Right in the middle of your pool party, it happens: red skin, flushed cheeks, zapped energy. A sunburn can stop fun in its tracks. Luckily, you can soothe your skin with ingredients you probably already have at home.
When I was growing up, I didn’t think much of the occasional sunburn. But each time your skin gets burned, the damage to your skin cells can increase your risk of skin cancer.
There's no question that proper sun care is important. Unfortunately, many sunscreens and sunburn soothers come in packaging that contributes to pollution. And they often contain ingredients that can irritate skin or harm the environment. Today, we’re sharing nine natural sunburn remedies to help you feel better after a burn without creating extra waste.
Zero-Waste Sun Protection Tips
You can enjoy your favorite outdoor activities without excess sun damage. And protecting yourself from harmful UV rays takes just a few moments of prep. To practice sun safety on your adventures:
- Cover up your skin with lightweight, opaque clothing
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face
- Guard your eyes with UV-blocking sunglasses
- Avoid peak sunlight hours (10 AM - 4 PM) when possible
- Remember that UV rays can damage skin even on cool or cloudy days
- Stay hydrated, especially in hot weather
- Apply an eco-friendly sunscreen (and reapply as needed)
Some of our favorite zero-waste sunscreens are the Everyday Sunscreen by Meow Meow Tweet, and Raw Elements’ collection of Adult, Kids, and Tinted Facial Sunscreens. All of these sunscreens are made with effective natural ingredients and come in low-waste packaging.
What to Do After You Get Sunburned
Despite your best efforts, sunburns happen from time to time. But by acting quickly, you can minimize damage and discomfort.
- Get out of the sun. As soon as you realize you’re burned, go indoors or into full shade.
- Use cool water (not hot or ice cold). Hot water adds heat to the burn, and ice cold water can harm your already sensitive skin.
- Don’t soak your skin for more than 15-20 minutes at once. Staying in the water longer than that can dry out your skin.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing. Avoid tight, rough fabrics that rub against your burn. Loose natural fabrics are best to let your skin breathe.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. When you get sunburned, your skin pulls more fluid to the surface of your skin. To replace that fluid, drink plenty of water. 100% fruit juice, tea and coconut water are also good options.
- Stay out of the sun. Sunburned skin is vulnerable to damage, so stay in when you can.
- Keep your skin moisturized. As your skin begins to heal, you may notice extra dryness. Use a gentle moisturizer without alcohol or harsh fragrance, like All Cream.
- Get plenty of rest. Your skin is your body’s largest organ, so repairing it takes a lot of energy. Give yourself time to bounce back by resting as much as you can.
- Care for your skin. Avoid popping blisters or peeling burned skin. Instead, give yourself some extra TLC with natural sunburn remedies.
Quick & Easy Natural Sunburn Remedies
When you or a loved one gets sunburned, it can be stressful and even downright miserable.
If you’re experiencing a severe sunburn or a child under age one has been burned, consult a medical professional before beginning treatment at home.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can soothe a mild-to-moderate sunburn and help it heal more quickly. And this doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or harm the planet. These simple zero-waste remedies will help you get back to enjoying summer fun.
Tip: Remember to patch test on a small area before applying, especially if you have sensitive skin.
1. Aloe Vera
If I had to guess, I’d say aloe vera is the first sunburn remedy that comes to mind for most people. And there’s a good reason for that. Aloe vera helps reduce inflammation, soothe and moisturize your skin, and can boost collagen production to speed up healing.
Look for 100% Aloe Vera Gel without any colors, fragrances or additives. You can also find whole aloe leaves in the produce section of many supermarkets. Apply the gel to your skin liberally as needed. For extra relief, keep your aloe in the fridge until use.
2. Cold Compress
After a sunburn, your skin may feel hot and tender. You can cool down by applying a cold compress to burned areas.
To make a cold compress:
- Wrap ice or frozen vegetables in a thin towel
- Apply to burned areas
- Use for 10-15 minutes at a time
If wrapped ice still feels too cold, you can use a cool, damp towel instead. Never apply for more than 20 minutes at once, and don’t place ice directly on your skin.
3. Witch Hazel
You may already be familiar with witch hazel as a popular skincare ingredient. Did you know it can also be used as a natural sunburn remedy? This is because witch hazel is rich in tannins — antioxidants that help reduce inflammation.
Look for pure witch hazel without fragrances or added alcohol. To use, soak a reusable cotton round or small washcloth with witch hazel and gently apply it to sunburned skin.
4. Black or Green Tea
Like witch hazel, black and green teas contain tannins that help calm your inflamed skin.
Brew a cup of tea the way you normally do. Let it cool completely, then use a soft cloth to apply it to your skin. You can also soak the cloth in tea and apply it as a cool compress.
For some added hydration, brew an extra cup of tea and sip it while you wait for the rest to cool.
5. Raw Honey
Honey, especially raw honey, is naturally antibacterial. It also helps moisturize your skin. If you have it on hand, Manuka Honey has some of the strongest antibacterial properties. But you can use whatever you have at home.
To use honey as a natural sunburn remedy, place a small amount on the burned areas and gently spread it. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes before rinsing. Since this gets sticky, consider using honey just before taking a cool bath or shower.
Our next three remedies make your sunburn soaks extra soothing.
6. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar helps balance the pH of your skin, and can help relieve stinging and inflammation after a sunburn. Some people may be sensitive to vinegar, so we recommend trying this remedy out on a minor sunburn before using it on a more serious case.
Run a cool bath and add one cup of apple cider vinegar, then soak for 15-20 minutes. For best results, use vinegar that contains the “mother,” the combination of yeast and healthy bacteria that help ferment vinegar.
If the smell of vinegar bothers you, try one of these two baths instead.
7. Oatmeal Soak
Oatmeal’s calming, moisturizing properties make it a common ingredient in lotions. You can also use it as a natural sunburn remedy to hydrate and calm your skin.
Draw a cool bath, then place 1 cup of plain oats inside a clean sock or towel and tie it closed. Old-fashioned oats work best, but you can also use quick or steel-cut oats. Next, add it to your bath and soak for 15-20 minutes.
8. Baking Soda
Baking soda helps balance your skin’s pH and lower inflammation. It’s particularly helpful for sunburned skin that is itchy or peeling.
To use baking soda, you can:
- Mix 2-3 tablespoons of baking soda with cool water to form a paste and apply to itchy or peeling areas of your skin
- Add 3-4 tablespoons to a cool bath and soak for 15-20 minutes
Just don’t use baking soda and vinegar in the same bath, or you may end up with a middle-school science fair project instead!
9. DIY Electrolyte Drink
Drinking plenty of water is one of the best ways to help your body heal and recover. This easy zero-waste DIY electrolyte drink helps give your body the support it needs.
Add the following ingredients to a pint-sized mason jar:
- 1 ½ - 2 cups of water
- Juice from ½ lemon
- ⅛ to ¼ tsp real sea salt, Himalayan salt, or Celtic Sea Salt
- 2 tsp raw honey
Then shake well and sip while you rest. You can store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week.
Bonus: Zero-Waste Sunburn Remedies You Don’t Have to DIY
If DIYs aren’t your thing, you can buy pre-made salves to soothe a burn. Fat and the Moon makes a variety of remedies with nourishing natural oils, beeswax and soothing herbs to moisturize and protect your skin. Here are two of our favorites:
All Salve containers organic sunflower oil infused with St. John’s Wort, grape leaf and comfrey soothe inflammation. Beeswax and calendula help moisturize dry skin.
Lip Salve contains rich mango butter, organic sunflower oil and beeswax to hydrate your lips and seal in moisture. Rosemary essential oil helps fight bacteria.
You can add one of these salves to your zero-waste first aid kit so you’re ready the next time a sunburn strikes.
Wishing You Lots of Summer Fun
As someone with three redheaded siblings (and a dad whose hair was almost orange before it went grey) I’ve seen my share of summer sunburns. Over the years, we’ve used these tips ourselves, and we’re getting better at prevention, too.
If you’re currently nursing a sunburn, we wish you a speedy recovery and hope that these natural sunburn remedies help you get back to the summer activities you love.
Do you have any go-to remedies when you get a sunburn? Share them in the comments below!