Food for Your Sunburn

It happens to the best of us. You are enjoying a nice day hanging out at the park, maybe an afternoon at the beach, or relaxing on a boat at the lake…you’ve applied some sunscreen immediately after allowing some sun exposure for vitamin D production, but you get home later and see the pink. Then it’s darker and painful the next day…oops. And ouch!

It’s ok. It happened to me on our vacation just last week. I was basking in a bikini and all my pregnant glory (33 weeks) at a pool in Florida. (Side note: People WILL stare if you do this pretty late in pregnancy. Own it.) I went sunscreen free for a while, with the intention of listening to my body and covering up and finding some shade when the time came, but I waited a little too long. Thankfully it was a minor burn but still it was one I wanted gone quickly.

An old favorite for burns here is pure aloe vera gel, but it’s not always easy to find a good one. Ideally, you would be able to find an aloe vera plant and use the fresh aloe right from the leaves, just as nature intended. A lot of store-bought aloe vera gels have some extra ingredients you don’t need, or heck, some aren’t even aloe vera at all! (And for the love of health, don’t buy the green one! Natural aloe vera gel is NOT green!) Try a natural health food store if a plant isn’t an option. Look for one that needs to be refrigerated. If aloe isn’t a possibility, there are other helpful remedies that can be found right in your kitchen at home or are simple finds at a grocery store even on vacation!

We can take a cue from Hippocrates and “Let food be thy medicine.”


Foods that can help soothe a sunburn from the outside

Apple cider vinegar – ACV has natural anti-inflammatory agents as well as some vitamins and minerals that are needed in the skin. It helps to release the heat of the sunburn, and restore the damaged skin’s pH, which will promote faster healing, reduce the itch and discomfort, and prevent peeling. Saturate a clean soft cloth with a 2:1 mixture of water and ACV. Apply the washcloth to sunburned skin for a few minutes and you should feel relief from the itch and sting of the burn.

Cucumber – Ever hear the saying “cool as a cucumber”? These can provide relief to a sunburn thanks to its cooling effects, antioxidants, and pain-relieving properties. There are a few ways you can prepare this for application, depending on the location and size of the burn, and what equipment you have access to. If you have a blender, you can make a puree and spread that all over the burn. If you have a knife, simply slice the cucumber into rounds and apply. You’ll feel them heat up as heat is released from the burned area. You can then flip them for additional healing. If you have a peeler, peel the cucumber into ribbons/thin slices and apply to the burn the same way as the rounds.

Milk – It’s the fat content in milk that provides relief from the sunburn, so be sure it’s whole milk. Soak a clean soft cloth in the milk and apply to the sunburned area for about 20 minutes. You’ll want to gently rinse off after so you don’t smell like sour milk. Full-fat plain yogurt can work here too.

Tea – Certain teas can have a cooling effect on sunburns. Green teas and black teas work best. If you can find a peppermint tea, the menthol herb can provide additional cooling and healing benefits. You’ll want to brew a strong cup of tea here, so the darker the better. You might want to use a few bags. Allow the tea to cool completely before attempting to use! Once it’s cooled, soak a clean soft cloth and apply to sunburn for about 20 minutes.

Oatmeal – Oatmeal can help provide relief from the itch of sunburned skin, as well as reduce some inflammation. If you have access to a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder, grind up about a cup of oats and add to a room temp bath. Soak for a good 20 minutes.

Coconut oil – Use with caution. I’ve seen conflicting information about whether or not coconut oil can trap heat inside, like butter does. I personally would go for one of the remedies that is known not to do this, but maybe that’s just me. Having heat trapped will prolong the discomfort and itch, delay healing, and can even promote blistering. Once the heat has been released with other methods, however, coconut oil can be really helpful to keep the skin moisturized and prevent peeling.

Foods that can help heal a sunburn from the inside

Water (with a pinch of sea salt) – Minerals are needed for proper holding of water as well as wound healing. Hydration is an important part of skin health regularly, but especially when it’s damaged. Coconut water is another great option.

Foods rich in vitamin C – Vitamin C promotes healing. Foods like oranges, bell peppers, leafy greens, strawberries, and kiwis are good choices. You can take a whole food vitamin C supplement as well. (Please note: This is NOT ascorbic acid! Ascorbic acid is the synthetic version of vitamin C and is really just the outer part of the vitamin C complex. According to Healthy Home Economist, it can actually negatively affect gut flora and is often synthesized from GMO corn syrup.) There’s one by Pure Radiance C that’s a good whole food supplement.

Foods rich in zinc – Zinc also promotes healing. Foods like pumpkin seeds, grass fed beef, cashews, spinach, sunflower seeds, and chicken can be helpful here.

Foods to avoid when you have a sunburn

Sugar – Sugar is inflammatory and can slow the healing process.

Caffeine/Alcohol – Thanks to their diuretic effects, you’ll want to avoid these while that burn is healing. It’s important to keep your body and skin as hydrated as possible.

Damaged fats and oils – Think canola oil, vegetable oils, sunflower/safflower oils (like what chips are often cooked in), etc. These are inflammatory and can slow the healing process.

Of course, prevention of the sunburn in the first place is really the way to go because once the burn happens, the damage to your cells is done. However, like I said, it happens. Come on back for the next post on safe sun exposure and sunburn prevention both internally and externally. 

In good health,

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