Sunburns are serious. Even one sunburn can permanently damage your skin, and people who’ve had five or more sunburns in their life are twice as likely to develop melanoma (skin cancer) than those who have not had sunburns. Protecting yourself against burns is easy, use sunscreen, stay in the shade, and wear clothing that covers vulnerable areas of skin. But getting a burn is also easy. Sometimes we don’t realize how long we’ve been exposed to the sun or just how strong its rays are. Once burned, there are several things you can do to help limit the damage and decrease discomfort. Using coconut oil for sunburn is a smart idea, but not as a first treatment.
When It’s More than a Burn
If you’ve been in the sun long enough to get burned, you may also be at risk for heatstroke. Don’t disregard serious symptoms or think they’re just a side effect of sunburn. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to heatstroke. If you suspect you or someone else is suffering from heatstroke, seek medical attention immediately.
Take action to cool the person while waiting for treatment. Get the person into a cool building or in the shade, remove excess clothing and cool them down with a garden hose, ice, wet towels or whatever way you can. Cooling the head, back of the neck, groin and armpits is especially helpful.
The symptoms of a heatstroke include:
- A body temperature of more than 104 F
- Confusion, agitation or slurred speech
- Hot, dry skin (no sweating)
- Increased heart rate without exertion
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Red, flushed skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
Heatstroke isn’t the only health concern with sunburn. Infection and lingering heat sickness may occur. Call your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms after a sunburn:
- Blisters on a large portion of the body
- Fever or chills
- Feeling dizzy or nauseated
- Red streaks or pus coming from blisters
Tame the Flame
If you’re near a body of water when you get sunburned, take a quick dip to cool down. And when we say quick dip, we mean quick. Thirty seconds is about all you need to bring your skin’s temperature down. After cooling off, cover up and get out of the sun. If there’s no water nearby, get into a cool shower as soon as possible. And skip the soap. Even “gentle” cleansers may contain ingredients that will further irritate compromised skin.
Continue cooling burned areas with cold compresses. Do not apply ice directly to your skin, wrap a compress in a clean cloth or towel before using. Leave it on the affected area for about 10 minutes several times during the first 24 hours after burning.
Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory like aspirin or ibuprofen as soon as possible. It will help reduce inflammation and pain.
Moisturize—Use Coconut Oil for Sunburn Damage
An aloe vera-based lotion is highly recommended immediately after burning. Any lotion that does not contain petroleum, lidocaine, benzocaine or alcohol can help. Moisturizing immediately after a shower while the skin is still damp is preferred. Do not use oils, including coconut oil, during the first 24 hours after a sunburn. Oil-based moisturizers can trap heat in the skin, making the burn worse.
After the 24-hour mark, start applying unrefined organic coconut oil to burned areas. Coconut oil is more than just a good moisturizer, it’s like medicine for your tender skin. The vitamin E in coconut oil immediately begins to heal the damage caused by UV rays and may decrease the long-term effects. The anti-inflammatory properties relieve swelling in irritated tissues, and the anti-bacterial power of coconut oil protects against infection as the burn heals. Use coconut oil for sunburn by applying liberally morning and night. Mix a few drops of lavender essential oil into the coconut oil for added support.
A sunburn doesn’t just dry out your skin, it also dehydrates you from the inside. Take special care to replace fluids in the next few days after burning. Plain water and drinks that replenish electrolytes, like coconut water, are recommended.
Care for Your Hair
Though it’s not a health issue (unless your scalp also gets burned), if your body has been overexposed to the sun’s harmful rays, so has your hair. If possible, avoid shampooing for 24-48 hours after burning. Like sunburned skin, sunburned hair will be dried out and more sensitive to harsh cleansers. Use coconut oil to condition your hair pre-shampoo. Massage a small amount of coconut oil into your hair from scalp to ends. Let it sit for up to 20 minutes—wrap hair in a shower cap or plastic wrap if needed—then shampoo as usual. Skip the bottled conditioner, it won’t be necessary. You may also want to apply a coconut oil hair mask weekly to help correct the protein damage caused by too much sun.