Canadian summers are so fleeting that we can hardly be blamed if we—ahem—over-indulge a little in the sunshine while it’s here. The payback for all that sunny basking, though, is a painful, red, lobster-y sunburn—and the itchy, peeling skin that follows.
Of course, the best way to deal with a sunburn is not to get one in the first place, and for good reason: melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is one of the fastest-rising of all cancers in Canada, and UV radiation (from either the sun or a tanning bed) is a major risk factor. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends staying out of the sun between the peak hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., seeking shade whenever possible, wearing a hat, and wearing sunscreen on all exposed skin.
That being said, sometimes we slip up. Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate the discomfort of a sunburn right in your kitchen and bathroom. Some have scientific studies to back them up, and some simply have generations of anecdotal use behind them.
Aloe vera has scientific evidence to back up its use in treating skin irritation, wound healing, and heat burns. But, believe it or not, its effectiveness on sunburns (which are actually burns from radiation, no heat) hasn’t been conclusively proven. Regardless, aloe has millennia of use behind it, so go ahead and spread some on! Just be sure to test it on a small area of unburned skin first, just in case you’re sensitive to it. If you have an aloe plant, snip off a leaf, open it up, and spread the gel anywhere you’re burnt. If you choose to buy gel from the drugstore, make sure it’s as close to pure aloe vera as possible, and refrigerate it before applying to enhance the cooling sensation.
In one study topical Vitamin E was shown to reduce sun damage on the skin of hairless mice, so it’s worth a try, especially if your burn isn’t extensive. Pop open a capsule of vitamin E and spread it on your burn. At the very least, it will moisturize your skin to help prevent the inevitable itchiness that follows.
Orange pekoe tea
A cool compress will always feel good on a sunburn, whether it’s soaked in water, witch hazel or vinegar (other popular remedies). Cooled black tea, however, is one method you may not have thought of, and by all accounts, it’s very effective. Whether you take a bath with a bunch of teabags (watch that you don’t stain your bathtub) or soak a compress, black tea should help take the redness away. Just don’t use Earl Grey—the bergamot oil that gives Captain Picard’s favourite drink its characteristic flavour can cause skin irritation.
The fat, protein, and PH of milk can be soothing and help reduce inflammation. To get maximum benefits, soak a compress in equal parts milk and cool water, then hold it on your burn for five minutes, repeating this three times. You should notice relief by the third application.
If you or a loved one has ever had chicken pox, chances are you sat in an oatmeal bath to help soothe the itching. Well, oatmeal works on sunburns, too. Wrap oatmeal in cheesecloth or gauze, then run cool water over it. Soak a compress in the water and hold it to your burn. Alternately, run a bath over an oatmeal bundle, or use a powdered commercial bath product (like Aveeno) that contains oatmeal.
Yogourt’s probiotics are said to help restore your scorched skin’s natural moisture barrier. Whether that’s true, or whether yogourt just feels nice and cool, it’s still considered a popular remedy. Take full-fat, plain yogourt—preferably with live bacterial cultures—and slather it on your sunburn. Leave it on for five to 10 minutes, then gently wipe it off. Follow by applying a moisturizer or some aloe vera. Do this three times the first day you notice your burn, and you should find relief.
These are great remedies to try for red and painful sunburns. However, if you have a sunburn that’s blistered, or if you feel shaky, nauseous, feverish or weak, see a doctor.
What are your favourite sunburn remedies?