Sunburn Treatment and Prevention: Protecting Your Skin From the Sun

Check out these tips for protecting yourself from heat- and sun-related illnesses and avoiding sun poisoning. Find natural remedies to soothe your skin when sunburn does strike.

March 04, 2021

Photo by: iStock


Heat-related illnesses, sunburn, skin cancer — the result of overexposure to the sun can be more than just uncomfortable; it can be life-threatening. Here are master gardener Paul James' recommendations for staying safe:

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Keeping Plants Watered During Vacation

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Photo by: Kzenon /

Kzenon /

Limit Outdoor Work

Consider working in the garden during the cooler early morning and early evening hours when the sun's angle and intensity are lower. Doing so will lessen your exposure and reduce the risk of overheating. Even in the middle of summer, temperatures can be at least 10 degrees and very often 20 to 30 degrees cooler during these times.

"I prefer to garden between sunup and 10 am," says James, "and again for about an hour before sunset. But in the middle of summer, I try to avoid really strenuous chores such as digging or laying stone no matter what time it is." Of course, early morning and early evening are also the times when mosquitoes are most active, so be sure to protect yourself.

Try to avoid working during periods of high humidity. High heat coupled with high humidity increases the risk of heat-related problems. Moisture in the air makes it much harder for your sweat to evaporate. Your body can't get rid of excessive heat nearly as fast or as efficiently when it's muggy outside as when the air is relatively dry.

Consider your own physical limitations. "I've come to grips with the fact that, having now passed the half-century mark, I can't work as long or as hard as I once could in the heat, so I try to take more breaks and accept the fact that I'm no spring chicken any more."

garden hat

The Last Straw

Super-functional and cute too, the SmartStraw Sedona Sun Hat is a one-size-fits-all wonder featuring a cotton lining for extra comfort and 50+ UPF protection.

Photo by: Image courtesy of Coolibar

Image courtesy of Coolibar

Wear Proper Clothing and a Hat

Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, and if you're fair-skinned, consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt as well as long pants. Light cotton and other breathable fabrics are actually quite comfortable, and their long forms offer protection from the sun as well as mosquitoes. Says James: "One of my favorite gardening shirts is actually a fishing shirt. It's made of cotton, it's loose-fitting, and it features a mesh back that allows air to circulate freely. And because it's white, it reflects the heat. I don't wear it on the show because white creates problems on camera-exposure settings."

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Wear a hat. Baseball caps are OK, but they don't protect the ears and neck. A better choice would be a wide-brimmed hat, which offers maximum protection. Those made of woven materials are often cooler as well.

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Wear Sunscreen

Protecting yourself from sunburn, premature aging, future skin damage and skin cancer makes wearing a sunscreen essential. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a broad spectrum screenscreen of at least 15 SPF (and 30 SPF if you will be outdoors all day) anytime you are outdoors and reapplying every two hours.

Drink Plenty of Water

When it comes to being the best hydrater, water is king. Sport drinks are okay as well, but water is often more readily available. Coffee and alcohol, on the other hand can hasten ill effects of dehydration. And under most circumstances, salt tablets aren't all that necessary. In fact, taking salt tablets may actually raise your body's sodium level to hazardous levels.

Plant Trees

The shade cast by trees not only offers protection from the sun but also offers a cool spot for taking regular breaks. Even small trees are better than no trees at all.

Beware of Heat Illnesses

Heat cramps are muscle contractions, usually in the abdomen or the hamstring muscles. The contractions are often forceful and can be quite painful. If you experience heat cramps, rest immediately in a cool spot and drink plenty of water.

Heat exhaustion is more serious, and the symptoms include paleness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fainting and a moderate rise in body temperature not technically due to fever but rather heat. Rest and water along with ice packs and a cool environment may help in mild cases. More severe cases may require the introduction of IV fluids.

Heat stroke is the most severe form of heat illness, and it's a medical emergency. The classic symptoms include the absence of sweat and a very high temperature. Very often, the victim is delirious or unconscious and may have seizures as well. Victims of heat stroke require immediate emergency medical treatment.

Castor Oil May Soothe Sunburned Skin

Back Of Young Boy With Sunburned Skin

Castor oil mixed with another 'carrier' oil may help soothe sunburned skin.

Photo by: Shutterstock


Natural Remedies for Sunburn

There are a number of DIY and drugstore remedies for sunburn.

Cool Water and Ice

Ice wrapped in a towel (not applied directly to the skin) can provide some relief when applied to sunburned skin. A cool bath can also help though you should avoid using bubble bath or soap or anything that can dry skin.

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Aloe Vera Gel

Whether sourced from your garden or the drugstore, pure aloe vera gel is great as a soothing moisturizer that can also speed healing.

Oatmeal Bath

A soak in cool water with a colloidal oatmeal bath treatment or just plain pantry oatmeal can soothe itchy, irritated skin.

Top view of hot tea in a teacup placed on a vintage wooden floor.

Top view of hot tea in a teacup placed on a vintage wooden floor.

Photo by: Shutterstock/WIROJE PATHI

Shutterstock/WIROJE PATHI


Both green and black tea contain tannic acid and antioxidants which can help with repairing skin damage, according to a study in Pharmacognosy Review.

Woman Drinking Water To Stay Hydrated After Workout

Young Woman Drinking Water After Working Out

Dehydration drains energy, so it’s important to replenish your body throughout the day. Plain water is a good choice.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Mimagephotography


Drink Water

Sunburns dry out your skin, so stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water post-sunburn says the American Academy of Dermatology.

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Photo by: Emily Fazio

Emily Fazio

Greek Yogurt

The lactic acid in Greek yogurt (which has more probiotics than regular yogurt) can soothe inflammation and provides much-needed moisture to sunburned skin. Apply yogurt to burned areas and leave on for 15 minutes before rinsing off.

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