Surviving summer – avoiding and treating sunburn

Sunburn is a solar burn or, more specifically, the consequence of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun. It manifests as erythema (reddening) and oedema (swelling related to a build-up of fluid) and can be painful or hot to the touch. It can blister, peel and/or develop secondary infections including microscopic cellular changes that pose a cancer risk (particularly melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma).

In severe cases sunburn may be considered a second-degree burn. Sunburn in general can cause electrolyte imbalances, including dehydration, and can trigger neurological stress that can result in fever, chills, fainting and even circulatory shock. If you experience sunburn it is important to prevent further damage – get inside or into the shade. Rehydrate and fan areas of hot skin. A cool to lukewarm shower or bath can ease side effects but do not cool too rapidly. Leave blisters intact; if they burst on their own, apply an antibacterial wash or ointment. The main treatment emphasis is to provide relief to the discomfort of the burn, generally with analgesics or aftersun moisturisers.

Of course prevention is better than cure so on sunny days try avoid prolonged sun exposure between 10am to 2pm – Note that the shade of a tree in full leaf can provide sun protection to the tune of 10 to 20 SPF but you will need more than that to shield your skin – wear suitable protective clothing including long sleeve, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and regularly and repeatedly apply a sun block with a factor of at least 30+ SPF.

Garden spa; Succulents can provide cooling sap. Notably, aloe vera cools the burn, lessens the reddening and encourages skin regeneration. Many herbal teas can reduce inflammation, and those listed in this book will help with their calming influence as well as their other properties. Many can be chilled and spritzed onto hot skin for post-sun relief. Crambe and acanthus foliage can be blended with natural yoghurt or steamed and cooled to use in a poultice for their anti-itch, astringent and emollient properties.

Kitchen spa; The dairy fats in milk and yoghurts are remedial to UV-radiation damage and they are cooling, too, when applied topically. Try a squeeze of lemon juice or a dash of apple cider vinegar to cool, reduce inflammation, disinfect and promote faster recovery.

Preempting potential damage is always a good way to go. Eating about twenty almonds delivers approximately 14mg of the vitamin E, which can slow the burn rate and protect your skin cells from UV light and free-radical damage. Best of all the lycopene in tomatoes and watermelon help the body raise its own natural spf.

Aftersun remedies

Make a Quick-fix aftersun soother
Baking soda helps to balance your skin’s pH and speed recovery and healing. Black tea has tannins that reduce inflammation and promote healing. Natural yoghurt is a cooling agent and, like baking soda, works to balance the pH of skin and encourage faster healing with its natural enzymes.
Method – In a cup, moisten 2 tablespoons of black or green tea (or the contents of 2 teabags) with 2–3 tablespoons of boiling water. Allow to stand for 1 minute and then add 2 tablespoons of baking soda. Stir in a dollop of natural yoghurt, mix well and then apply to your skin. Store in fridge for up to three days and apply often to cool and encourage healing.

Try a Quick-fix aftersun peel-heal gel
The sap from a leaf of aloe vera mixed with 1–2 tablespoons of vinegar can slow or prevent peeling and speed recovery, with the bonus of a cooling sensation. But to boost its effectiveness you can grate some cucumber or some raw potato flesh and then blitz everything in a blender with 20 drops of lavender essential oil.

Make your own Gardeners aftersun lotion
In a saucepan, boil 5 finger-sized segments of washed comfrey root in ½ cup water for 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat. Add 1 tablespoon of zinc ointment, 3 tablespoons of skin-softening liquid lecithin (or 1 tablespoon honey), 2 tablespoons of cocoa (or shea butter) and 3 tablespoons of almond oil (or olive oil).
Blend everything to a pulp. Add 10 drops each of lavender, tea tree and orange (or bergamot) essential oil.

About The Holistic Gardener

I am a horticulturalist and holistic practitioner interested in how the garden and engagement with nature facilitates full potential living and therapeutic benefits.
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