Do Natural Sunburn Remedies Really Work?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 07, 2015

Vinegar, baking soda, and black tea can relieve your pain.

You thought you put on enough sunblock, but somehow you missed a patch. Or you got lost in your beach book and forgot to reapply. Now you’re bright red and sore. You might find pain relief in your refrigerator, according to “The Big Doctors Book of Home Remedies,” which contains tips from a team of physicians.

At the very least, don’t make things worse. Dermatologists recommend that you don’t soak in soapy water. Soap can dry your skin, so limit your soaping, maybe by sticking to just the key sweaty areas. If you do use soap, rinse it off very well, with cool water. Skip the washcloth or loofah for a few days and do not rub your skin when you pat it dry, or you'll irritate it further. Also, stay away from shaving or waxing as long as possible. Guys — lather your face well with lotion.

Some dermatologist-recommended baths to try:

Mix a cup of white or apple cider vinegar into a tub of cool water, suggests California dermatologist Carl Korn, MD. Vinegar can soothe pain.

If you sprinkle baking soda into tepid bathwater, you can soak and let the solution dry on your skin, according to New Jersey dermatologist Frederic Haberman, MD. Instead of toweling off, let the solution dry on your skin.

Use oatmeal-based soaks from the drug-store if you feel itchy. If you have dry oatmeal in the cupboard, don’t just pour it into the tub. Instead, wrap some in gauze, run cool water through the package and let it drain into a container. You can soak a towel in the liquid.

Black tea contains tannic acid, which can ease pain. You might apply tea bags soaked in cool water, especially if you’ve burned your eyelids. You could also soak in a bath water that contains three to five teabags.

Soaks and cool compresses will give you some relief, but you’ll need to moisturize afterwards. Smooth on bath oil, then apply a moisturizer, which you could chill beforehand in the refrigerator. Avoid moisturizers with alcohols, retinols, and AHAs (alpha hydroxyl acids), which can be irritating.

The old standby over-the-counter pain relievers also will help, and you could use 1 percent hydrocortisone cream to relieve itch and swelling.

Pain relievers won’t speed healing. There is some mixed evidence that juice from the leaf of an aloe vera plant can help, but don’t count on it for a serious burn, say from a kitchen accident.

When you get dressed the next day, avoid fitted clothes. Women might put a fragrance-free powder on their shoulders, ribcage, and bikini lines to prevent chafing from the elastic in bras and underwear.

The best remedy, of course, is prevention. Make sure your sunscreen hasn’t expired; a standard 4- to 6-oz tube should disappear in a weekend at the beach, not a year. Also try to keep it in a cool place to prevent degradation. After a quick dip, don’t towel off, but let the water evaporate instead, so the sunscreen you applied lasts.  


March 25, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN