These home remedies for sunburn will help bring relief from sunburn itch and speed healing from your head to your toes. We have safe options for sunburn on your face, tips for a soothing bath and some of the best options for sunburn relief.
How long does it take for sunburn to heal? That depends on the severity of the burn. For mild sunburn, you should be better in 3-5 days. A moderate burn will likely take a week or more, and severe burns with blisters will likely take two weeks or more.
Remember, sunburns are burns – so always be gentle to sunburned skin. (See note at bottom of post for when to see a doctor for sunburn.) Most of the time home sunburn remedies will take care of your symptoms, but be careful out there.
#1 – Quick Sunburn Relief by Cooling the Burn
Sunburned skin gets hot, so one of the quickest ways to get short term sunburn relief is to cool down. Use a cool, damp cloth compress or cold pack on small areas, like sunburn on your face.
For larger areas, try a cool shower, a dip in a pool or lake, or a cool bath. Watch that shower spray! Sunburned skin can be tender, so if you have a bad sunburn, opt for the gentler soak over the shower. Pat dry to avoid additional skin irritation. Don't overdo it – 15 to 20 minutes is plenty.
Adding skin soothers such as oatmeal, chamomile, tea bags (5 – 8 per bath) or brewed tea will help even more. To make a chamomile bath bomb, fill a small cloth bag with the dried herb and hang it in the water flow as you are filling the tub.
Skip the soap, which can dry out skin, or use a gentle, moisturizing soap, like goat milk soap. You can also purchase coconut oil soap with aloe vera and chamomile to combine several good sunburn treatments into one.
#2 – Vinegar for Sunburn
Apple cider vinegar is one home remedy that comes up time and again, and sunburn treatment is no exception. To use apple cider vinegar for sunburn, you can use it straight, or dilute it in lukewarm water. (Straight vinegar may sting a little because of the acetic acid.)
Apply vinegar to sunburn gently with a cotton ball or lay a soft washcloth soaked in vinegar on the area. Apply on the hour, as needed. (You can use homemade apple cider vinegar if you have it on hand.) For larger areas, add a cup of vinegar to cool bath water and soak for 15 to 20 minutes. A vinegar/water compress is a good option for a sunburned scalp, as it won't leave a residue that's difficult to wash out of your hair (which could require scrubbing).
#3 – Sunburn Relief with Aloe Vera
Aloe vera is a trusted skin soother and moisturizer, and also acts as an herbal antibiotic. Long recommended as a treatment for burns from other sources, it also helps provide sunburn relief. If you have an aloe plant, simply clip off a leaf and slice lengthwise to extract the gel and apply gently to the affected area. You could also juice the leaves if you have a juicer available.
If you don't have an aloe vera plant, you can purchase aloe vera gel, but make sure to read the label. Many brands have questionable ingredients such as artificial dyes and additives like urea. Aubrey Organics Aloe Vera has a pretty short ingredient list: “Aloe barbadensis (aloe) leaf juice*, citrus grandis (grapefruit) extract, cyamopsis tetragonoloba (guar) gum*, tocopherol (vitamin E).*Organic”. You can often find aloe products at health food stores.
The only down side of using aloe is that it forms a stiff, somewhat tacky coating on your skin. I prefer to use it for small areas that don't need to flex (a sunburned face or on the tip of your nose, for instance).
#4 – Oat Based Sunburn Remedies
Oatmeal is another good sunburn remedy. Oatmeal baths are recommended for a variety of skin ailments, but can also be helpful to sooth internal pain and reduce stress. Oats are one of the herbs that Susun Weed discusses in Healing Wise, and she can't sing enough of their praises. You can use oatstraw (dried green oat plant), oatmeal or specialty products like Aveeno Bath Colloidal Oatmeal.
To use oatstraw for sunburn relief, make an oatstraw infusion by placing two ounces/60 grams of dried plant in a 2 quart/liter jar and covering with boiling water. Cover and allow to sit four hours or overnight. Strain out the plant material, and add the liquid to your warm bath water.
To use oatmeal as a sunburn remedy, take about two handfuls of dried oatmeal (raw – any type is fine) and put it in an old sock or tie it up in a washcloth. Wet thoroughly, and squeeze the milky water from the oatmeal into your bath water. (You can leave the sock in the tub with you and squeeze more liquid out as you soak.) Soak as needed for sunburn relief.
#5 – Honey
In the post “Honey as Medicine – Prevent Infection, Kill Bacteria, Promote Healing“, Dr. Hubbard explains the healing actions of honey:
- Honey seals in the good tissue fluid containing enzymes and proteins that promote healing.
- It provides nutrition to the tissue.
- Honey decreases inflammation and swelling.
Again, as with aloe vera, honey is often recommended as a treatment for burns. It works well, as we learned firsthand last spring when my husband burnt his hand on the tiller. There was about an inch long blister. When we applied honey, the pain and swelling decreased. He applied honey the first two days, after which the skin was mostly back to normal. Interestingly, when he changed the bandages to redress the wound, he found the honey dry, not tacky, under the bandage. (He was afraid it was going to stick, but it didn't.) Apparently, the moisture in the honey had been absorbed into the skin. (The bandage was also dry.)
To use honey to treat sunburn, dab the honey directly on smaller areas, or apply the honey to a bandage and apply the bandage to a larger area. I highly recommend honey for sunburn blisters, as it will reduce the swelling without exposing the raw skin under the blister. (Like it healed my husband's burn blister.)
#6 – Coconut Oil for Sunburn
I use coconut oil as a sunblock and as an after sun treatment. Coconut oil doesn't have a high SPF (it's been rated between 4 and 10, depending on the study), so it allows a healthy amount of UV radiation to reach the skin and helps to prevent free radical damage. (Most of us are vitamin D deficient, and the best source of vitamin D is sunlight.) (Hybrid Rasta Mama has a great post on using natural oils as sun protection.)
When I've used coconut oil for sunburn relief, it soothes and moisturizes the burning and tightness of the skin. Coconut oil melts at around 76°F (24°C), so it is quickly absorbed by the skin. It didn't seem to trap the heat at all (I've seen that comment made regarding using oils for sunburn treatment).
The medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil can be absorbed topically, and are used by our body for healing. Coconut oil contains high amounts of both lauric acid and capric acid, which are are antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antimicrobial. My favorite coconut oil is Nutiva.
If you are prone to acne, stick with virgin coconut oil for sunburn, as it is less likely to clog pores than refined coconut oil. You may prefer a lighter oil such as jojoba for sunburn on your face.
#7 – Milk Based Sunburn Remedies
Moo juice is the sunburn cure of choice for some sun sufferers. Maybe it's a Midwestern thing? I remember my mom bathing my shoulders with milk after a little too much sun at a nearby lake. We lived on a dairy farm, so that may have something to do with the choice of treatment. It did help to soothe the burn, although I did smell a little like sour milk. Simply apply the milk gently to the affected area with a cotton ball or very soft cloth. Yogurt, sour cream and kefir are also good options, and may stay in place a little better than plain milk.
#8 – Baking Soda
One Earth Clinic user recommends a paste of baking soda and water applied to the sunburned skin and reapplied as needed when it dries out. You can also use a few tablespoons in a tepid bath and soak for 15-20 minutes. This wouldn't be my first choice, as it might be too drying, but if you have nothing else on hand I'd give it a go. Pat dry or air dry to avoid abrasion.
#9 – Essential Oils for Sunburn
To safely use essential oils for sunburn relief, dilute 10 drops of essential oil in 4 ounces of carrier oil. Store in a glass bottle, and apply as needed to sunburned skin to soothe and moisturize.
I don't recommend applying undiluted essential oils directly to the skin, especially sunburned skin. It may be best to use one of the other sunburn treatments first, as some people experience irritation when using essential oils on a fresh burn.
Recommended essential oils for sunburn include:
Good carrier oils include:
#10 – Plantain Infused Oil
I almost forgot this one, until I was infusing a fresh batch from the garden. Common (broadleaf) plantain (Plantago major) and narrowleaf plantain can be chopped up and infused in olive oil to make a salve that's great for skin irritations such as bug bites, bees stings and sunburn. You can read about how to infuse plantain in olive oil in the post “Grandma Called it Medicine Leaf“.
#11 – Hydrate
While you're using topical products for sunburn relief, don't forget to get plenty of fluids inside, too. Drink plenty of water and other liquids, and enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables. (Watch out for coffee and alcoholic drinks, which can be dehydrating.)
Some fruits and veggies with high water content include:
- Asian Pears
- Grapefruit and other citrus
- Honeydew melon
- Lettuce and other leafy greens
- Peaches and Nectarines
Sunburn Relief Products
These links go directly to Amazon for easy purchase.
- Apple cider vinegar
- Aubrey Organics Aloe Vera
- Nutiva coconut oil
- Manuka honey
- Baking soda (big bag)
- Coconut oil soap with aloe vera and chamomile
- Aveeno Bath Colloidal Oatmeal
- Lavender or chamomile essential oil
- Jojoba oil
- Fractionated coconut oil
Treatment of Sunburn Blisters
With more severe sunburn, the skin may blister and eventually peel. Try to leave the blister skin intact if possible, as it will protect the raw skin underneath. If sunburn blisters appear, keep them clean and watch for any signs of infection.
If you need to drain the sunburn blisters, carefully use a sterilized needle. A better option may be to bandage the blister with honey (as noted above), which should bring down the swelling without puncturing the skin.
When to See a Doctor for Sunburn
From mayoclinic.org, please see a doctor for sunburn if the following symptoms apply:
- The sunburn is severe — with blisters — and covers a large portion of your body
- The sunburn is accompanied by a high fever, headache, severe pain, dehydration, confusion, nausea or chills
- You've developed a skin infection, indicated by swelling, pus or red streaks leading from the blister
- Your sunburn doesn't respond to at-home care
I hope this post helps keep you comfortable and on the mend if you get too much sun this summer. If burns are severe, please see a trained health professional.
Don't miss the other posts in our Home Remedies Series, such as:
- 15 Home Remedies for Seasonal Allergies and Hay Fever Symptoms
- 15 Home Remedies for Bug Bites and Stings
- 12 Home Remedies for Sore Muscles
- Heat Stroke – Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention
Summertime posts you may also find useful:
- 12 Best Tips for Keeping Your House Cool without AC
- Solar Cooking -DIY Solar Cooker Ideas, Printable Cooking Guide
- What’s the Best Solar Cooker? Choosing the Right Unit for Your Cooking Style
- Summer Gardens – Dealing with High Temperatures in the Garden
Originally posted in 2013, updated in 2017, 2018.