Written by Meg, Contributing Writer
Herbal Remedies for Sunburn
Once your skin is burned and there’s no turning back (or when your skin has been overexposed to hot, drying sun and wind or chlorinated swimming pools), use the same herbs, essential oils and vitamins recommended to treat any injured skin.
My first choices are lavender, aloe vera and calendula to repair damaged skin cells. The essential oil of geranium has skin-rejuvenating properties that encourage healing. Expensive, but exquisite in scent and skin-healing properties, are rose flowers. These all are suitable for either dry or oily skin.Long used in Europe, pansy is gaining popularity in U.S. skin products to treat inflammation and burns.
One sunburn remedy tip that’s quick and easy to carry when traveling is green tea bags. Soak them in cold water and pat them on the burned area. These make a handy remedy for burned eyelids because they won’t irritate your eyes.
Carrot seed essential oil is especially beneficial to sun-damaged skin and to eliminate precancerous skin spots. The antioxidant beta-carotene that it contains helps protect against skin cancer due to sun exposure.
Herbs to Heal Sun Damage
Many herbal sun-care remedies exist, but not all of them have been scientifically tested. Preliminary studies indicate that these remedies may speed healing, repair mild sun damage, and perhaps even operate as sunscreens.
- Aloe (Aloe vera): Aloe, a common ingredient in sun-care products, does help protect and soothe the skin from the inflammation that accompanies a sunburn, but it isn’t a sunscreen. Apply aloe gel after showering, then reapply it a few more times each day until sunburn pain subsides.
- Tea (Camellia sinensis): Some researchers say the tannic acid and theobromine in tea help cool sunburn, and compounds called catechins help prevent and repair skin damage caused by ultraviolet rays. Both green and black tea are also antioxidants, which means that they fight free radicals produced in the skin by exposure to UV radiation.
- Calendula: Research shows that calendula closes wounds, reduces inflammation, and stimulates the growth of new skin cells. Many health-food stores sell skin creams and sunscreens containing calendula.
- Cucumber (Cucumis sativus): This salad-topper also soothes burns; place slices directly on your skin. Cucumber contains at least two compounds that are antiedemic, or that reduce swelling—ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffeic acid. These compounds also make cucumbers good for reducing eye swelling (lie down, place a thick slice on each eye, and rest for a while).
- Echinacea (Echinacea spp.): Several compounds in the coneflower—including caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, and cichoric acid—have been shown in studies to diminish the destruction of collagen, the protein that keeps skin elastic. Many commercial lotions and ointments contain echinacea, but you can also apply echinacea tea directly to your skin.
- Plantain (Plantago spp.): Plantain contains allantoin, a proven healer of skin cells. You could mash up the plant’s leaves and apply them to your skin, but for an easier way to benefit from this plant, use the bath soak.
- St.-John’s-wort (Hypericum perforatum): Some herbalists recommend an infused St.-John’s-wort oil to treat mild burns that are well on their way to healing, including those caused by radiation treatments, to keep the skin supple.
- Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana): Witch hazel is easy to find, inexpensive, and simple to use—just soak a cotton ball with the liquid and swab your skin.
Recipes for Summer Herbal Skincare
Most sunscreens contain toxic ingredients or endocrine disrupting chemicals that in many cases may actually promote skin cancer growth and free radical production in the body. In fact, in the years since sunscreen use began, skin cancer rates have actually risen, and a 2007 document from the FDA stated that: “The FDA is not aware of data demonstrating that sunscreen use alone helps prevent skin cancer”. In fact, many reports show that most sunscreens actually raise skin cancer risk.
Even natural commercially available sunscreens often have toxic ingredients! [Check out your brand at http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2011sunscreen/]
Here’s a great sunscreen that doesn’t use harsh chemicals:
3 tbsp. grated beeswax
3 tbsp shea butter
4 tbsp coconut oil
3 tbsp. aloe vera gel
3 tbsp. herbal tea (lavender or calendula is best)
1/2 tsp. borax powder
Take beeswax, shea butter, and coconut oil and melt it in a double boiler. (Do not boil). Now warm the aloe vera gel, tea and borax powder in a separate pan until the powder is mixed well with the other 2 ingredients. Mix it with the melted oil and butter. Whisk properly until you get a creamy texture. Store it in an airtight jar and keep it refrigerated.
You can refrigerate it for up to a month if you have not used any preservative but if you use 5-6 drops of grapefruit seed extract (natural preservative), it will last more than a year. You can take it out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before applying.
Or, you can do what I prefer to do, and slather yourself with high quality (food grade, unrefined) coconut oil! This does NOT shield your skin from the sun, rather it helps boost your body’s natural resistance to sun damage. If you are going to use this method, please keep in mind that the oil must be completely rubbed in – matte appearance, not shiny! If the oil is still shiny on your skin, it will exacerbate the sun’s effects.
Cucumber Aloe Body Mask
This is one of my favorite ways to soothe a sunburn – it’s quick, easy, and even smells nice!
2 cups chopped, peeled cucumber (those big lunky ones from the garden are perfect!)
¼ cup aloe vera gel
2 T whole milk yogurt
Combine everything in a food processor, and blend until smooth. Store in the refrigerator, up to a week. Smooth over burned skin, and let sit til warm. Rinse, pat dry.
Easy Sunburn Soothers
If you do get sunburned, you can turn to several simple home remedies to soothe the discomfort. To help your skin heal faster, keep your body well hydrated by drinking plenty of water and water-based iced herbal teas. Also remember that overexposure to the sun will dry out your skin.
After treating your burn with the recipes below, hydrate your skin with a generous application of shea butter or coconut oil.
Choose one of the following sunburn soothers:
• Plain yogurt or sour cream
• Tomato juice
• Witch hazel
• Aloe vera gel
• Chamomile tea
• Apple cider vinegar (1 tablespoon diluted in 1 cup water)
1. Use a clean cotton cloth or spray bottle to apply any one of the above ingredients directly to your skin; or add one of these soothers to a tepid bath.
2. If you use the yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk, be sure to rinse your skin after 20 minutes, as these milk-based soothers can spoil.
Soothing Herbal Bath
- ¼ cup each dried calendula, plantain, peppermint and green tea
- 1 quart boiling water
- ½ cup witch hazel extract
- 1 to 2 drops lavender essential oil
- ½ cup baking soda
- ½ cup aloe gel or juice
- 2 tablespoons honey
Place herbs in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Steep 20 to 30 minutes, strain and discard the herbs. Set liquid aside.
Fill bathtub with tepid water. Add herbal liquid to the bath along with the remaining ingredients. Soak for at least 20 minutes. Gently pat yourself dry. Repeat as needed.