As I walk around Hoboken this time of year, I am noticing a lot of people sporting sunburns and tan lines. I also walk by Pier A Park along the Hudson and see people lying out and bronzing themselves like rotisserie chickens. So I started to think about what people could do when they get a little too much sun.
I asked Manhattan plastic surgeon Dr. Darren Smith about natural sunburn remedies. Smith started by telling me there are two aspects to sun exposure: preventing a burn and treating a burn if you get one.
For prevention, Smith recommended sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and protective clothing such as hats and sunglasses. A beach umbrella is also a good idea. “It’s important to understand that sunblock is not absolute protection by any stretch of the imagination,” said Smith.
But what about if you overdo it in the sun? In terms of natural sunburn remedies, Smith said the best thing is aloe. “It plain old feels good. It has a nice cooling sensation,” Smith said.
He also said although no real data exists to support this, many people feel it has anti-inflammatory properties. In reality, it probably provides a moist environment that cells can regenerate in.
A sunburn is like any other skin injury or burn, Smith explained. Healing always happens better in a moist environment than a dry environment. But you should not keep reapplying layer upon layer of aloe gel. “When you bathe, you should wash off the previous layer of aloe before applying a new one,” Smith said.
Vitamin E oil or lotion with vitamin E can also be helpful. Vitamin E has antioxidant potential, so it neutralizes free radicals that can cause DNA damage and lead to skin cancer, Smith said. However, vitamin E is something you should use as part of your regular skin care routine. With a sunburn, use the aloe!
I have also heard of putting oatmeal on a sunburn. But oatmeal is kind of messy, although some people really swear by it, said Smith. “Some people throw a cup of ground oats into a bath and soak in it if they have eczema or sunburn,” Smith said. It’s not necessarily bad for your skin, but aloe is a cleaner product.
Another remedy I’ve heard mentioned a few times is dairy. Not a good idea, because it is hard to be sure you have a sanitary preparation of food-based remedies, said Smith. Bacteria can grow in things like milk or yogurt. “When you have a sunburn, the skin barrier against infection is compromised. I would hesitate before putting something like dairy products on what is essentially an open wound,” said Smith.
I know when I get a little too much sun (it happens), I use aloe. What about you? Do you use aloe, too, or do you have another favorite sunburn hack? Let’s talk natural sunburn relief in the comments!
This year, I’m doing the Eyecandy Project 52 photography challenge. Every week, we have to take a picture inspired by a prompt, such as From Above. Some prompts are relevant to the time of year, some are more evergreen. I’ll post my more successful efforts here about once a quarter. Check out the Q1 highlights here.
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