By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
The sun is a fickle friend. One moment you’re having fun soaking up the rays, the next your skin is glowing red and you can’t sit bear anyone to touch you.
Sunburn is a short-term skin inflammation with a long-term risk – exposing your unprotected skin to the sun for long periods increases your risk of premature skin aging as well as skin cancer.
The best remedy for sunburn is prevention – stay out of the strong sun and use sunscreen. Being sun-savvy means you won’t have to worry about sunburn. But sometimes sunburn happens. Help reduce the redness and heal your skin more quickly with these natural remedies.
What Causes Sunburn?
Half of all people aged 18 to 29 suffered at least one sunburn in the previous year, according to a 2012 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite awareness of the dangers of sunburn increasing.
The redness, blistering, pain, and skin flakiness is not caused by the sun’s heat but the ultraviolent radiation in sunlight.
UVA and UVB radiation acts in combination with naturally occurring substances in your skin to produce free radicals – chemicals that contribute to sunburn.
Certain prescription medications, drugs, and herbal remedies like St John’s Wort increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun so be extra careful if you are taking any of these. Sunburn can be accompanied by skin aches, chills, headaches and muscle stiffness.
Long-Term Dangers of Sunburn
Forty percent of people in the UK admit getting a sunburn on purpose in order to deepen a tan, according to 2013 research from Macmillan Cancer Support. And 25 percent of those surveyed believed that burning the skin was the only way to get a tan.
Many people believe this despite the fact that a painful sunburn once every two years is enough to increase the risks of skin cancer threefold.
Sunburn also contributes to premature aging of the skin – fine lines, wrinkles, sagging skin, and discoloration are all more common after hours spent in the sun.
Expert advice states you should avoid the sun when the rays are at their strongest, wear protective clothing in the sun, and use a broad, good quality sunscreen.
Remedies for Sunburn
But what happens if, despite all your best efforts, you end up with burned skin after a day at the beach or working in the garden? We’ve looked at the scientific evidence to find natural remedies that work to reduce redness, ease itchiness, and decrease pain.
In addition, some people turn to store-cupboard staples like baking soda and yogurt. Are these remedies safe?
While there are no studies proving that baking soda and water applied using cotton balls, or used in a bath, actually work, there is also no evidence the remedy is dangerous. The same goes for yogurt- natural yogurt applied directly to the skin can ease pain but there is no evidence for this solution.
1. Use Honey to Treat a Sunburn
Honey is said to have antibacterial properties and may help to relieve the pain of minor burns, according to several studies.
A 1994 study from Dr V. M. Medical College, Solapur, Maharashtra, India found honey-impregnated gauze helped people with minor burns heal, while other experts point to the fact that honey contains hydrogen peroxide, which accounts for its healing benefits. Honey may be best used on small areas of sunburn – just make sure you don’t lie down on the sand after application…
2. Coriander Oil as a Sunburn Remedy
A 2008 study from University Medical Center Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany showed application of 0.5 percent coriander oil was more effective than a placebo cream at reducing skin redness following exposure to UVB rays – the authors concluded it had a mild anti-inflammatory effect that could make it an effective sunburn remedy.
3. Is Aloe Vera Effective for Sunburn?
Thousands of people swear by the application of aloe vera for taking the sting out of painful sunburn. But actual evidence that aloe vera works for treating skin redness and inflammation is lacking – in fact, one 1989 study from University of Miami School of Medicine, Florida showed applying aloe vera gel after UVB exposure had no effect on skin redness. However, there’s no mistaking the soothing effect you feel when you apply the aloe vera gel to your sun damaged skin so it’s worth a try. (Read more about the health benefits of aloe vera.)
4. Beta-Carotene and Mixed Carotenoids for Sunburn
Beta-carotene is part of the carotenoid family, which are widely found in red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables. Studies show that beta-carotene may be helpful for reducing the effects of sunburn – a 1996 study from Otto-von-Guericke University, Germany looked at 20 women taking 30mg beta-carotene a day for 10 weeks before a 13-day period of controlled sun exposure at a beach resort. Taking beta-carotene before and during sun exposure resulted in less skin redness than placebo.
5. Treating Sunburn with Antioxidants
It may be possible to relieve the symptoms of sunburn with a potent antioxidant found in green tea - epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. According to studies including a report from University Hospitals of Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University drinking green tea or topically applying it to the skin can result in lower levels of skin inflammation and better healing of the skin following sun exposure.
6. Apply Vitamins C and E Topically to the Skin to Help Sunburn Heal
Vitamins C and E are said to neutralize free radicals in the blood and therefore may be helpful for counteracting the effects of sun on the skin. Vitamins C and E applied topically to the skin help protect against sun damage, according to several studies, and one 1999 study from Beeson Aesthetic Surgery Institute, Carmel showed that the application of a face cream containing vitamin C could even help improve the appearance of skin that had already been damaged by sunburn.
7. Drink Wine to Heal Sunburned Skin?
A 2011 study from the University of Barcelona suggests that drinking wine may be a skin savior following overexposure.
The scientists concluded that flavonoids in the grapes helped protect skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation and that drinking wine had a beneficial effect on sunburned skin. However, this is yet to be replicated in other studies so it may simply be that drinking wine helps you forget about the pain for a few hours.