Natural Treatments for Sunburn
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
THERE IS A FINE LINE BETWEEN A SUNTAN and a sunburn. The skin is very sensitive to ultraviolet rays, and sensitive skin can get a sunburn in less than five minutes of exposure to direct sunlight. Most people think that they can avoid sunburn by staying in the shade, but ultraviolet rays can penetrate the shade. Prolonged and repeated sunburns can cause aging of the skin, loss of skin elasticity, and skin cancer. Symptoms of acute sunburn include itching, blisters, pain, redness, and swelling accompanied by chills, headache, fever, and nausea. Severe sunburn is treated like a first-degree burn and requires the care of a dermatologist.
In Chinese medicine, sunburn is considered a summer heat invasion. The condition resembles the common cold with the additional symptoms of a rash. As the heat from the sun enters the body, it gets trapped in the energy meridians and skin. This trapped heat is often combined with dampness, causing the typical symptoms. I approach sunburn by providing immediate relief with topical herbal therapy along with acupuncture to release the trapped heat from the skin and to soothe the symptoms of burning and pain. I then follow up with oral herbal therapy and dietary advice. The key, of course, is to take precautions to prevent sunburn in the first place. Here are some good home remedies and recommendations for caring for sunburn.
DIET FOR SUNBURN
- During acute sunburn, overeating is not recommended. Fluids are important to rehydrate the body and skin. Cooling foods including watermelon, cucumber, cantaloupe, honeydew, celery, broccoli, bok choy, lentils, mushrooms, squash, zucchini, pears, peaches, prunes, pineapple, and apples are useful for removing the trapped heat and cooling the body. Drink a glass of water hourly.
- Avoid greasy, barbecued, spicy, and deep-fried foods, as they may worsen the condition. Dairy products in general should be avoided, as they promote the formation of dampness in the body. The exception is yogurt, as the acidophilus in yogurt is helpful for immune function in the healing process. Alcohol and coffee dehydrate the body and produce heat, so they should be avoided.
HOME REMEDIES FOR SUNBURN
- Drink a mixture of 12 ounces each of pineapple and black cherry juice to help reduce inflammation and heat. Drink 3 cups daily.
- Apply a thin layer of plain yogurt to the burn area to cool and soothe the irritation.
- Aloe vera gel applied topically is a tried-and-true remedy for skin burns.
- To prevent sunburn, limit exposure to sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Use a UV A sunscreen with an SPF factor of 30 to 50.
- •Wear a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a wide-brimmed hat.
DAILY VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR SUNBURN
- Taking beta-carotene (1,000 milligrams) or other carotenoids (500 milligrams) can prevent severe sun sensitivity.
- Taking fish oils containing omega-3 fatty acids (1,000 milligrams EPA; Boo milligrams DHA) lessen the symptoms of sunburn.
- Vitamins B3 (100 milligrams), C (1,000 milligrams), and E (Boo IU) can be taken as a protective measure to prevent sunburn.
- Taking vitamin D (600 IU) supplements helps protect the skin from UVB lights.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR SUNBURN
Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to www.askdrmao.com.
- Green tea and calendula can inhibit cell damage from sunburn. They can be taken internally as a tea or topically as a wash.
- Crush some dandelion greens and apply to the affected area as a poultice, changing every hour. You also can put 1 cup of dandelion greens in a blender and blend with 1/2 cup aloe vera gel and 1 tablespoon honey to make a smoother poultice. Repeat 4 to 6 times a day for maximum relief.
- Traditional Chinese remedies used to treat summer heat syndrome include mung beans, lotus leaf, sweet wormwood, momordica fruit, fermented soy, eupatorium, and elsholtzia.
EXERCISE FOR SUNBURN
Don’t exercise strenuously during a summer heat wave or when you have a bad sunburn. Calm, rest, and relaxation will help with your recovery. I recommend the following general stress-release meditation to calm and relax you while your body heals.
- Lie down on your back or sit comfortably with your spine erect at the edge of a chair. If you choose to sit, your feet should be flat on the floor, with your legs bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Reach up toward the sky with both hands on a deep inhale. As you hold your breath make tight fists and squeeze, tightening all the muscles in your arms. Slowly exhale, relaxing your arms and bringing your fists down to your chest. Repeat this several times.
- Next, cross your arms in front of your chest, with your fingers touching just under your collarbone and your wrists crossed at the center of your upper chest.
- Lower your chin toward your chest, and inhale 4 short breaths in a row through your nose (without exhaling). Fill your lungs completely on the fourth breath and hold the breath for a few seconds with the chest full and expanded.
- Exhale slowly through your mouth.
Repeat this exercise for 2 or 3 minutes, concentrating on deep and rhythmic breathing.
ACUPRESSURE FOR SUNBURN
- Find the acupoint Valley of Harmony (LI-4), at the web between your thumb and index finger. Apply steady pressure with your left thumb until you feel soreness. Hold for 2 minutes. Repeat on the left hand.
- •Locate the acupoint Wind Pond (GB-20), is in the natural indentation at the base of your skull on either side of your neck. Press and lift up toward the base of your skull with your thumbs and lean your head back. Use the weight of your head against your thumbs for steady pressure on the acupoint. Hold for 5 minutes, breathing deeply and slowly.
SUNBURN: WHAT TO AVOID
- Strenuous activities and outdoor exposure. Rest in a cool but not cold environment.
- Further exposure to the sun or heat, as this may worsen the condition.
- Sun exposure if you’re taking certain drugs that make your skin more susceptible to sunburn, such as tetracycline, thiazide diuretics, anti-anxiety medications such as alprazolam, and NSAIDs such as piroxicam.