When sunburn strikes, soothe your scorched skin with these kitchen staples!
This month, we officially head into summer… my absolute favorite time of year.
I love the fresh, seasonal food. I love the plants and flowers that come back to life. I love the renewed socialization with friends and family at cookouts and outdoor gatherings. And I especially love the sunshine.
I suppose it’s only natural that most of us feel an uptick in happiness once we turn the calendar page to June. After all, lots of great research shows that strong sun exposure helps brighten our mood.
Plus, sunshine is nature’s source of vitamin D—an essential vitamin that helps ward off inflammation, aging, and a whole host of diseases.
All that said, I don’t recommend that you carelessly sit out and bake in the hot summer sun.
For one, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin. In fact, UV rays activate harmful compounds called reactive oxygen species (ROS), which wreak havoc and chaos in the body—and can cause cellular damage and death.
Second, too much sun can cause skin cancer. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated over 105,000 new cases of melanoma in 2021.
(It’s important to note that most types of skin cancer aren’t deadly. But—they do tend to stem from bad sunburns or other damage incurred to your skin decades ago.)
So, here’s a complete guide for safely enjoying more “fun in the sun” this summer. (Beware, some of the tips may surprise you!) And when you do suffer a sunburn, I’ll outline some of the best home remedies for fast relief.
My top-three tips for safe sunbathing
Luckily, I’m of southern Italian descent and have only burned a handful of times in my life. But I still always respect the sun’s power, and I urge you to do the same.
Here are my top-three tips for avoiding a sunburn this summer:
1.) Bask in the sun’s “golden hours.” The sun’s rays are strongest in the middle of the day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. That’s also when you’re most likely to burn.
So, if you plan to spend a lot of time outside during the day, do it during the “golden hours”—in the early morning or late afternoon. Whether I’m at the beach or strolling through the streets of New York, I find the sun during that time of day to be the most enjoyable, anyway!
2.) Enjoy around 20 minutes of maximum sun exposure on your bare skin. Then, apply safe, natural sunscreen. Research shows the chemicals in conventional sunscreens may contribute to the development of skin cancer. That’s why I only ever recommend mineral-based varieties. Just look for one of two ingredients: Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. (Note that you’ll want to stay away from “nano” versions of these two ingredients, which are manufactured versions of these natural substances.)
This type of sunscreen doesn’t lather on as easily, so you may look “pasty.” And you may have a harder time rubbing it off. But mineral sunscreens are not likely to give you cancer… so I’d call that a pretty fair trade-off!
Be sure to reapply your sunscreen hourly—and immediately every time you get out of the water. Either that, or turn to protective clothing…
3.) Block exposure to burn-vulnerable areas—like your head, face, and shoulders—by wearing hats, sunglasses, and loose-fitting shirts. You can even find stylish, protective clothing nowadays that offer up their own sun protection factor (SPF).
Pack the beach bag and cooler with more… grapes!?
Two recent studies also suggest that you can protect your skin from sun damage by harnessing the protective power of grapes… yes, grapes!
In the first study, researchers with the University of Barcelona in Spain looked at how certain compounds in grapes—called flavonoids—can protect skin cells from the UV damage I mentioned above.
Of course, they conducted this research in a lab with human epidermis (skin) cells. But we can still learn a lot from their work…
First, they applied flavonoids to the epidermis cells that had been exposed to both UVA and UVB radiation. Then, they examined the changes under the microscope.
(UVA light has a longer wavelength from the sun. These rays are associated with the sun’s aging effects on the skin. Meanwhile, UVB light has a shorter wavelength. These rays contribute to sunburn.)
It turns out, the cells treated with flavonoids had less damage after exposure to both types of radiation. Plus, the flavonoids BLOCKED the production of ROS, which triggers the cell damage in the first place!
Now let’s move on to another study on grapes and the sun—this time, involving healthy, human volunteers…
For this second study, conducted last fall by researchers with the University of Alabama, healthy adult volunteers consumed grape powder (equivalent to 2.25 cups of grapes per day) for 14 days. They were also exposed to UV light both at the study’s outset and after 14 days of eating grapes.
Ultimately, the results showed that the participants experienced a 75 percent increase in the skin’s natural protection against UV light AFTER consuming the grape powder. In fact, after consumption, skin biopsies showed the participants had significantly:
- Less DNA damage
- Fewer skin cell deaths
- Reduced inflammatory markers
The researchers concluded that eating grapes appears to “turn off” the genes associated with skin damage and cell death.
So, if you’re looking for a creative way to avoid burns at the beach this summer, why not load up the cooler with fresh grapes? You can even try freezing them for a cold, sweet burst of goodness.
If that’s not your style, you can even look for some natural sunscreen made with grape compounds. Check the ingredient list for something called gallic acid—a compound that comes from grapes. And the higher up you find it on the ingredient list, the better!
Now, let’s move on to yet another interesting way to prevent painful burns from the summertime sun…
Put a curfew on your kitchen visits
I’m always looking for a good reason to convince you to nix the midnight munchies, and this research certainly fits the bill…
For this study, researchers with UC Irvine and the O’Donnell Brain Institute looked at the link between eating at “abnormal” times and UV skin damage in lab mice.
First, they divided the mice into two different feeding schedules. One group of mice ate during the day (an “abnormal” time for them, since they’re nocturnal). The second group ate at night (their “normal” time to eat).
Then, researchers exposed all of the mice to UVB radiation.
It turns out, the mice with “abnormal” daytime eating habits sustained MORE skin damage when exposed to UV light compared to mice following their “normal” nighttime eating habits.
The researchers said this damage occurred, at least in part, because eating during the day upsets the skin’s “circadian rhythm.” It also reduced the natural production of a healing enzyme that repairs UV-damaged skin.
While this study involved mice (and you know how I feel about animal studies), the researchers believe the findings can be applied to humans, too. And in an interview, Dr. Takahashi, the study’s lead researcher, said, “It is likely that if you have a normal eating schedule, then you will be better protected from UV during the daytime. If you have an abnormal eating schedule, that could cause a harmful shift in your skin clock, like it did in the mouse.”
So, it seems that we’re not only what we eat, but when we eat, too!
Now, with all of the above in mind, I also understand that even the most conscientious of us can lose track of time when we’re having fun in the sun.
So, let’s go over a few simple home remedies to help you recover faster when you do get the occasional sunburn…
Nine simple home remedies for when you get “too much sun”
1.) Double down on D. Research shows that when you take high doses of vitamin D within one hour of getting a sunburn, it significantly reduces skin redness, swelling, and inflammation over the next 48 hours.
For this research, participants took 1,250 mcg (50,000 IU), 2,500 mcg (100,000 IU), or even 5,000 mcg (200,000 IU) of vitamin D. And researchers found that those who took the highest levels recovered the fastest!
I know taking more vitamin D may seem counter-intuitive, since you just spent “too much” time in the sun. But remember, vitamin D helps reduce inflammation on a cellular level. And sunburn is really nothing more than cellular inflammation in the skin’s outer layer.
Plus, as this study showed, vitamin D seemed to trigger gene activity related to skin repair. So, in addition to reducing redness and inflammation, it actually helps repair any damage you incur, too!
That’s pretty darn impressive for a vitamin that’s constantly under attack from the mainstream press. And it certainly suggests that the daily recommended allowance (RDA) for vitamin D of just 10 mcg (400 IU) is downright inadequate.
Remember, I recommend 250 mcg (10,000 IU) of D daily, year-round. But as this research shows, you may want to pump up your intake to help combat sunburn. (Just don’t make that a daily habit.)
2.) Reach for this “wonder” succulent. The “gel” of the aloe vera plant is loaded with natural antioxidants that will go to work immediately, soothing inflammation and repairing the UV damage caused by too much sun.
Go ahead and spread it liberally and frequently on any pink, tender skin. In fact, I suggest you keep a live aloe vera plant in the house. Whenever the need arises, simply pull off a leaf, cut it open, and spread the cooling gel directly onto your skin. It works great for minor cuts, too!
3.) Stay “regular”’ with your probiotic program. As a reader of mine, you may already take a daily probiotic to keep your gut happy. But did you know the type of product I recommend—one that includes prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotic—often contain lactic acid bacteria that will help your burns heal faster, too? (Check the ingredient list to see if your probiotic includes this strain or not.) In addition, you can even apply Greek yogurt directly onto blisters. The healthy enzymes and probiotics go to work in minutes to soothe hot, burning skin.
4.) Feel the “ooh” of an oatmeal bath. Soaking in some nice, tepid bath water with a few cups of whole oats soothes sunburns (as well as other common skin ailments, like eczema). Or, if you have just a small area of sunburn, you can skip the bath. Instead, mix one cup of oats with some tepid water and manuka honey. Then, apply the mixture directly onto the sunburnt area. (Manuka honey, applied by itself as a thin layer for at least 30 minutes, also works wonders on sunburn.)
5.) Take time for tea. Research shows the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory tannic acids in black tea can calm angry, scorched skin. Simply steep a few bags of black tea in room-temperature water, allowing the tannins to release. Then, after about 10 minutes, remove the bags from the water and apply them directly to your skin. Leave them in place for a few minutes to reduce redness and swelling associated with sunburn. (Bonus: This simple home remedy also works great as a quick refresher for dark circles and puffy eyes.)
6.) Turn down the heat. After suffering from any degree of sunburn, you’ll want to keep your skin cool. So, avoid hot showers and baths. Instead, keep the water tepid to bring down inflammation.
7.) Treat your skin with some TLC. Sunburns really do “burn” the outer layer of your skin cells. So, to keep them from drying out further, use an all-natural, high-quality lotion—especially after showering. Just avoid products made with dyes and chemicals—including petroleum, benzocaine, and lidocaine—which can trap heat and make the condition worse. And, just as you do with your sunscreen, double check the ingredient list of your lotion. I find the Environmental Working Group’s “skin deep” database quite useful for detecting toxic chemicals: www.ewg.org/skindeep/.
8.) Give your skin a drink. Sunburns draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of your body. So, make sure you drink plenty of water—more than you normally would. This should help your skin heal more quickly.
(As a quick refresher, I always recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces of water each day. So, a 160-pound person would need 80 ounces of water daily, as a general rule of thumb. So, to combat sunburn, a 160-pound person would need more than 80 ounces.)
9.) Prohibit picking. In the later stages after a sunburn, your skin can really start to blister and peel. But try your best to resist picking at your sun-scorched skin. Just let the dead skin settle and slough off by itself. It will look better… and heal quicker. Of course, in extreme cases, a very bad sunburn can turn into sun poisoning with intense blistering and hives. If you’re worried you may have sun poisoning, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention.
So, there you have it: Your complete guide for how to SAFELY enjoy some extra “fun in the sun” this summer—and protect your skin.
 “Protective Effect of Structurally Diverse Grape Procyanidin Fractions against UV-Induced Cell Damage and Death.” Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2011; 59 (9): 4489 doi.org/10.1021/jf103692a
 “Dietary table grape protects against ultraviolet photodamage in humans.” Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2021. 85(4): 1030-1032. doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2021.01.035.
 “Time-Restricted Feeding Shifts the Skin Circadian Clock and Alters UVB-Induced DNA Damage.” Cell Reports, 2017; 20 (5): 1061. doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2017.07.022
 “Oral vitamin D rapidly attenuates inflammation from sunburn: an interventional study.” Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2017; 137(10):2078-2086. doi.org/10.1016/j.jid.2017.04.040