Western Medicine – Using a moisturizer without any fragrance, ideally one with anti-inflammatory agents, is important to protecting the skin as it heals. Menthol and camphor are commonly found in moisturizers and reduce inflammation.1
Ayurveda – Principally, ayurvedicmedicine looks at a balance of the three energies: pitta, vata, and kapha. In sunburns, pitta represents inflammation, vata represents scaling and dryness of the skin, and kapha represents the swelling of tissue. Because pain from a sunburn is due to increased pitta, pitta-reducing recipes can be helpful, including turmeric-infused oils.
Naturopathy – A sunburn is a great example of the four cardinal signs of inflammation: redness, swelling, pain, and heat. Naturopathic medicine seeks to control the pain of a sunburn by reducing the inflammation on the skin and within the body. There are many herbs that can be helpful for pain, including lavender and peppermint oils.
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Acupuncture is well-known for reducing pain and inflammation and is very effective for sunburns.2, 3 The LI 4 acupuncture point is great for reducing pain and stress. Furthermore, the ears have hundreds of acupuncture points for every part of the body.
Swelling and Oozing
Western Medicine – When swelling has progressed to blistering, over-the-counter hydrocortisone can be soothing and may help reduce inflammation and swelling. Blisters should never be peeled as they naturally protect the skin.
Ayurveda – Agents that balance pitta and kapha can also reduce swelling and oozing. For example, clients can use recipes with triphala powder, which is a balance of three herbs (amalaki, bibhitaki, and haritaki). Triphala powder can be mixed with cold water to create a topical paste.
Naturopathy – With a blistering sunburn, inflammation control is vital. High-quality honey is a good example of a natural product with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.4 Honey should not be used on infants because their immune system has not fully developed and they may develop botulism.
Traditional Chinese Medicine – San huang san (three yellow powder) is a famous topical, herbal formula for the swelling and inflammation of a sunburn. Its three herbs are well-known for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and, when ground, can be applied to the skin or mixed with sesame oil as a poultice.5
Western Medicine – As sunburns heal, they can peel heavily. Sunburned skin has structural damage at the microscopic level, leading to excessive water loss.6 Therefore, it is very important to nourish the skin with a hydrating moisturizer during this part of the healing process.
Ayurveda – During the peeling phase, excessive pitta from the sun has led to decreases in kapha and an excess of vata.6 Extra virgin, non-refined coconut oil is an excellent choice for
Naturopathy – Ensuring adequate skin hydration is key while the skin is peeling. Moisturizers are effective at reducing flaking skin. Be sure to hydrate immediately after bathing so that the skin will stay hydrated for a longer period of time.
Traditional Chinese Medicine – Qing Dai (indigo powder) is a Chinese herb that is famous for its antibacterial, antiviral, and skin-soothing properties.7 To enhance the moistening properties of this herb, mix it with a carrier oil or whip it into a nourishing shea butter.
Sunburns are painful experiences that are best avoided with good sun protection. However, if a sunburn does occur, there are a number of ways in which both Western and Eastern medicine can help the skin to heal.
1 De Cássia da Silveira e Sá, R., Andrade, L., & De Sousa, D. (2013). A Review on Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Monoterpenes. Molecules, 18(1), 1227-54.
2 Zijlstra, F., Van den Berg-de Lange, I., Huygen, F., & Klein, J. (2003). Anti-inflammatory actions of acupuncture. Mediators of Inflammation, 12(2), 59-69.
3 Lewis, S., Clelland, J., Knowles, C., Jackson, J., & Dimick, A. (1990). Effects of Auricular Acupuncture-Like Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation on Pain Levels Following Wound Care in Patients with Burns: A Pilot Study.Journal of Burn Care & Rehabilitation, 11(4), 322-29.
4 Ahmad, I., Jimenez, H., Yaacob, N., & Yusuf, N. (2012). Tualang Honey Protects Keratinocytes from Ultraviolet Radiation-Induced Inflammation and DNA Damage†. Photochemistry and Photobiology, 88(5), 1198-1204.
5 Bian, Y., Muluye, R., & Alemu, P. (2014). Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects of heat-clearing Chinese herbs: A current review. Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, 4(2), 93-98.
6 Biniek, K., Levi, K., & Dauskardt, R. (2012). Solar UV radiation reduces the barrier function of human skin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(42), 17111-116.
7 Chen, J., Chen, T., & Crampton, L. (2004). Chinese medical herbology and pharmacology.