Yes, we all know that lying out in the sun is just as bad for us as puffing cigarettes. That said, even the most sun-smart among us slip up every once in a while and come home from a day outside with red, inflamed skin. The unique pain of a sunburn leaves most of us willing to try just about anything to stop the hurt. All it takes is a walk down the drugstore aisle to see that people are willing to shell out some serious funds to soothe the burn. Even I, a pale-skinned SPF-85 wearer, keep a bottle of aloe on hand just in case—because dealing with that pain sans soothing treatment of any kind? No, thank you.
Lately, I’ve been trying to go more natural (and cheap) in many areas of my life, from skincare to housecleaning. Turns out, there’s an entire selection of time-tested, widely accepted au naturel actions we can take to treat sunburned skin—without looking beyond our own kitchen cupboards.
Baking Soda: This kitchen staple can provide quick burn relief and cooling. Try sprinkling a generous dose of soda into cool bathwater. Not feeling the tub? Make a paste by mixing some baking soda with water, then spread it directly on the burn and allow it to dry. As it does, keep patting water on it to keep the paste stuck there until the burn is sufficiently soothed.
Oatmeal: This is another technique that works well in the bath or applied directly. Sprinkle one cup of pulverized oatmeal into your bathwater and soak in it. Otherwise, create a compress by wrapping dry oatmeal in cheesecloth or gauze. Run cool water through it to moisten, then apply for ten to fifteen minutes every two to four hours.
Milk: Milk’s proteins also have soothing qualities when gently applied to a sunburn. Combine one cup of milk with four cups of water, with a few ice cubes thrown in. Soak a compress in it, and then apply the compress to the burn for fifteen to twenty minutes every few hours.
Witch Hazel: Moisten a cloth with witch hazel, and apply it often for temporary relief from pain and swelling. For smaller sunburned areas, dip cotton balls into the liquid and gently press them on the burn.
Cornstarch Compress: As with baking soda, making a paste out of cornstarch can calm red skin. Add enough water to the cornstarch to create a paste, then apply it directly to the burn.
Aloe Leaves: Yep, you can use the actual leaves from aloe plants to soothe burns, just as you would aloe gel from the drugstore (another reason to add a little flora to your indoor environment). Simply break open one of the leaves to expose the white aloe within, and rub the gel on the inflamed area.
Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar is one of the most popular kitchen remedies for burns. Although it can leave sunburn victims smelling a bit like pickles, soaking some up with a sponge or cotton balls and dabbing it over a burn will help reduce inflammation.
Coconut Oil: This great baking ingredient is also useful for soothing sunburns. Rubbing coconut oil on a burn (after cleaning it gently) will soothe it by relieving itchiness and pain—and make it smell good. In addition, the oil will moisturize your skin the same way lotion does.
Egg Whites: Not just for protein-infused breakfasts, egg whites can soothe burns, too. After cracking a few whites into a bowl, rub them over the burn with a sponge or cotton balls. Yep, it’ll feel sort of disgusting, but it will ease the pain and heat.
Potato: An old-fashioned remedy for cooling down feverish foreheads, potatoes can also alleviate burns. Slice one thinly, then place the slices over the sunburn for instant relief.
Black Tea: To squelch a sunburn, turn your bathtub into a giant cup of tea: Keep the water lukewarm (too hot will be painful) and soak five to eight teabags in it. After they steep for a few minutes, remove them and soak in the tub to remove the sting. Another option is to steep a single bag in half a cup of water and apply the liquid directly to the burn with a sponge or cotton ball. Some people recommend opening the bags up after steeping and rubbing the tea leaves over the burn, wrapping it with gauze to hold the leaves in place.
Of course, prevention is the best way to avoid burns and their ugly aftereffects. Treatment or no treatment, our skin doesn’t forget burns—they leave scars like wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancer. Applying sunscreen, wearing UV-protective sunglasses, and keeping out of the sun’s glare during peak hours are absolute musts. And for those times when we do slip up? No need for an emergency trip to the drugstore—all we need to chase the pain away can likely be found right in our own homes.