12 Home Remedies for Sunburns
Is your child suffering from pain and inflammation after a sunburn? From aloe vera to baking soda, these natural sunburn remedies can help soothe their symptoms.
We all know the basics of child sun safety: apply sunscreen regularly, cover up with sun-protective clothing, and avoid harsh UV rays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. But despite our best efforts, kids sometimes get sunburned, and the symptoms that follow can be less-than-pleasant. We're talking about painful skin, redness, peeling, and even blistering—yikes! Thankfully, there are ways to ease your child's discomfort and prevent lasting damage. Keep reading to learn about 12 sunburn remedies to try at home.
When dealing with sunburn, the first step should be cooling down the skin, says Alan Greene, M.D., FAAP. A tepid (but not too cold) bath or shower can do the trick. Don't scrub the skin or use products like bath oils, soap, or bubble bath (they can cause excess dryness). Gently pat yourself dry to prevent irritation, but leave some water on the skin, suggests the American Academy of Dermatology.
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You can also try a cold compress to reduce heat, pain, and swelling. Wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen veggies in a soft towel and apply to the burn. Never place ice directly on skin, as it can cause more damage. Use the cold compress throughout the day for 10-15 minute intervals.
Once your skin is cooled, it's time to combat dryness, says Dr. Greene. He recommends using a soothing, alcohol-free moisturizer with vitamin E or aloe. Apply the moisturizer throughout the day to seal the skin's hydration. Hydrocortisone creams can also help if the sunburn is especially painful.
Aloe vera is one of the best remedies for sunburn. The gel from inside this cactus plant eases discomfort, speeds healing, and moisturizes skin. Either split a plant leaf and apply the sap directly to skin, or buy pure aloe vera gel at your local drugstore. Note that some kids have allergic reactions to aloe, so you might want to avoid using it if you're unsure. You can also test it on a small patch of skin first.
The sticky stuff's been used as a topical burn salve since Egyptian days. "Studies suggest it may work better than some antibiotic creams at speeding up healing, reducing infection, and minimizing pain," says Kathi Kemper, M.D., author of The Holistic Pediatrician. Skip this remedy for babies younger than 12 months, as accidental ingestion of the honey could put them at risk for developing infant botulism.
Finely ground oatmeal (sold as colloidal oatmeal in drug stores) works as an anti-inflammatory when mixed with bath water. Make your own by pulverizing a cup of instant or slow-cooking oatmeal in a blender or food processor until it has a smooth, fine consistency. Pour into tepid bath water and soak.
Wet a washcloth or cotton gauze with this astringent and apply to the skin for 20 minutes. Reapply three or four times a day (or as needed) to minimize pain and itching. You can thank anti-inflammatory tannins for the soothing effects of witch hazel!
Place a washcloth or cotton gauze soaked in brewed tea—like chamomile, black, or green tea—on the affected area to relieve symptoms. And because tea is all natural, it even works as a home remedy for sunburn on the face.
Some experts recommend using cold-pressed, organic coconut oil to fight against dryness and irritation. You should only apply coconut oil after the skin cools and blistering goes away, though, because the thick substance can trap heat and worsen symptoms. Once your skin is ready, which may take a few days, liberally apply the coconut oil as a natural sunburn remedy.
Baking Soda or Cornstarch
Soaking in bath water mixed with baking soda or cornstarch can relieve inflammation and itching. Alternately, you can mix these ingredients with water to make a paste, then apply it to sunburned skin.
Acetic acid in vinegar alleviates pain, itching, and inflammation. Pour one cup of apple cider vinegar into tepid bath water and soak. You can also apply vinegar to sunburned skin with a washcloth for 10-15 minutes at a time.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, "a sunburn draws fluid to the skin's surface and away from the rest of the body." That's why drinking plenty of liquids is important to prevent dehydration. Also serve fruits and vegetables with high water contents—watermelon, grapefruit, cucumbers, etc.
When to Call the Doctor for Sunburn
Sunburns should go away within three or five days. In addition to the methods outlined above, children should wear loose-fitting clothing, resist popping blisters (this can lead to infection), and stay out of the sun until they're healed. And though many parents prefer natural remedies for sunburn, you might want to give children ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation, as long as they're over 6 months old.
Contact your pediatrician immediately if your child is under age 1 or if they have blisters, severe pain, lethargy, or a fever higher than 101 degrees.