Published July 05, 2012
When summer hits, people emerge from their indoor environments and spend a lot more time outdoors enjoying the fine weather. Beaches and parks become highly popular, while shorts, t-shirts and light clothing become the norm. Extra exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun helps the body to produce essential vitamin D, and the warmth of the sun feels good.
But too much sun can be a bad thing, and when we are over-exposed, it’s easy to get a burn. A sunburn can be a mild discomfort or a very serious reaction, depending on its severity. When a person gets a sunburn, their skin’s DNA is damaged but UV-B rays. Sunburns produce reddish skin that is hot to the touch and may also be accompanied by fatigue.
Factors that can affect sunburn include genetic heritage, location and drugs. Your ancestral heritage determines a lot about how quickly you may burn when exposed to the sun. Those who are especially fair skinned fare more poorly when exposed to the sun than those who are olive skinned or black. This has to do with the amount of the natural pigment melanin in skin. Melanin is photoprotectant, enabling the body to absorb sun rays as simple heat without DNA damage. The more melanin in the skin, the lesser chance a person has to burn. When we tan, that is due to increased melanin production as a result of sun exposure. In very fair skinned people, there is insufficient melanin for tanning.
Your geographic location is another significant factor with sunburns. Those who live in the tropical latitudes are exposed to more direct sunlight, and must therefore be more careful than those who live in the higher latitudes where the rays of the sun are less direct.
Drugs also play a role in whether you will burn. Antibiotics, oral contraceptives and anti-anxiety drugs can increase the risk of burns. If you are taking any of these classes of drugs, carefully read the contraindications sections of the data sheets, so you will know whether you are at increased risk of burning.
If you overdo your exposure to the sun and wind up with a mild burn, the following natural remedies can provide soothing relief. However, if you wind up with a serious burn, you will be wise to contact your doctor.
Aloe Vera is without question the most popular of all sunburn remedies, for good reason. The cooling, soothing gel of this beautiful succulent plant provides almost immediate relief for sunburn pain. Some studies have shown that aloe vera enhances skin healing after burns. You can buy aloe vera gel in a bottle, but your best bet is to keep a beautiful, green aloe plant in your home and just cut one of the blade-shaped leaves when you need some gel. Think of an aloe vera plant as a living pharmacy in a pot.
Tamanu oil, while less well known, is my all-time favorite pick for sunburn relief. This oil from the nut of a tropical tree turns red skin into tanned skin overnight, eliminates the pain of sunburn upon application, and causes the formation of new, healthy skin. Tamanu oil is extensively well studied for its skin healing properties when applied to even very serious burns. The oil is anti-inflammatory, and it causes the rapid formation of new, healthy skin tissue. Keeping a bottle of tamanu oil handy in your medicine cabinet is a smart idea.
Calendula, which is a specific type of marigold, is an old remedy for healing burns, abrasions, rashes and most skin problems. Calendula comes in creams and gels. The gels are more cooling, providing quick relief. Calendula relieves inflammation and helps to accelerate skin healing. Natural, safe, effective and inexpensive, calendula is another home medicine chest essential.
Lavender essential oil is not only pleasant smelling and easy to obtain, it also soothes burned skin quickly and is the most widely used essential oil for sunburn. Rich in anti-inflammatory compounds, lavender essential reduces redness and swelling. The side effect? It makes you smell really good.
Native Americans used an infusion of the common herb yarrow as a wash for sunburn and other skin disorders. Yarrow relieves the pain of burns and soothes inflamed skin. You can buy dried yarrow in many natural food stores. If you have a sunburn, make a big pot of yarrow tea and add it to a warm or cool bath. The infusion will provide relief.
Don’t be afraid of the sun – we all need it, and being out in sunshine not only gives us badly needed vitamin D but brightens our moods as well. Just be sure to take your sun exposure easily, starting out with 20 minutes or so the first day, and building your daily time gradually up to avoid burning. Happy summer to you.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com