“How did I get sunburned?” you ask yourself, “I know better than that!”
Sunburns happen to even the most religious of sunblock users, myself included.
My story usually goes like this… I’m in rush getting ready to meet a friend. I slather sunscreen on my face, arms, shoulders, and neck quickly. I’m ready.
I have a great time. We go walking on the beach in our bikinis. Splash in the water. Feel what it feels like to live in the moment effortlessly.
Fast forward three days later.
Although my skin doesn’t actually get that tanned from gradual sun exposure. It does peel like that though!
I’m having trouble sleeping at night. Tossing and turning, I imagine how the over-exposure to UV light has damaged my beautiful skin’s DNA.
I vow to be more careful and to use my anti-aging facial moisturizer on my shoulders each morning and night until it heals.
Sound familiar? We’ve all been there.
This article will start out by giving you some cool nerdy facts about sunlight and what happens to your skin when you get sunburned. It will give you a better understanding of sunscreens. Then you’ll get how to use anti-inflammatory essential oils to use as a natural treatment against sunburn.
I love bullet points, so I’ll start out giving you the nerdy facts about sunlight in easy to read bullets.
Sunlight travels to us in three forms:
- infrared (heat)
- visible light
- ultraviolet (UV) light.
UV light is our light of interest when it comes to sunburn. We can break UV light into three categories:
- UVA (320 to 400 nm, for the true nerds here!), long wave, which causes tanning, aging, and cancer
- UVB (290 to 320 nm), short wave, which causes sunburns and cancer
- UVC (100 to 290 nm), absorbed by the ozone layer, if it is functioning properly
UVA and Tanning
UVA light is the type of light that stimulates melanin production in the skin, which is what causes tanning. Studies show that gradual exposure to sunlight can help protect skin against sunburn. That means minimizing the burn I get in the story above.
However, UVA light also plays a major part in skin aging and the development of wrinkles. It can also damage skin cells in the basal layer of the epidermis (skin), which is where most skin cancers occur.
UVA light is present at the same intensity level during all daylight hours throughout the year. This why I tell my clients to wear a mineral sunscreen on their face year-round.
UVA makes up about 95% of the UV rays you’re getting when out in the sun. Personally, I believe in sunlight in moderation. Being a fair-skinned girl from Los Angeles, I’m ok with a bit of melanin production (tan) on my body, but I want to protect my face from UVA at all times.
UVA light penetrates clouds and glass, so I make sure I’m protected when I’m in the car and on cloudy days.
UVB and Sunburns
UVB is the primary cause of sunburn and skin cancers, and it also contributes to aging and wrinkles. The largest amount of UVB light directed toward the United States is from April to October between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM.
When you are exposed to a lot of UVB light, you get a sunburn, and your skin gets cellular damage. UVB damages the skin’s more superficial epidermal layers, and changes the DNA chemistry within these layers.
What happens is that a bond is created between two thymine molecules, which creates an unnatural kink in your DNA. These “thymine dimers,” as they are called, cause increased mutations when the cell needs to replicate its DNA.
The Ins and Outs of Sunscreen
All sunscreens are labeled with an SPF, which means Sun Protection Factor. This it indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden skin when using the sunscreen, as compared to how long skin would take without the sunscreen.
If you were using a sunscreen with SPF of 15, it will take will take 15 times longer for your skin to redden than if you didn’t use the sunscreen. This SPF 15 sunblock screens out 93% of the sun’s UVB rays. If you bump it up to SPF 30, this protects you against 97 percent of the UVB – only 4 more percent.
If you want to go all out and sport the SPF 50, you get 98 percent of the UVB blocked, but this is only 1 more percent than the SPF 30. This is why SPF 30 is fine for everyday wear. Remember to reapply every 4 hours on days you’re getting a lot of sun.
Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreens
When you shop for sunscreens, you’ll see that they fall into two categories: chemical and mineral (or physical).
Chemical sunscreens absorb UV light before it reaches the skin. Mineral sunscreens reflect UV away from the skin, rather than absorbing it.
My skin is sensitive, and mineral sunscreens tend to be tolerated better by people with sensitive skin. It doesn’t cause stinging on my skin or in my eyes.
Examples of physical sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Many sunscreen products on the market contain a mixture of chemical and mineral ingredients.
I recommend using a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide on your face, especially if you experience any stinging in the eyes or skin when you use a chemical sunscreen. There are many non-nano products that don’t make your skin look pasty white.
Anti-inflammatory Essential Oils as a Natural Treatment for Sunburn
One of the reasons that Helichrysum italicum is in my top 3 favorite essential oils is that it reduces redness and calms my skin. It contains molecules called esters, which are nature’s way of delivering renewal and calming through essential oils.
I use my facial cream with Helichrysum oil to treat any areas that I get sunburned. After researching Helichrysum oil to formulate my own night cream, I know that this is one of the best things I can put on my sunburn because of these 7 properties:
- promotes wound healing (1)
- helps calm sunburn (2, 3)
- anti-microbial (4)
- reduces inflammation (5, 6)
- anti-aging properties (7)
- promotes healthy skin cell regeneration (7)
- anti-oxidant (7)
Helichrysum’s camling and regenerative effects on the skin make it one of my first choices for after-sun skin care.
Calendula officinalis is one of my other favorite essential oils. In addition to promoting wound healing, it is also used to reduce pain and treat burns. (8). Calendula complements Helichrysum with its ability to kill melanoma cells, possibly helping to prevent this type of skin cancer (9).
Natural Sunburn Treatment Recipe
Note: If you are severely burnt, please seek medical attention from a licensed physician rather than attempting to self-treat.
- 10 drops Helichrysum italicum essential oil
- 2 drops Calendula officinalis essential oil
- 1/3 cup coconut or jojoba oil
- 1 tablespoons shea butter
- Glass jar with lid
Heat a saucepan with two inches of water on the stove over low heat. Combine all of the ingredients into the glass jar. Place the jar in the saucepan filled with water and stir the ingredients until they start to melt. Once the ingredients are combined, gently rub over the sunburn. Store away from light in a cool location. Use for 4-6 weeks, then make a fresh batch.
If you don’t have time to go out and buy the ingredients and make this sunburn recipe, you can try this moisturizer with Helichrysum and Chamomile. It’s my favorite for it’s anti-aging and redness-reducing effects.
Since you’ve read this far, you’ve learned how different kinds of UV light affect your skin. You know more about what actually happens to your skin when you get sunburned. You have a better understanding of sunscreens and what the numbers mean.
You know a couple of my top picks for essential oils to use for their anti-inflammatory and cancer fighting properties. You have a recipe to try out as a natural treatment against sunburn and a calming cream with essential oils to try out if you’re short on time.
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Thanks for reading this article! Please leave a comment below to join in on the discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts about healthy levels of sun exposure, protecting yourself from over-exposure, and your favorite sunscreens, essential oils, and after sun recipes/products.
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1. Han, et al. Chemical composition analysis and in vitro biological activities of ten essential oils in human skin cells. Biochim Open. 2017 Apr 26;5:1-7. doi: 10.1016/j.biopen.2017.04.001. eCollection 2017 Dec.
2. Maffei, et al. Anti-erythematous and photoprotective activities in guinea pigs and in man of
topically applied flavonoids from Helichrysum italicum G. Don. Acta Therapeutica. 1988; 14: 323-345.
3. Maffei, et al. Phytochemical characterization and radical scavenger activities of flavonoids from Helichrysum italicum G. Don (Compositae). Pharmacological Research. 1990; 22: 709-720.
4. Nostro, et al. “Effects of Helichrysum italicum extract on growth and enzymatic activity of Staphylococcus aureus.” Int J Antimicrob Agents. 2001 Jun;17(6):517-20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11397624
5. Antunes Viegas. Helichrysum italicum: from traditional use to scientific data. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;151(1):54-65. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.11.005. Epub 2013 Nov 14.
6. Sala, et al. Anti‐inflammatory and antioxidant properties of Helichrysum italicum. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 54: 365-371. 2002. doi:10.1211/0022357021778600
7. Guinoiseau, E., et al. Biological properties and resistance reversal effect of Helichrysum italicum (Roth) G. Don. Microbial pathogens and strategies for combating them: science, technology and education 2 (2013): 1073-1080.
8. Disha Arora, et al. A review on phytochemistry and ethnopharmacological aspects of genus Calendula. Pharmacogn Rev. 2013 Jul-Dec; 7(14): 179–187. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.120520
9. Ukiya, et al. Anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor-promoting, and cytotoxic activities of constituents of marigold (Calendula officinalis) flowers. J Nat Prod. 2006 Dec;69(12):1692-6