The DOs and DON'Ts of a Bad Sunburn

Summer is here!!!  If you’re like me, you’re in love with all things summer…which includes lots of time outdoors. There are many benefits that come from some time in the sun, boosting vitamin D production, balancing of hormones and getting enough blue light which supports many other functions in the body. Being active outside also contributes to your overall well-being. However, without proper skin protection (like organic sunscreen protective clothing and head gear), the sun’s rays can be damaging, causing sunburns and in some cases skin cancer. Sometimes, with even your best efforts of protection, you still come home with a sunburn from too much fun in the sun. So what can you do to take care of your skin and body to heal from a sunburn and minimize the damage? Sunburns directly damage the DNA of your skin cells. Properly treating your sunburn can minimize this damage done to your cells. I’ve scoured the internet, polled my friends, and consulted the holy grail of home remedies (my Nana) and compiled a list of the most popular DO’s and DON’Ts of sunburn care. There are a ton of natural home remedies that have a positive impact on helping to soothe, heal and repair your skin. Chances are you have one if not all of these items already in your home and will be prepared for that occasional result of TOO MUCH SUN. COOL DOWN A good first step to heal yourself from a bad sunburn is to cool down your body. A sunburn is an inflammation of the skin and one of the easiest ways to treat inflammation is to cool down the affected area. Get yourself into the A/C, put some cool compresses on the skin. Remember, if you’re using ice packs, do not apply ice directly to your skin. A tepid shower or dip in a cool pool or ocean will do the trick in helping to soothe the burn and cooling your skin and body temperature. If you decide to take a cool shower or bath make sure to skip the bubble bath, bath oils or soap as they can dry out your skin. HYRDATION Many people forget about this step, but making sure you are properly hydrated is important. A sunburn is an actual burn and you need to keep your skin from drying out with extra hydration. Also, you’ve just spent possibly hours in the sun so a little extra water will be beneficial to make sure you’re not dehydrated.  Besides water, some alternatives are herbal teas, Kombucha or water kefir to re-charge your body. ALOE Many people are familiar with the healing and cooling properties of Aloe. This is an oldie but goodie in sunburn care.  You can use a gel, but I find the plant itself is the most effective. If you are going to use a gel, make sure it’s a good quality one. Aloe contains glycoproteins that helps minimize inflammation and polysaccharides that aid in skin growth and repair.   BAKING SODA Balancing the pH of your skin can help with the pain, inflammation and redness that is associated with a sunburn. This is where baking soda can help the skin recover from a newly acquired sun burn. You can either add ¼ cup of baking soda into a cool bath and soak for 15 minutes or make a paste by adding water and apply directly to your skin.

Real Yogurt is full of active cultures, calcium, protein, zinc which can help rejuvenate the skin. The Lactic Acid in yogurt is also said to dissolve the dead skin cells. Applying Yogurt directly on your skin for 10-minutes will cool, soothe and help heal your skin.  (Make sure you pick PLAIN yogurt.. we all love a good berry in our dairy, but for this purpose we want just the plain variety).


Going to bed at night with a sunburn can be extremely uncomfortable. The sheets can feel like literal sandpaper against your skin. Applying a layer of corn starch to your skin or sprinkling a little on your sheets at night can help to create a barrier between the sheets and your skin.  This can reduce the friction that is irritating and painful.


Good old fashion oatmeal is great for soothing all sorts of skin conditions and sun burn is one of them. Grind one cup of old fashioned oats in your blender or food processor and pour into a luke warm/cool  bath tub of water. Soak for 10-15 minutes. The oatmeal with soothe your skin and reduce the inflammation.  


This is another old remedy for healing sunburn. Applying highly diluted apple cider vinegar to your skin can be cooling and help with the pain of the burn during the first couple of days. Vinegar has antiseptic properties that kill germs and calm inflammation. The vinegar can also be helpful in alleviating the painful itchy skin that occurs while your sunburn is healing. My grandmother used to cut up strips of paper bags and soak them in apple cider vinegar and apply them as compresses to my skin when I had bad sunburns. If you can handle the smell it is pretty soothing. 


Another great remedy from my Nana is the use of cucumbers. Known to be great additions to spa treatments, did you also know that they are good for sunburns? Cucumbers are cool, refreshing and will help reduce your itching.  There are a few ways to use this veggie. You can slice cucumbers and apply to the affected area. My Nana would peel the cucumbers and use the peels as the cooling source. Rub the inside of the peel along your skin. Another way to use cucumbers to heal a sunburn is to use your blender and blend chilled cucumbers into a smooth consistency and then apply it to the burned areas liberally. You’ll be feeling as cool as a cucumber in no time! (Had to go there!)

Now that you’ve found some things to help alleviate the pain of the sunburn, it’s important to keep your skin hydrated and moisturized. Keep drinking that water!  There are also some important DON’TS with your sunburn care. We’ve compiled a list of some of the big ones.


This no brainer is crucial! Even if you are feeling a little better and cooled down getting out of the sun as soon as possible is your best bet. Some people have the mindset that the damage is already done, so what’s the harm? Getting out of the sun will reduce both the short and long term damage that’s been done to your skin.


This is a big one. That extra bubble of skin that forms from a sunburn serves an important purpose in protecting the wound (the burn).  If the blisters are causing you pain, apply some aloe to the area.


 As tempted as you may be to cover up and camouflage an unsightly sun burn with makeup… Don’t! Your skin needs to breathe in order to heal. Covering the burn with various makeups with possibly dirty sponges and brushes can increase your risk of infection as well. 


Once your skin starts to peel after a sunburn, it means it is starting to heal and it’s important you don’t mess with it. A better idea than peeling that flaking skin is hydrating it. Pick a product free of fragrance or harsh chemicals. Max & Madeleine’s Healing Balm perhaps? Applying a product like the Healing Balm will improve the appearance of the sunburn and help the skin to exfoliate naturally and evenly.

  DON’T WEAR TIGHT CLOTHES Not that you really want to because it’s so uncomfortable when you have a sunburn, but there is actually a medical reason why wearing tight clothes when you have a sunburn is very bad.  Your body tries to respond to the trauma of a sunburn by increasing the blood flow to that particular area to help with the healing process. This is what results in redness, warmth and inflammation in that area. Wearing tight clothes could actually amplify the body’s response, which could cause even more intense swelling and blistering.  AVOID IRRITANTS Many people are tempted to use  the numbing sunburn relief products, certain aloe gels and oils. Unforfunately, the truth is that they will provide temporary relief but slow your healing process. Definitely do not use any petroleum based products as they hold in the heat! This is the exact opposite effect of what you’re looking for! When searching for an aloe gel avoid those that contain drying alcohols, fragrances, dyes or formaldehyde releasers like imidazolidinyl urea or Diazolidinyl Urea.  The numbing sunburn relief products that contain benzocaine can also irritate your skin further. Clearly, these types of products are not the solution for sunburn care!   I hope this list is helpful. No matter how many times we’re told that we should use sunscreen every day, sometimes we fail. It’s ok. Don’t dwell on the mistake. Forgive yourself and start the healing process.