Sunburn (Holistic)

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About This Condition

Everyone should enjoy some sunshine but too much sun can spoil the fun—and cause permanent damage to your skin. According to research or other evidence, the following self-care steps may be helpful.
  • Block harsh rays

    Prevent sunburn by wearing protective clothing, by frequently applying sun block with a high sun protection factor (SPF), and by staying in the shade when the rays are strongest

  • Apply topical antioxidants

    Try formulas containing 2% vitamin E, 5% vitamin C, 0.02% to 0.05% selenomethionine, 1% to 2.5% melatonin, and/or 10% green tea polyphenols to boost the protection from traditional sunscreens

  • Add tomatoes to your meals

    Gain the protective benefits of the antioxidant lycopene by consuming tomato-based foods and drinks

  • Supplement with antioxidants

    Fortify your body in the short term with antioxidants that defend against harmful ultraviolet rays; take a daily supplement containing 2,000 to 3,000 mg of vitamin C, 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin E, 6 mg of natural beta-carotene, and 6 mg of lycopene during periods of high sun exposure

About

About This Condition

Sunburn is damage to the skin resulting from excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Depending on the strength of these rays and the degree of skin pigmentation, sunburn to unprotected skin can occur with as little as a few minutes or as long as several hours of exposure. Unlike other types of burn, sunburn is not fully apparent until hours after exposure. Severe sunburn should be evaluated and treated by a doctor. Frequent sunburn contributes to wrinkling and aging of the skin and increases the risk of skin cancer.

Symptoms

Reddening of the skin is the hallmark of sunburn, and the skin may become swollen as well. Pain in the area develops over several hours and may persist for days. Blistering and fever can occur with severe sunburn. After a few days, sunburned skin will peel.

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Staying out of the sun when it is strongest, wearing protective clothing, and frequently applying sun block with a high sun protection factor (SPF) are all recommended for avoiding sunburn.

Holistic Options

None

Eating Right

The right diet is the key to managing many diseases and to improving general quality of life. For this condition, scientific research has found benefit in the following healthy eating tips.

Recommendation Why
Add tomatoes to your meals
Gain the protective benefits of the antioxidant lycopene by eating tomato-based foods and drinking tomato beverages.

Tomatoes contain lycopene and other antioxidants that might help protect the skin from sunburn, and tomato-based products have been tested for protective effects against exposure to ultraviolet light in a laboratory. A preliminary study tested a tomato drink processed in a manner designed to increase the absorption of its antioxidants. After determining the amount of skin reddening produced by a dose of ultraviolet light, volunteers consumed 250 ml twice a day of this drink, which provided 8.2 mg of lycopene per day plus additional amounts of other carotenoids. After 12 weeks, the same amount of ultraviolet exposure resulted in significantly less reddening. A controlled trial found that 40 grams per day of tomato paste providing 16 mg per day of lycopene for 10 weeks also protected against burning by ultraviolet rays.

Supplements

What Are Star Ratings?

Our proprietary “Star-Rating” system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.

For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.

3 Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.

2 Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.

1 Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.

Supplement Why
3 Stars
Vitamin C and Vitamin E Oral (short term )
2,000 to 3,000 mg vitamin C and 1,000 to 2,000 IU vitamin E
Antioxidants may protect the skin from sunburn due to free radical–producing ultraviolet rays. Combinations of vitamin E and C offer protection against ultraviolet rays.

Antioxidants may protect the skin from sunburn due to free radical–producing ultraviolet rays. Combinations of 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day of vitamin E and 2,000 to 3,000 mg per day of vitamin C, but neither given alone, have a significant protective effect against ultraviolet rays, according to double-blind studies.

Oral synthetic beta-carotene alone was not found to provide effective protection when given in amounts of 15 mg per day or for only a few weeks’ time in larger amounts of 60 to 90 mg per day, but it has been effective either in very large (180 mg per day) amounts or in smaller amounts (30 mg per day) in combination with topical sunscreen.

Natural sources of beta-carotene or other carotenoids have been more consistently shown to protect against sunburn. One controlled study found that taking a supplement of natural carotenoids (almost all of which was beta-carotene) in daily amounts of 30 mg, 60 mg, and 90 mg gave progressively more protection against ultraviolet rays. In another controlled study, either 24 mg per day of natural beta-carotene or 24 mg per day of a carotenoid combination of equal amounts beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene helped protect skin from ultraviolet rays. A preliminary study compared synthetic lycopene (10.1 mg per day), a natural tomato extract containing 9.8 mg of lycopene per day plus additional amounts of other carotenoids, and a solubilized tomato drink (designed to increase lycopene absorption) containing 8.2 mg of lycopene plus additional amounts of other carotenoids. After 12 weeks, only the two tomato-based products were shown to give significant protection against burning by ultraviolet light.

Still other trials have tested combinations of several antioxidants. One preliminary study found that a daily combination of beta-carotene (6 mg), lycopene (6 mg), vitamin E (15 IU), and selenium for seven weeks protected against ultraviolet light. However, a double-blind trial of a combination of smaller amounts of several carotenoids, vitamins C and E, selenium, and proanthocyanidins did not find significant UV protection compared with placebo. Similarly, in a controlled trial, a combination of selenium, copper, and vitamins was found to be ineffective.

It should be noted that while oral protection from sunburn has been demonstrated with several types of antioxidants, the degree of protection (typically less than an SPF of 2) is much less than that provided by currently available topical sunscreens. On the other hand, these modest effects will provide some added protection to skin areas where sunscreen is also used and will give a small amount of protection to sun-exposed areas where sunscreen is not applied. However, oral protection from sunburn is not instantaneous; maximum effects are not reached until these antioxidants have been used for about eight to ten weeks.

2 Stars
Beta-Carotene
6 mg daily of natural beta-carotene during periods of high sun exposure
Supplementing with beta-carotene may help protect the skin from ultraviolet rays and sunburn.

Caution: Synthetic beta-carotene has been linked to increased risk of lung cancer in smokers. Until more is known, smokers should avoid all beta-carotene supplements.

Antioxidants may protect the skin from sunburn due to free radical–producing ultraviolet rays. Combinations of 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day of vitamin E and 2,000 to 3,000 mg per day of vitamin C, but neither given alone, have a significant protective effect against ultraviolet rays, according to double-blind studies.

Oral synthetic beta-carotene alone was not found to provide effective protection when given in amounts of 15 mg per day or for only a few weeks’ time in larger amounts of 60 to 90 mg per day, but it has been effective either in very large amounts (180 mg per day) or in smaller amounts (30 mg per day) in combination with topical sunscreen.

Natural sources of beta-carotene or other carotenoids have been more consistently shown to protect against sunburn. One controlled study found that taking a supplement of natural carotenoids (almost all of which was beta-carotene) in daily amounts of 30 mg, 60 mg, and 90 mg gave progressively more protection against ultraviolet rays. In another controlled study, either 24 mg per day of natural beta-carotene or 24 mg per day of a carotenoid combination of equal amounts beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene helped protect skin from ultraviolet rays. A preliminary study compared synthetic lycopene (10.1 mg per day), a natural tomato extract containing 9.8 mg of lycopene per day plus additional amounts of other carotenoids, and a solubilized tomato drink (designed to increase lycopene absorption) containing 8.2 mg of lycopene plus additional amounts of other carotenoids. After 12 weeks, only the two tomato-based products were shown to give significant protection against burning by ultraviolet light.

Still other trials have tested combinations of several antioxidants. One preliminary study found that a daily combination of beta-carotene (6 mg), lycopene (6 mg), vitamin E (15 IU), and selenium for seven weeks protected against ultraviolet light. However, a double-blind trial of a combination of smaller amounts of several carotenoids, vitamins C and E, selenium, and proanthocyanidins did not find significant UV protection compared with placebo. Similarly, in a controlled trial, a combination of selenium, copper, and vitamins was found to be ineffective.

It should be noted that while protection from sunburn has been demonstrated with several types of orally administered antioxidants, the degree of protection (typically less than an SPF of 2) is much less than that provided by currently available topical sunscreens. On the other hand, these modest effects will provide some added protection to skin areas where sunscreen is also used and will give a small amount of protection to sun-exposed areas where sunscreen is not applied. However, oral protection from sunburn is not instantaneous; maximum effects are not reached until these antioxidants have been used for about eight to ten weeks.

2 Stars
Calaguala
Take 7.5 mg per 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of body weight or 1,080 mg of a 50:1 extract during periods of high sun exposure
Extracts of PL have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and have been shown to reduce the burning effect of ultraviolet rays.

Extracts of Polypodium leucotomos (PL), a fern native to Central and South America, have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Several preliminary human studies have reported that a 50:1 PL extract in amounts of either 7.5 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight or 1,080 mg given orally on the evening before and on the day of testing reduces the burning effect of ultraviolet rays. Placebo-controlled research is needed to verify these protective effects.

2 Stars
Green Tea
Apply a formula containing 10% green tea polyphenols before sun exposure
Green tea contains polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and studies have suggested that these polyphenols can protect skin against ultraviolet rays.

Green tea (Camellia sinensis) contains polyphenols that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, and animal and preliminary human studies have suggested that these polyphenols, when given orally or used topically, can protect skin against ultraviolet rays. In a small, controlled human study, topical application of green tea extracts containing from 2.5 to 10% polyphenols significantly reduced the amount of burning from exposure to ultraviolet rays, with the 10% solution exerting greater protective effect.

2 Stars
Lycopene
Take 6 mg daily from a tomato extract during periods of high sun exposure
Studies have shown lycopene to be helpful in protecting the skin from sunburn.

Antioxidants may protect the skin from sunburn due to free radical–producing ultraviolet rays. Combinations of 1,000 to 2,000 IU per day of vitamin E and 2,000 to 3,000 mg per day of vitamin C, but neither given alone, have a significant protective effect against ultraviolet rays, according to double-blind studies.

Oral synthetic beta-carotene alone was not found to provide effective protection when given in amounts of 15 mg per day or for only a few weeks’ time in larger amounts of 60 to 90 mg per day, but it has been effective either in very large (180 mg per day) amounts or in smaller amounts (30 mg per day) in combination with topical sunscreen.

Natural sources of beta-carotene or other carotenoids have been more consistently shown to protect against sunburn. One controlled study found that taking a supplement of natural carotenoids (almost all of which was beta-carotene) in daily amounts of 30 mg, 60 mg, and 90 mg gave progressively more protection against ultraviolet rays. In another controlled study, either 24 mg per day of natural beta-carotene or 24 mg per day of a carotenoid combination of equal amounts beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene helped protect skin from ultraviolet rays. A preliminary study compared synthetic lycopene (10.1 mg per day), a natural tomato extract containing 9.8 mg of lycopene per day plus additional amounts of other carotenoids, and a solubilized tomato drink (designed to increase lycopene absorption) containing 8.2 mg of lycopene plus additional amounts of other carotenoids. After 12 weeks, only the two tomato-based products were shown to give significant protection against burning by ultraviolet light.

It should be noted that while oral protection from sunburn has been demonstrated with several types of antioxidants, the degree of protection (typically less than an SPF of 2) is much less than that provided by currently available topical sunscreens. On the other hand, these modest effects will provide some added protection to skin areas where sunscreen is also used and will give a small amount of protection to sun-exposed areas where sunscreen is not applied. However, oral protection from sunburn is not instantaneous; maximum effects are not reached until these antioxidants have been used for about eight to ten weeks.

2 Stars
Proanthocyanidins
1.1 to 1.66 mg per 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of body weight per day during periods of high sun exposure
Proanthocyanidins are a group of flavonoids found in pine bark, grape seed, and other plant sources that may increase the amount of ultraviolet rays necessary to cause sunburn.

Trials have tested combinations of several antioxidants. One preliminary study found that a daily combination of beta-carotene (6 mg), lycopene (6 mg), vitamin E (15 IU), and selenium for seven weeks protected against ultraviolet light. However, a double-blind trial of a combination of smaller amounts of several carotenoids, vitamins C and E, selenium, and proanthocyanidins did not find significant UV protection compared with placebo. Similarly, in a controlled trial, a combination of selenium, copper, and vitamins was found to be ineffective.

Proanthocyanidins (OPCs) are a group of flavonoids found in pine bark, grape seed, and other plant sources. In a preliminary trial, volunteers were supplemented with Pycnogenol, an extract of French maritime pine bark rich in OPCs, in the amount of 1.1 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day for the first four weeks, and 1.66 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day for the next four weeks. Compared with ultraviolet sensitivity before supplementation, the lower amount of Pycnogenol was found to significantly increase the amount of ultraviolet rays necessary to cause sunburn, and the higher amount was significantly more effective than the lower amount.

2 Stars
Pycnogenol
1.1 to 1.66 mg per 2.2 lbs (1 kg) of body weight per day during periods of high sun exposure
Proanthocyanidins (flavonoids found in pine bark, grape seed, and other plant sources) may increase the amount of ultraviolet rays necessary to cause sunburn.

Proanthocyanidins (OPCs) are a group of flavonoids found in pine bark, grape seed, and other plant sources. In a preliminary trial, volunteers were supplemented with Pycnogenol, an extract of French maritime pine bark rich in OPCs, in the amount of 1.1 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day for the first four weeks, and 1.66 mg per 2.2 pounds of body weight per day for the next four weeks. Compared with ultraviolet sensitivity before supplementation, the lower amount of Pycnogenol was found to significantly increase the amount of ultraviolet rays necessary to cause sunburn, and the higher amount was significantly more effective than the lower amount.

2 Stars
Vitamin C and Vitamin E Topical
Apply a formula containing 2% vitamin E and 5% vitamin C before sun exposure
Studies have found sunscreen-like effects from topical application of the vitamin C and vitamin E combination.

Antioxidants have been studied as topical agents for protection against sunburn. Animal studies have found sunscreen-like effects from topical application of a vitamin C and vitamin E combination, and a controlled human study reported ultraviolet protection from the use of a lotion containing 0.02% to 0.05% of the selenium-containing amino acid known as selenomethionine. The topical use of the hormone melatonin has been shown to protect human skin against ultraviolet rays in double-blind research. A double-blind human trial tested topical vitamins C and E and melatonin, alone and in combinations, and found the highest degrees of protection from combination formulations containing 2% vitamin E, 5% vitamin C, and 1% to 2.5% melatonin. Other studies in which topical antioxidants were applied after ultraviolet exposure have found no benefits.

1 Star
Aloe
Refer to label instructions
Topically applied Aloe vera is often recommended for soothing sunburn.

Topical aloe (Aloe vera) is often recommended for soothing burns, but only one preliminary human study involving sunburn has been published, and applying aloe gel after ultraviolet exposure had no effect on reddening of the skin. No research has investigated whether applying aloe gel before ultraviolet exposure might be more effective.