Skin SOS After Too Much Sun: DIY

My friend saw me yesterday and went "You sunburned your feet?" Turns out I did, the tops of my feet any my heels. I also sunburned the back side of my armpits. I was trying to ride my bike as much as possible; and though I was diligent about applying sunscreen in all the obvious places I missed some non-obvious ones.

Anyway, this incident plus some other sunburn incidents this summer prompted me to share how to deal with sunburnt skin -- or just skin that is tired and thirsty after being too long in the sun.

Apres Sun Products:

I was trying to find out what is different about products marketed for use after sun exposure. The majority are moisturisers that don't (or should not) contain ingredients that are irritating or dry out the skin. Some include ingredients that give a calming or cooling feeling, like aloe, lots of water or mint. Finally, they should include an ingredient that are astringent (lightly constrict skin and thus reduce inflammation), analgesic (relieve pain) and are anti-inflammatory.

How to treat skin after too much sun exposure

Moisturise as much as possible, inside and out. If the skin is actually sunburned,  apply a compress of cold water as soon as you can. If you got a strong sunburn you might want to go to the doctor, or ask for advice at an apothecary. If you just got a mild sunburn or your skin is just generally irritated and dehydrated, you can try out the kitchen and herbal treatments that I described below. Obviously keep away from the sun in the next few days, and /or use a high SPF applied liberally (apply a layer, don't rub it in!)

DIY sunburn treatments:

These are mainly kitchen-shelf ingredients that you might already have

  • Aloe vera: cooling and soothing. Straight from the plant is best. If you are using a product out of a bottle, be sure it contains as little additives as possible.
  • Witch hazel (alcohol-free): Astringent and anti-inflammatory.
  • Baking soda: anti-inflammatory. Bath (1/2 teaspoon per bathtub) or compress.
  • Oatmeal paste: soothes and calms. I'd recommend adding a bit vinegar to it.
  • Raw honey: a great antiseptic. Do not mix this with vinegar or yogurt because it will kill the beneficial bacteria!
  • Cucumbers: they are analgesic (relieve pain). Apply slices or a paste (blended).
  • Yogurt: cools the skin, the enzymes speed up healing.
  • Green / black tea: steep two tea bags in hot water, let it cool down. Squeeze out the tea bags onto the sunburnt areas.
  • Sandalwood and turmeric paste: in Indian literature there are lots of descriptions of beautiful princesses applying sandalwood paste to soothe their love-fever. But really, according to Ayurveda these two ingredients cool and calms the skin. Diluted vinegar is a really amazing astringent, it can often turn red angry skin to a nice brown tan. (Bath or wash cloth compress)

Herbal infusions: 

I also found myself with a light sunburn after kayaking, and since I was in a tiny village I didn't have access to many product. In case you find yourself in a scenario like that, here are some plants that can ease sunburn.
The best way to use them is to make a hot infusion (basically a tea) by pouring hot water on it and waiting for it to cool, then applying the infusion with a cotton pad or spraying it on the skin. You can also cut up the leaves and let them soak in water (in the sun if possible). Such a cool brew takes time but less of the plant nutrients get destroyed in the process.
You can also make an infusion at the beginning of summer: ca 1 tablespoon herbs to one cup cider vinegar, let it steep for ca 6 weeks, then strain. It will keep for ca 6 months.
Remember to harvest in a sustainable way. If you don't have the equipment to make a tea you can crush the leaves and apply on the area.

Here are plants that are know to soothe sunburnt skin. 
  • Wild strawberry leaves
  • Yarrow -- the sunburn remedy of the Crow people
  • Calendula
  • Gumbo Limbo (Kamalamee) bark -- apparently this Bush tree is also called the Sunburned Tourists Tree
  • Rose petals and leaves: astringent.
  • Cottonwood bark
  • Blackberry
  • Alder
  • Elder (leaf, bark flower)
  • Linden flowers 
  • Chaparral
  • Prickly Pear cactus
  • Lavender
  • Rose petals
Obviously this list is very small, it is very likely that you have local plants where you live that are great against sunburn. If you know of any let me know in the comments. Also share with me how do you treat your skin after too much sun, do you have favourite products?

Photo credit: Christopher Roller via Unsplash

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