12 Natural Cures For Scorching Sunburns

Soothe even the most sun-scorched skin with these healing remedies.

June 26, 2017
sunscreen on woman's shoulder

Your day of summer fun is winding down and what do you know? You got burned and now you need a soothing remedy.

You know that UV exposure can cause skin to age quickly and trigger skin cancer, but despite your best efforts to protect yourself from sun damage with sunscreen, you’ve gotten this painful, itching, and swelling sunburn.

Try these home solutions recommended by experts in the The Big Doctors Book of Home Remedies to quell the discomfort and reverse the day’s rays.

man holding a cold compress on sunburn
Margaret Skrovanek
1. Use compresses

Following a burn, skin is inflamed. Get sunburn relief with compresses dipped in cold water: use either plain water from the faucet or add a few ice cubes, says Michael Schreiber, MD. Dip a cloth into the liquid and lay it over the burn. Repeat every few minutes as the cloth warms. Apply several times a day for a total of 10 to 15 minutes each. You can also direct a fan on the area to heighten cooling. You can also use aluminum acetate to help soothe the burn. If itching is intense, says Thomas Gossel, PhD, RPh, try mixing Domeboro's powder packets, which are available in drugstores, with water. The aluminum acetate in the powder keeps skin from getting too dry or itchy. Follow package directions.

Witch hazel can also help heal an agonizing burn. Moisten a cloth with witch hazel, says Fredric Haberman, MD. This incredible astringent has been shown to have long-lasting anti-inflammatory relief. Apply often for temporary relief. For smaller areas, dip cotton balls into the liquid and gently wipe on.

bowl of yogurt
Ramon Antinolo/Shutterstock
2. Apply these foods

Common kitchen staples can be great sunburn soothers. Wrap dry oatmeal in cheesecloth or gauze. Run cool water through it. Discard the oatmeal and soak compresses in the liquid. Apply every 2 to 4 hours. Mix 1 cup of fat-free milk with 4 cups of water and add a few ice cubes. Apply compresses for 15 to 20 minutes and repeat every 2 to 4 hours. You can also ddd enough water to cornstarch to make a paste and apply it directly to the sunburn for some relief. 

Try boiling lettuce leaves in water. Strain, then let the liquid cool several hours in the refrigerator. Dip cotton balls into the liquid and gently press or wipe onto irritated skin. Apply yogurt to all sunburned areas. Rinse off in a cool shower, then gently pat skin dry. If your eyelids are burned, apply tea bags soaked in cool water to decrease swelling and help relieve pain. Tea has tannic acid, which seems to ease sunburn pain.

Related: Don't Get Burned By Unsafe Sunscreen

woman's feet sticking out of a bubble bath
3. Avoid soap

Soap can dry and irritate skin with a sunburn, so avoid the suds, including soaking in bubble baths, to prevent your burn from getting worse. If you must use soap, says Dr. Gossel, use only a mild brand and rinse it off very well. What you can do is take a cool bath, as an alternative to compresses. Add more water as needed to keep the temperature cool. Afterward, gently pat your skin dry with a clean towel. Do not rub your skin, or you'll irritate it further. You can also add vinegar: mix 1 cup of white or apple cider vinegar into a tub of cool water, says Carl Korn, M.D or baking soda: generously sprinkle baking soda into tepid bathwater, suggests Dr. Haberman. Instead of toweling off, let the solution dry on your skin. 

If the sunburn involves a large area, use the premeasured packets or add 1/2 cup of Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment, made from oatmeal, to a tub of cool water, says Dr. Schreiber. Soak for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Related: Why Is Everyone Suddenly Drinking Aloe Juice?

woman wearing an oversize sun hat
4. Memorize these rules

While the memory of your sunburn is still painfully fresh, brush up on your sun sense with some tips from Norman Levine, M.D. Apply a sunscreen about 30 minutes before going out, even if it's overcast because harmful rays can penetrate cloud cover and don't forget to protect your lips (try this lip balm with SPF), hands, ears, and the back of your neck. Reapply as necessary after swimming or perspiring heavily.

Pick a sunscreen with SPF between 15-30. Sunscreens with SPF 15 protect against 94 percent of the sun's harmful rays and those with SPF 30 protect against 97 percent. Also look for the ingredients zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or avobenzone in your sunscreen because these block both ultraviolet A and B rays. Take extra care between the hours of 10AM and 3PM when the sun is at its strongest and wear protective clothing when not swimming, so make sure to put a bit more time into Choosing The Best Sun Hat

woman applying lotion to her legs
5. Moisturize

Soaks and compresses feel good and give temporary relief, says Rodney Basler, MD., but they can make your skin feel drier than before if you don't apply moisturizing skin care immediately afterward. Pat yourself dry, then smooth on some bath oil. Let it soak in for a minute and then apply a moisturizing cream or lotion, just make sure to stay away from The 6 Most Harmful Ingredients Found In Body Lotion, such as Eucerin. You can even chill your moisturizer in the fridge for added relief.

Related: 3 Ways To Get Better Skin—When The Sun Damage Is Already Done

container of aloe ointment
Olesya Kuznetsova/Shutterstock
6. Shop for the right skin care

Filter all the choices at the drugstore by looking for the key healers: hydrocortisone and aloe. Hydrocortisone can soothe skin irritation and inflammation with a topical lotion, spray, or ointment containing 1 percent hydrocortisone, such as Cortaid or Cortizone-10, says Dr. Basler. "We're starting to see evidence in medical literature that aloe vera may really help wound healing," says Dr. Basler. Simply break off a leaf and apply the juice. But test a small area first, he cautions, to make sure you're not allergic to aloe.

If you have an infection or are worried that one will develop, use an over-the-counter antibacterial ointment such as Polysporin or Neosporin, says Dr. Schreiber, or if your burn is mild, an over-the-counter anesthetic can relieve pain and itching, says Dr. Gossel. Look for brands that contain benzocaine, benzyl alcohol, lidocaine, or diphenhydramine hydrochloride. 

Related: The Organic Summer Survival Kit For Bug Bites, Sunburns, + Poison Ivy

woman applies cold compress to burn area
7. Go to the freezer

Follow your urge to reach for something cold, just make sure to do it right. An ice pack can also provide relief if the burn is mild, just be sure to wrap it in a damp cloth and hold it over the sunburn. "You could even take a bag of frozen snow peas, for instance, and use that. But make sure to wrap it first so that you're not placing the icy package directly against your skin."

woman holding watermelon over a pool of water
Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock
8. Eat + Drink!

Put the right stuff in your body to aid your skin-saving efforts. It's a good idea to drink lots of water to help counteract the drying effects of a sunburn, says Dr. Gossel, and the water in fruit counts, too! One large wedge of watermelon provides 9 ounces, more than 1 full cup, of water. Other fruit standouts include 1 cup diced honeydew, equal to 5.4 ounces of water; 1 cup sliced beets, equal to 5.2 ounces of water; 1 cup cubed cantaloupe, equal to 5.1 ounces of water. Eat lightly but wisely, Dr. Gossel adds, a balanced diet helps provide the nutrients your skin needs to regenerate, so make sure to include the 29 Foods That Help Replenish Electrolytes.

man sleeping in hammock
Zolotareva Elina/Shutterstock
9. Take it easy

Sleeping on a sunburn can be challenging, but you need rest for your body to recover. Try sprinkling talcum powder on your sheets to minimize chafing and friction, says Dr. Haberman. An air mattress might also help you sleep more easily. If your legs are burned and your feet are swollen, elevate your legs above heart level to help stop the swelling, says Dr. Basler.

woman scratching inflamed skin
10. Beware of blisters

A sign of severe damage, blisters must be treated with care, if developed, you have a pretty bad burn. If they bother you and they cover only a small area, you may carefully drain them, says Dr. Basler. But do not peel the top skin off because you'll have less discomfort and danger of infection if air does not come in contact with sensitive nerve endings. To drain the fluid, first sterilize a needle by holding it over a flame. Then puncture the edge of the blister and press gently on the top to let the fluid come out. Do this three times in the first 24 hours, says Dr. Basler. Then leave the blisters alone.

Related: 19 Natural Home Cures That Work!

pile of pills
11. Question your medication

Find out if you're photosensitive, and we're not asking if you like to have your picture taken. The question is whether certain drugs increase your sensitivity to the sun and lead to a burnlike dermatitis. Antibiotics, tranquilizers, and antifungal medications can cause reactions, says Dr. Basler. So can oral contraceptives, diuretics, drugs for diabetes, and even PABA-containing sunscreens. Always ask your doctor about potential side effects of any drugs you may be taking. Even common foods can trigger a bad reaction. "Two young women I know tried to lighten their hair with lime juice," he says. "They didn't realize what a potent photosensitizer lime juice can be until they developed terrible dermatitis every place the juice had run down their faces and arms."

man's back with peeling skin
12. Wise up

After you've gotten burned, it takes 3 to 6 months for your skin to return to normal, says Dr. Schreiber. "When you get a sunburn and the top layer of skin peels off, the newly exposed skin is more sensitive than ever. That means you'll burn even faster than you did before if you're not careful." Be sensitive about your sun exposure and protect yourself with hats, clothing, and sunscreen such as Coola Suncare Organic SPF 30 Sunscreen for your face or Mayron's Goods Sun Stuff for all over.

Related: Your Worst Sunscreen Mistakes—Caught On Camera


emergency room sign
Annette Shaff/Shutterstock
When to call the doctor

Some burns are simply too severe to be treated at the drugstore and a severe burn can take a lot out of you, says Dr. Basler. Consult a doctor if you experience nausea, chills, fever, faintness, extensive blistering, general weakness, patches of purple discoloration, or intense itching. Be aware that if the burn seems to be spreading, you could have an infection compounding the problem.