The best advice is undoubtedly to avoid sunburn by covering up and using sunscreen. But sometimes, despite such precautions, your skin may burn. A number of healing supplements that can relieve the pain and help to prevent long-term skin damage are readily available.

What is it?

Sunburn is the reddening and inflammation of the skin's outer layers that occurs in response to overexposure to the sun. It may be mild, with some redness; moderate, with small blister; or severe, with purple skin, chills and fever. Symptoms appear gradually and may not peak until 24 hours after exposure. Sunburn is best avoided, and not just because it may hurt: it speeds up the ageing of your skin and increases your risk of skin cancer later in life.

What causes it?

The amount of sun exposure needed to produce sunburn varies with an individual's skin pigmentation, the geographic location, the season, the time of day and the weather conditions. Melanin, a skin pigment that absorbs the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, is the body's natural defence against sunburn. Fair-haired people with light eyes have less melanin than darker-skinned people and are more prone to sunburn. Some antibiotics and other drugs can also make the skin more sensitive to the sun.

What are the symptoms?

  • Mild – Pink of reddish skin that is hot to the touch.
  • Moderate – Red skin with small blisters filled with fluid; blisters may itch or break.
  • Severe – Deep red to purplish skin, with or without blisters, accompanied by chills, fever, headache, nausea or dizziness.

Are there any natural therapies?

Supplements cannot prevent sunburn, but applied to the skin and taken orally, they can lessen the discomfort and damage that it causes.

Topical treatments may provide immediate soothing relief. To soothe a mild sunburn, add 10 drops each of chamomile oil and lavender oil to a cool bath and soak for 30 minutes of more to relieve discomfort and moisturise the skin. Alternatively, soak in a lukewarm bath containing a cup of dissolved baking soda. If the burn is more serious, prepare a topical remedy using a few drops of chamomile oil or lavender oil, or both, and 10 mls of neutral oil, such as almond oil, and apply it gently to the affected areas twice a day. Aloe vera gel and chamomile or calendula cream (avaialble in health-food stores) also soothe the skin and help speed healing.

Because sun exposure release free radicals that can damage the skin, oral supplementatiion with the antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E (used long term, if needed) may also be beneficial. For bad burns, vitamin E cream is very useful and should be applied to help the skin to heal and to prevent scarring. Or try flaxseed oil, which is rich in fatty acids that redue inflammation and promote skin healing.

What else can I do?

  • Use a sunscreen with a sun protectio factor (SPF) of at least 15. Avoid the sun between 10 am and 3 pm, when its rays are strongest, and cover up with clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Relieve severe sunburn pain by soaking a soft cotton towel or shirt, or a qauze pad, in cold milk and placing it gently on the affected areas. Or place cooled used tea bags on the affected areas. The tannins in the tea may help to east the sunburn pain.
  • Add a cup of finely grounded oatmeal (sold as colloidal oatmeal in pharmacies) to the bath. It can help to relieve the pain and itching of sunburn.

Did you know?

Sunlight reflected off water, sand or snow – or even passing through cloud cover on an overcast day – can be just as harmful to your skin as direct sunlight.