Sunburns and Sunscreens: Remedies and Recommendations!
*Ahhh, the glory of summer. The long awaited beach trip you anticipate all year long is finally here, and you plant yourself in your rightful place: flat on your back with your favorite book while being serenaded by ocean waves and little laughs. You're in your happy place. Before you know it, you've fallen asleep: an unavoidable fate for you between the warm sun that draws out your chronic sleepiness, and the fact that you're stopping for the first time in way too long. You don't fight it, you say you'll "just rest for a minute," as you allow sleep to envelope you. The next thing you remember is feeling an odd tingling on your abdomen...and your legs...and feet and face. When you open your eyes to examine, you discover that you've turned a lovely shade of lobster. Uh-oh...the dreaded sun-burn.*
Sound familiar? Even if your sunburn stories don't involve falling asleep on the beach, I think we can all relate to the moment when we "wake up" to the fact that our skin has been totally scalded by the sun. Now, don't get me wrong, getting time out in the sun everyday (WITHOUT SUNSCREEN) is dry important for our bones, hormones, and overall health: we absorb considerably less (if any) vitamin D when we have sunscreen on, so an appropriate amount of time (15-30 minutes) spent outdoors, "un-screened," in peak daylight hours is crucial. However, being vigilant to avoid sunburns is also important. For the times when you'll be out for more than 30 minutes, it's wise to protect yourself, as we all know that overexposure to the sun's rays can result in serious health conditions, including skin cancer. However, most sunscreens are, quite frankly, not that great for you (okay, okay, they're practically poison...), so many people think they have to either risk exposure to cancer through the sun, or risk exposure to cancer through their sunscreen. I'm here with some good news: THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES...and today's post is all about what those alternatives are! And of course, today's post will also cover what to do if you DO happen to get scalded by the sun. Ready? Let's get started.
Sunscreen Do's and Dont's
As I said earlier, most sunscreens (aside from "natural) sunscreens or sunscreen alternatives) contain some harmful and downright scary ingredients. For the most part, these ingredients are all worrisome for the same reason: when exposed to the sun, they produce free radicals in the body via a complex chemical reaction. And as we know, "free radical" is just a fancy term for "cell destroyer." The worst part about these chemicals, though, is that they are absorbed into the bloodstream (which they are designed to do), making their free radical effect all the more worrisome. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown we absorb these chemicals at alarming amounts, only increasing the concern about the usage of them at all (1). Even the FDA has questioned (and ultimately concluded) that these ingredients are not safe (2). The ingredients that are best to avoid are as follows:
-Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A Palmitate)
-Homosalate (hormone/endocrine disruptor; binds to receptor sites and acts like a hormone, which can lead to a dangerous and chronic imbalance in hormone levels of all kinds)
-Parabens and Pthalates
Now, if you go to the drug store and try to find a sunscreen that is void of all these nasties, you might start getting pretty discouraged, as it's hard to do so, sadly. However, below I've listed some tried-and-true (and SAFE!) sunscreens that are effective and comparable to their chemical-laden counterparts. Be mindful that you can sometimes pay a pretty penny for natural sunscreens, but I've done the difficult work to try and find the cheapest ones.
The Best Sunscreens
-Attitude 100% Mineral Sunscreen (fragrance free)
-All Alba Botanica products
-All Badger sunscreen products
-Sunology Mineral Sunscreen
-Goddess Garden Kid's Mineral Sunscreen
-Kabana Organic Skincare Green Screen D Sunscreen Lotion
-All Loving Naturals sunscreen products
-UVNatural Sunscreen Lotion
-100% Pure sunscreen
-Waxhead sunscreen products
-365 Everyday Value Mineral Sunscreen (best value)
-All Good sunscreen products
-All Terrain sunscreen products
-Andalou Naturals sunscreen products
-Babyganics Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
-Cetaphil PRO Sunscreen Moisturizer (for face; best value)
This is NOT an exhaustive list, but it's a great place to start. As far as sunscreen alternatives, I personally recommend using a natural sunscreen and NOT relying solely on alternatives, as you will be taking a big risk. With that said, there are a few totally natural alternatives that can be helpful aides to your sunblock. These include:
-Red raspberry seed oil
-Carrot seed oil
-Wheat germ oil
-Sesame seed oil
Now the real question: what do we do when we use sunscreen, but get a sunburn anyway? Keep reading...
Sunburn Rescue Remedies!
-Aloe vera: most of us know this one, but it's too effective not to mention here. Aloe vera gel is incredibly soothing and healing...just be sure to get the pure stuff: no artificial colors or preservatives/fillers, as those can actually worsen skin irritation.
-Oatmeal paste: yes, this is as nasty as it sounds...*has flashbacks to nightly oatmeal baths as a 4-year-old with severe eczema* BUT, it's super healing for the skin. This particularly remedy is specifically beneficial for sunburns (or any type of skin irritation) that ITCHES.
-Raw potato slices OR raw potato juice: potatoes are extremely anti-inflammatory, and their starchiness provides added soothing properties. Potato juice (yes, I mean fresh-pressed, raw potato juice, made in a juicer) is generally the most potent of the potato remedies, but most people find enough benefit through using raw potato slices.
-Cool milk compress: you know that old remedy of drinking milk for stomach ulcers (basically a burn in your stomach lining)? Yep, the same goes for external burns. Milk is very soothing, and provides a healing "coating" (although I don't like the image that paints) to irritated tissue, whether internal or external. Sidenote: raw milk and dairy products have been heralded as one of the best foods for ulcerative colitis, Crohn's, and gut diseases of all types. Lactose intolerant? Try goat's milk, which contains significantly less irritant proteins as cow's milk. For more info, check out this blog post.
-Cornstarch/baking soda paste: another nasty one, I know...but both cornstarch and baking soda have cooling properties, which can offset the "burn." Simply mix some baking soda or cornstarch with cool after and apply. Wipe off after 20 minutes or so.
-Vitamin E oil: one of my all-time favorite remedies for soothing anything, anywhere, anytime! Vitamin E is the ultimate healer of skin, both internal and external (I could go on for DAYS about the benefits of Vitamin E...maybe I'll do an entire post on it one of these days!). However, as with aloe vera, just make sure you're getting the pure stuff--no added ingredients. If you can't find pure vitamin E oil without paying a fortune, try to get gelatin capsules. You can open them up and squeeze the oil onto your sunburned skin. And once you're not sunburned anymore, you can take the capsules! Win-win!
-Burdock root: burdock is one of my favorite herbs EVER...and especially for regenerating tissue of any kind. Medicine men and tribal healers have used burdock leaves for centuries on open skin wounds and burns...with incredible results. And although fresh burdock leaves are pretty impossible to find in our area, a potent brewed tea (1-2 T burdock root per cup of water) will still work wonders. You can bathe in warm burdock tea, or apply a compress if it's a smaller burned area. (NOTE: comfrey is also an amazing skin-healing herb, bur it's even harder to find than burdock these days, as there's been some misinformation regarding the safety of comfrey. But fear not--it was total misinformation...although it's still a rare find, as unfortunate as that is.)
-Cucumber slices: cucumbers are one of the best natural cooling agents around. Whenever I happen to get overheated and need a cool-down FAST drink, I opt for cucumber juice! It does the trick every time (celery juice is also very cooling). Being that sunburns are literal burns, opting for cooling substances and remedies are the way to go. So cool it, cucumber!
-Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: whenever we are injured, sick, or physically compromised in any way whatsoever, our fluid needs go up dramatically. Stay hydrated around the clock as best you can. Opt for alkaline beverages like green juice, coconut water, lemon water, etc. to help restore balance to your body (burns are considered "acidic," so alkaline beverages and foods will help restore internal homeostasis and quicken healing).
-Pack in the protein: just like our fluid needs, our protein needs increase when our bodies are trying to heal. Remember, we are literally made up of proteins, so it's only natural that our bodies would need more protein when they are trying to rebuild, either internally or externally (or totally!). Choose clean protein sources as often as possible, such as pastured eggs and chicken, hormone free whey protein (which can increase glutathione levels in the body, further speeding healing! Refer to this post for more on the benefits of whey protein), wild caught seafood, etc. Even adding an extra scoop of protein or protein-rich afternoon snack will help tremendously to rebuild your body in optimal time.
I hope this post has been helpful! If you have any suggestions or recommendations as to future topics for blog posts, or simply want to say "hi," don't hesitate to send me an email. I am also once again taking new clients after a far-too-lengthy break giving myself time to heal from my surgeries, so if you're in need of more personalized attention and suggestions, I'd be thrilled to work with you. Send me an email to get started!
Until next time,
Stay happy, healthy, and hopeful.
Dr. Anna Ruth Johnson, ND/CNS