It’s a no-brainer that sunburn is not good. It messes with your cells and raises your risk of skin cancer, it predisposes you to wrinkles, and if you got it today or yesterday, it just plain hurts.
If your whole prevent-a-sunburn strategy failed, then you’re going to want something to soothe your sunburn, and believe it or not, there are some essential oils that can actually help you do that. (Assuming you’ve already taken the all-important step of getting out of the sun.)
Essential oils aren’t sunburn prevention, of course. (For avoiding a sunburn in the first place, check out our list of the best sunscreens for men.) But certain essential oils can have a welcome, cooling sensation and some are believed to help pain and inflammation.
“The goal of using essential oils for a sunburn is to hydrate damaged skin, provide antioxidants to help repair injured cells, and to soothe and calm inflammation,” says Sonia Batra, MD, MPH, a dermatologist and co-host of the television show The Doctors. And the smell can be soothing as well.
Of course, you never want to use essential oils directly from the container on your skin. “Essential oils should always be diluted in a carrier oil before applying to skin. The usual combination is 3 to 5 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil,” she says. Common carrier oils include coconut or sweet almond oil.
“You can also mix a few drops of an essential oil into a sunburn soother such as aloe vera gel or oatmeal,” Dr. Batra says. Always test the essential oil mixture on a small patch of skin first, before applying to a larger area of skin. This helps avoid any potential irritation, allergy to the skin or worsening of the burn. But which ones might actually do something when your sunburn is making you miserable? Check out the best options.
The best essential oils for soothing sunburns
Peppermint essential oil contains menthol, which is a cooling agent, and it can help temporarily relieve pain and can tackle that hot feeling from minor sunburns. “Look for an oil that contains at least 44% free menthol,” Dr. Batra says. Other properties of peppermint essential oil that can help with sunburn include its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects, she adds. Those help decrease redness and swelling and help promote healing.
This oil is well known for relaxing you and helping you get to sleep, but a lesser-known benefit is that it can help relieve sunburns. “Lavender essential oil has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which can help soothe and repair a burn,” Dr. Batra says. Lavender oil’s antimicrobial properties help lower the risk of fungal or bacterial infection, as well, she adds.
“Chamomile provides antioxidants and has an anti-inflammatory effect on burns. This helps to reduce redness, swelling and pain,” she says. Plus, it’s very soothing on the skin. Consider putting it in a bath with some oatmeal, too.
Tea Tree oil
Tea tree oil is used for a variety of skin conditions, and burns are one of them. “The active ingredients in tea tree oil give it properties that are antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal,” she says, so you can avoid getting any infections from the burn.
“In addition, it has anti-inflammatory effects that decrease blistering and peeling,” she says. Tea tree oil is also calming and reduces pain.
Try these other DIY sunburn soothers
“To soothe sunburned skin, you can draw a warm (not hot) bath and add one cup of plain oatmeal and a few drops of peppermint oil,” Dr. Batra says. They work well together to ease the burn: The vitamins, minerals and lipids in oatmeal will hydrate skin while the menthol in the peppermint oil will provide a cooling effect.
Dr. Batra recommends combining the following in a 4-oz spray bottle: 1 oz pure aloe, 1 oz coconut oil, 2 oz witch hazel, 5 drops peppermint oil and 5 drops lavender oil. Mix well and spray on sunburned skin.
If you just don’t have time for DIY right now, check out the best sunburn soothing lotions you can buy, and the best way to treat sunburned lips.
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