The Sun; Overexposure to Sun, Sea, and Wind

Despite repeated warnings that skin cancer is caused at least in part by exposure to the sun, people still flock to the beach, where they lie prostrate, soaking in as much sunshine as they can. Hopefully, they are wearing a high factor sunscreen. But lying on the beach more than half-naked with nothing much to do does provide the perfect opportunity to make a detailed note, in writing, of the mole’s we have. And as we seldom lie on the beach alone, our companion can examine the back of our body too. Making a mole map might turn out to be the most useful souvenir you take home with you, especially if you update it regularly to identify any new moles or any changes in existing ones.

One important thing to remember when using essential oils in the sun is that a few of them are what are known as photosensitive oils. This means they could increase our skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

Sunburn can vary considerably in degree. If the burn is severe and there is blistering, medical assistance may be required. If there is simply redness or a feeling of skin tightness and soreness, one effective first aid treatment is the miraculous oil of lavender.

As with all burns, it’s crucial to first get the heat out of the skin, so fill a sink or bath with cold water, add ice if possible, and immerse the sunburnt area as soon as you can. Then apply 1 or 2 drops of neat {undiluted} lavender essential oil over the sunburned area, bearing in mind that 1 or 2 drops of lavender will go quite a long way. You don’t need to overdo it; simply make sure that the lavender has covered the reddened area. If you haven’t got any lavender with you, use chamomile instead. Then, if you have it to hand, cover the area with cooling aloe vera gel. Pregnant women should not use lavender in this way, but they can use the aloe vera gel on its own.

If you do this, by morning hopefully you won’t notice a thing if you weren’t sunburned too badly. But do stay out of the sun for at least three days, even if the area looks perfectly fine.

Taking care of skin that’s been exposed to more than the usual amount of sunshine makes sense, and the following after-sun oils will also help repair it.

After-Sun Oil

Lavender: 10 drops

Chamomile-german: 5 drops

Geranium: 2 drops

Dilute in:

Sweet almond oil: 4 tablespoons {60 mL}

Sesame oil: 3 tablespoons {30 mL}

Apply as a body oil after showering or bathing, paying particular attention to areas of skin that have been overexposed to the sun.

After-Sun Bath Oil

Chamomile-roman: 4 drops

Geranium: 2 drops

Lavender: 2 drops

Dilute these after-sun bath essential oils in 1 tablespoon {15 mL} of jojoba oil and add it all to a bath. While in the bath, gently smooth the oil over the areas that have been exposed to the sun.

The following body and face oil is very effective in the drying conditions of wind and sun, such as experienced when skiing, sailing, or hiking.

Apres Ski, Sun, Sail, and Hike Oil

Chamomile-roman: 8 drops

Geranium: 8 drops

Lavender: 8 drops

Dilute in:

Jojoba oil: 2 teaspoons {10 mL}

Sesame seed oil: 1 teaspoon {5 mL}

Evening primrose seed oil: 1 teaspoon {5 mL}

Almond oil, sweet: 2 tablespoons {30 mL}

Blend the ingredients together well and use the oil every night before sleeping.

What Are the Best Essential Oils for Sunburn?

Too much exposure to UV sunlight can overwhelm the body’s immune system, resulting in sunburn. Some essential oils contain compounds that reduce the symptoms of sunburn and promote healing.

Many active ingredients found in essential oils have more than one positive regenerative, or protective effect. As most essential oils contain more than one active ingredient, many have a long list of potentially associated health benefits.

Here we will look at eight of the best essential oils for sunburn and what the science says about them, along with more information.

Fast facts on essential oils for sunburn:

  • Many essential oils have long been used in traditional and herbal medicines.
  • Researchers are still testing the therapeutic and clinical use of essential oils.
  • The most common side effect associated with the use of essential oils is skin irritation.

What does the scientific evidence say?

Essential oil being dripped into a bottle
The risk of sunburn might be reduced by using vitamin E essential oil, as it may absorb UV rays.

To date, no large-scale human studies exploring the association between essential oil use and sunburn healing have been carried out.

Many smaller-scale studies have shown promising results, however.

A case study from the Journal of Pediatric Nursing

2017 study looked at two young girls with similarly extensive burns, medical histories, and treatment, but one girl was also given an essential oil mixture.

The girl who received the oil treatment developed only one hospital-acquired infection compared to the other girl who developed two infections in her bloodstream and four hospital-acquired infections.

Also, the girl receiving oil treatment stayed in the intensive care unit for 1 day less and in the hospital a total of 4 days less than the other girl. This is a small study, and more extensive studies are needed, but this does provide some evidence for the use of essential oils in the treatment of burns.

Eight best essential oils for sunburn

Of the few studies exploring the benefits of essential oils for sunburn recovery, most have concluded that oils need to be applied as soon as possible after sunburn to receive the benefits.

Most studies also support the recommendation that essential oils should not be applied to areas where the skin is very thin or near heavily hormone-regulated organs, like the genitals, eyelids, mouth, and breasts.

1. Vitamin E essential oil

Some studies have suggested that vitamin E may reduce the risk of sunburn by:

  • acting as an antioxidant
  • absorbing UV rays
  • helping thicken the outermost layer of the skin

Vitamin E essential oil has also been shown to help improve the ability of the skin to maintain moisture and reduce inflammation.

The only known side effect associated with vitamin E essential oil use is minor skin irritation. Always dilute essential oils.

2. Vitamin C essential oil

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, has been shown to have several benefits that may help reduce symptoms of sunburn and improve healing time.

Studied health benefits of ascorbic acid include:

  • protecting against UVA and UVB rays
  • improving inflammatory skin symptoms and conditions
  • improving collagen production, the compound that gives skin its elasticity
  • correcting pigmentation problems to improve the skin’s natural protection against UV rays

The only known complication associated with vitamin C oil used topically is skin flushing, or redness and warmth.

3. Peppermint essential oil

Though peppermint (Mentha piperita) contains several active ingredients with known health benefits, the most powerful by far is menthol.

Studied health benefits of menthol include:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • antibacterial
  • antifungal
  • antiseptic (able to kill or discourage the growth of infectious agents)
  • vasoconstrictor, narrowing inflamed blood vessels

Quality peppermint oil should contain at least 44 percent free menthol.

The only known side effect associated with menthol is minor skin irritation and redness.

4. Lavender essential oil

Lavender essential oils with fresh lavender
Lavender essential oil may have properties that are anti-inflammatory, which may reduce redness and swelling.

Extracts from the lavender plant (Lavandula officinalis) have at least seven active ingredients known to promote skin regeneration and boost immune function.

Lavender essential oil is also known to have properties that are:

  • antibacterial
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antifungal

This helps reduce symptoms of pain, redness, and swelling while also lowering the risk of infection.

Lavender has been associated with the growth of breasts in very young or pubescent boys. However, symptoms went away within a few months after individuals stopped using the oil.

Possible symptoms of lavender allergy include:

  • skin rash
  • nausea and vomiting
  • chills
  • fever
  • headache
  • substantial inflammation or swelling of the skin

In rare cases, lavender has also been known to cause an allergic response.

5. Tea tree essential oil

Extract from the needle-like leaves of the tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) plant has been used as a herbal remedy for a variety of health problems including most skin conditions.

The active ingredients in tea tree oil give it properties that are:

  • anti-inflammatory
  • immune-boosting
  • antibacterial
  • antifungal
  • antiviral

Tea tree oil has been associated in rare cases with serious complications. Known side effects of tea tree oil use include:

  • red, itching, burning skin
  • eczema
  • very dry skin
  • scaling skin
  • fluid build-up in or under the skin
  • weakness
  • stomach pain
  • unexplained weakness
  • slow or unsteady movements
  • in some individuals, tea tree oil can cause a blistering disorder
  • counteract other medications
  • unusual blood changes

6. Geranium essential oil

Extracts from the shrub geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) contains at least 12 active ingredients that have properties that are:

  • antibacterial
  • anti-microbial
  • anti-cancer
  • anti-inflammatory

Geranium oil has also been proven useful as a sedative and nerve tonic, so it may provide even more powerful pain relief from sunburn.

Skin irritation is the only known side effect associated with geranium oil use.

7. Chamomile essential oil

Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) has been used for centuries, potentially even thousands of years, as a multi-use herbal remedy because of its soothing and calming properties.

With more than 10 active ingredients that have known health benefits, chamomile oil has established anti-inflammatory properties. It has also been shown to promote or increase wound healing.

Chamomile essential oil is considered a staple herbal remedy and used for a wide array of skin conditions, including boils, sunburn, and psoriasis.

Though rare, chamomile has been known to cause a full-body allergic response.

8. Eucalyptus essential oil

Eucalyptus essential oil
Eucalyptus essential oil may help with sunburn recovery.

Extracts from the evergreen plant eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus), is known to contain compounds proven to be:

  • antioxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antibacterial

They have also been shown to have anti-proliferative, or anti-cancer, action, by preventing the spread of cancerous cells. Do not take eucalyptus oil orally.

Though they rarely occur, eucalyptus oil has been linked to several side effects including:

  • allergic rash
  • drowsiness
  • difficulty breathing, especially in children
  • drug interactions

Are there any side effects

Never swallow essential oils as some are toxic.

Essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin or mixed with water. Before applying essential oils to their skin, people must dilute the oils in a carrier oil. The usual recipe is 3 to 5 drops of essential oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil.

Carrier oils are commonly mineral oil, coconut oil, or sweet almond oil. Essential oils can also be infused into the air to be inhaled as aromatherapy.

Complications associated with the use of essential oils include:

  • skin sensitization or irritation, especially to oils that contain phenols and aldehydes
  • photosensitivity, or sensitivity to the sun
  • eye and mucous membrane irritation
  • in rare cases, allergy
  • if oils are inhaled, they may also cause mild lung, throat, or mouth irritation
  • if ingested may cause mild gastrointestinal discomfort

The United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) do not monitor herbs and essential oils, so before buying, it is always best to research brands for quality, purity, and a good reputation.

Who should not use essential oils?

Individuals more at risk for developing side effects, or who should avoid essential oil use, include:

  • pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • people with immune or inflammatory conditions, especially involving the skin
  • people with pigment or photosensitive disorders
  • people with allergies to common essential oil compounds, such as alcohols and aldehydes
  • infants and young boys
  • essential oils should not be taken orally

More at-home remedies for sunburn

Natural items can be added to mixtures or used alongside essential oils to reduce sunburn symptoms and healing time.

Common additives used in at-home sunburn remedies include:

  • aloe vera
  • apple cider vinegar
  • coconut oil
  • milk
  • black tea
  • oatmeal
  • baking soda
  • yogurt

The Heat: Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke/Sunstroke

The symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke can start slowly and appear innocent, but this is a potentially dangerous situation, especially among the young and elderly. A person might feel dizzy, faint, nauseous, or drowsy. They might be confused or disoriented, have a headache, fever, rapid heartbeat, or hyperventilation. A temperature over 104 degrees F {40 degrees C} is a sure warning sign unless the person has just momentarily become hot from exercising in the sun. When the body’s thermoregulation system is overwhelmed, the person stops sweating which is a sure sign of trouble, especially if the skin becomes hot and dry and flushed red. Also, the person can be feeling cold and shivering, even though heatstroke is the cause. It’s easy to think that heatstroke won’t happen in humid conditions, but humidity reduces the evaporation of perspiration and so keeps heat in. Whatever the circumstances of heat exhaustion, heatstroke, or sunstroke, it is important to get medical attention as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, get the person out of the sun and into the cool. Remove any unnecessary clothing. Attempt to cool them down in any way possible, using cool water sponging, cool compresses, a water spray, or regularly replaced cold, wet towels. Key areas to try and cool down are the head, neck, armpits, wrists, and groin. If nothing more than water is available, pour it over the person’s head and over the key areas. As soon as possible, get the person in a cool shower or, better still, into a bath of cool water. This option, however, is not advisable if the person is elderly or has cardiovascular disease, because it can raise blood pressure.

If pouring water over the body, apply 1 drop of neat eucalyptus radiata to the back of the neck. When sponging, use ice-cold water with eucalyptus radiata and lavender oils added and continue for at least 24 hours. One quick dowsing with water will only lower the body temperature by one-hundredth of a degree, which isn’t going to be enough. Alternatively, if immersing the person in a cold-water bath, add 4 drops each of eucalyptus radiata and lavender essential oil. Apply neat lavender or eucalyptus radiata to their temples, the back of their neck, and the solar plexus – the upper abdomen – and have them breathe deeply.

Although the person with heatstroke may not feel thirsty, they should drink plenty of liquids. If you can’t find rehydration packs in the local stores, make up your own as described below**. Heatstroke can develop over days and takes a few days to recover from it. Keep an eye on the patient throughout this time.

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps can occur after unaccustomed exercise and perspiration, with loss of body fluid and electrolytes. Drink plenty of water and take rehydration drinks, or make your own and massage the legs with the following oil:

Heat Cramps

Geranium: 2 drops

Eucalyptus Radiata: 3 drops

Blend together and then dilute by adding 3-5 drops to each 1 teaspoon {5mL} of carrier oil.

Prickly Heat

Prickly heat {miliaria rubra} is a rash of tiny blisters that can look like little pink or red spots. Caused by blocked sweat glands, it is extremely itchy. It can affect any part of the body, and the best line of action is to keep as cool as possible and expose the area to air only cover with light cotton clothing.

Apply a splash to the area, made by diluting 6 drops each of eucalyptus radiata, lavender, and chamomile roman to a teaspoon of alcohol {vodka is fine} and shaking it all in a large cup of spring water. Warm baths are very soothing if you add to them 4 drops each of eucalyptus radiata and lavender essential oil.

Including baking soda in the bath is a good solution. If you can use this method, you only need lavender oil, but – and this is important – add the lavender to the baking soda and mix them together before putting in the bath; don’t just put them in separately. Below are the amounts you will need for various age groups. If wanting to help a baby, try to get hold of calamine lotion. Add 2 drops of chamomile german {or chamomile roman} and 2 drops of lavender to 2 tablespoons {30 mL} of calamine lotion. Alternatively, bathe the baby in a warm bath, ensuring the folds of the skin are thoroughly dried afterward.

Baking Soda Blend for Prickly Heat: Babies

Baking soda: 1/2 cup

Lavender: 1 drop

Mix the lavender essential oil with the baking soda thoroughly before adding a small amount to the bath. If the baby is under 12 months, this quantity is enough for four baths; if between 12 and 24 months, this makes enough for three baths.

Baking Soda Blend for Prickly Heat: Children Age 2 to 7 Years

Baking soda: 1/2 cup

Lavender: 2 drops

Mix the lavender essential oil with the baking soda thoroughly before adding to the bath. This quantity is enough for two baths.

Baking Soda Blend for Prickly Heat: Children Age 8 to 10 Years

Baking soda: 1/2 cup

Lavender: 3 drops

Mix the lavender essential oil with the baking soda thoroughly before adding to the bath. This quantity is enough for two baths.

Baking Soda Blend for Prickly Heat: 11 Years to Adult

Baking soda: 1 cup

Lavender: 3-4 drops

Mix the lavender essential oil with the baking soda thoroughly before adding to the bath.

**Rehydrating Blend

Drink plenty of fluids to replace those lost and take a rehydration formula drink to replace electrolytes. If you can’t get one, make your own:

Bottled water: 1 pint {475 mL}

Sugar: 3 level teaspoons

Salt: 1/4 teaspoon

Lemon essential oil: 1 drop {or fresh lemon or lime juice}

Mix together well and drink one small glass at a time.

A warm bath with 4 drops each of geranium and ginger essential oil diluted in a small amount of carrier oil often helps to calm the nerves, and at the very least it will make you feel better.