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General Description

Virtually every light-skinned person has experienced sunburn at one time or another. Sunburn is a discomforting condition most frequently encountered at the beginning of summer before a protective tan has been acquired. Redheads and blonds burn readily; dark-skinned persons may sunburn, but only after prolonged exposure to strong sunlight. A recent study of fifteen thousand adults found that one-third had experienced a sunburn within the past year.

The extent of sunburn may range from a mild, painless redness to a fiery red, exquisitely tender, blistering eruption. A mild burn begins some six to twelve hours from the beginning of exposure, reaches a maximum redness within twenty-four hours, and gradually declines over the next few days, leaving in its wake tanned skin that may take some two weeks to reach its peak.

Severe sunburn also begins six to twelve hours following sun exposure, but within one to two days marked skin changes occur. The skin becomes extremely painful to even the slightest sensation. Chills, fever, and nausea are commonplace. Fluid-filled blisters appear, and layers of the skin begin to slough off. Uneven pigmentation and even scarring may result.


Excessive sun exposure.

Medical Treatments

Mild sunburn reactions may be treated with cool water compresses. Emollient creams can soothe the skin and relieve dryness. Over-the-counter burn preparations contain local anesthetics that may help alleviate discomfort but will not enhance healing. Aspirin controls the pain and may even lessen the inflammation. Severe sunburn should be treated by a physician. Cortisone pills and antibiotic creams are sometimes necessary to limit the inflammation and prevent infection.


Prevention is the best remedy here, if you can. Long-term results from excessive exposure to the sun, such as skin cancer and wrinkled skin, can be avoided with proper precautions. One of the best preventatives is to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays. You can get as much sun sightseeing as baking at the beach, so use sunscreen whenever you are outdoors.

Use an aloe vera lotion containing a sunblock. This will cut out 90% of the burning rays and allow 75% of the tanning rays to reach the skin.

To speed healing take the following supplements for a few days after getting burned: 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 I.U. of vitamin E, 15 mg of beta carotene, and 1-2 tablespoons (or about 3 capsules per teaspoon) of flaxseed oil, an essential fatty acid.

Caution: don't ever cover a sunburn that is blistered or open with an ointment, oil, salve or butter, for it will make the area susceptible to infection.



Aloe Take as many leaves as necessary from an aloe plant; refrigerate; peel off top layer of leaves; apply the side of the leaf with flesh exposed directly to the sunburn. Other remedies use aloe vera juice: for mild to medium sunburn, keep the affected area moist with aloe vera juice. Repeat frequently. This will reduce the pain and the amount of peeling. Aloe vera ointment works well, too, as it contains oil and will not evaporate. For a severe sunburn, keep the area moist at all times with aloe vera juice. Since aloe vera is an astringent, you may want to use aloe vera ointment or some sort of oil, such as olive or baby. Aloe is very effective in relieving pain and inflammation.

  • Combine aloe juice with ½ the amount of vitamin E. Dab on the sunburn. Vitamin E is a good moisturizer.

Apple cider vinegar Apply apple cider vinegar to the burn with a cottonball, or make a cooling compress for a large area to relieve the pain. Keep the skin moistened. This remedy will prevent blistering and peeling.

Aspirin Aspirin kills the pain and reduces inflammation and redness of a sunburn. It short-circuits the whole sunburn process. It must be taken within 24 hours of getting sunburned. Aspirin is preferable to ibuprofen or acetaminophen because it is less stressful on the liver and kidneys.

Baking soda Dissolve some baking soda in water and make a compress using a clean cloth. Another remedy is to add 1/2 cup of baking soda to a tepid bath and soak. Instead of drying the affected area with a towel, let it air dry. Baking soda is cooling and will help the skin retain moisture.

Baths Add 20 drops of each of lavender and chamomile essential oils to a tubful of cool water and soak for 10 minutes.

Bergamot Add bergamot oil to cool bathwater.

Calendula Put 20 drops of calendula tincture in four ounces of water and bathe the skin until the pain goes away. Calendula is also available in gels and salves. Calendula will help soften and heal burned skin. It is anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, and can be used long after the burn to heal the skin.

Cucumber Rub sunburned area with fresh cucumber slices. They are very cool and will soothe the area.

Epsom salts Dissolve epsom salts in water and make a compress using a clean cloth.

Ice Apply ice or cold water to the burned area. This will stop the burning process and cool the skin.

Lavender Mix 20-25 drops of lavender oil in one cup of water and bathe the sunburned area.

Lemon water Mix the juice of three lemons into two cups of cold water and sponge on the sunburn. The lemon will cool the burn, act as a disinfectant, and will promote healing of the skin.

Milk Make a compress of whole milk (or buttermilk) and apply to the burned area for 20 minutes; repeat every two to four hours. Wash the milk off so you won't smell sour! The fat content of the milk is soothing for burns.

  • A similar remedy suggests using a cup of skim milk and four cups of water, adding a few ice cubes, and applying as a compress as recommended above.

Oatmeal Put some oatmeal in tepid bath water, soak for a few minutes, then air dry yourself.

Oil Cover the area with cooking oil and sprinkle powdered ginger on the oil. This will promote healing.

Onion Bruise an onion and rub on the burn.

Peppermint Apply peppermint oil to the sunburned skin. You can also make a mild peppermint infusion and use it as a wash to cool the sunburn.

Potato Grate a potato and apply it to the burned area. The starch will cool and soothe the burn.

St. Johns Wort Make an ointment or salve with the essential oil of St. Johns wort for burns that have not broken the skin. It is anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial. Caution: St. John's wort makes the skin more photosensitive, so stay out of the sun if you have used this remedy or if you are taking another form as an antidepressant. The cauton is courtesy of a reader named Wendi.

Shower Take a warm shower to draw out the heat of your sunburn. The warm water will increase circulation to the area while hydrating it, thereby speeding the healing process.

Tea Make some tea, cool, and apply to the burn. While any tea may be beneficial, mint tea, such as peppermint or spearmint are especially good. The teas have tannins that help the healing process.

Urtica urens Put 20 drops of urtica urens tincture in four ounces of water and bathe the skin. This remedy is good for itchy, prickly skin.

Vinegar See Apple Cider Vinegar remedy above.

Witch hazel Make a decoction of witch hazel and apply with a compress.

Yarrow Native Americans used an infusion of ground yarrow as a wash.

Yogurt Apply plain yogurt with live cultures, let it stand for a few minutes, then rinse off under cool water.

  • Another remedy using yogurt is to mix equal parts of yogurt and mashed strawberries and apply to the sunburned area for 15 minutes. Rinse with cool water.

Caution! You may have sun poisoning if you experience chills, fever, or get blisters or a rash. See your physician!

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