin

When the body is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays from direct or indirect sunlight, it protects itself by producing melanin, a pigment in the outer layer of the skin, forming a suntan. However, some people produce less melanin than others, allowing the UV light to burn, traumatize, and even blister the skin.

To provide immediate relief, Madfes recommends three solutions:

Milk: Milk contains a protein called casein, which reduces skin temperature. To use, cool whole or two percent milk down in the refrigerator or with an ice cube. Saturate a paper towel in the milk and apply it to the burn for three to five minutes, until the towel starts to get warm. Then dip it back in the cup and repeat until the skin doesn’t feel hot. “Not only is this applicable for any area of the body, but you can do it immediately,” Madfes says. “What’s also great is that most places carry milk and ice.”

Oatmeal: Similar to a facial mask, an oatmeal paste moisturizes and soothes inflamed skin. To make a paste, combine half a cup of instant, old fashioned, or quick cooking oatmeal with warm water. Create a mixture that is slightly thinner than the oatmeal you eat, then spread it on your skin over the burn. Once it dries, wash it off with lukewarm water.

Honey: Long celebrated for its antibacterial qualities, honey is a great treatment for blisters. To use, rinse the blister with cold water, then apply a very thin layer of honey, and a bandage or gauze over the blister.

Another way to use those sunburn soothers

Phase Two: Barrier and Moisture Repair

Once the skin’s temperature decreases, you’ll want to focus on treatments that restore and moisturize the burn. In addition to oatmeal, which offers both immediate soothing and moisturizes the skin, Madfes suggests these two relievers.

Coconut Oil: Foods with fatty acids and cholesterol, like coconut oil or shea butter, help heal sun damaged skin. Coconut oil is rich in linoleic acid, which is great for repair. “The problem with some oils is you don’t want to develop a reaction to them,” Madfes says, “Some people talk about essential oils, but I don’t like them when skin has trauma. Coconut oil is neutral.”

Aloe: The aloe plant is even more effective than the gels you can buy in a drug store, Madfes says. Everything you need is inside the plant's leaves. “The vitamin E is immediately soothing, but also anti-inflammatory in terms of helping heal.”

Another healing essential

The final thing Madfes recommends? Hydrate. When the sun heats the skin, your blood vessels dilate and push a lot of your fluids to the top layer of the skin as sweat. When that evaporates, you get dehydrated and feel weak. To combat the fatigue, replenish your fluids with water or other electrolyte-rich drinks, like coconut water.

What's your best sunburn soother? Share your best treatments in the comments below!

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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.