While basking in nature and soaking up sunshine, each of us is bound to deal with sunburns at one point or another. Though even minor sunburns can be a pain and linger on for days, did you know that the quicker you draw upon natural remedies and other ways to support your body’s healing process, the easier and more painless your recovery can be?1
For minor sunburns, essential oils can be one of these precious aids. In this article, I’ll share my 9 best essential oils for sunburns to call upon when you’ve spent a little too long in that sunshine. But before we get into the oils, let’s take a brief look at the causes, symptoms, and common treatments for sunburns.
What symptoms and issues can sunburn cause?
Most of us thankfully only deal with minor sunburns (if we’re careful) and the symptoms and issues are mild. However, people can also get very severe sunburns—even third-degree sunburns—which require medical attention and treatments.
If you’re dealing with a minor first- or second-degree sunburn, the symptoms are:
- Inflamed, swollen, tender, and smarting skin
- Pink or red skin (especially in Caucasian people)
- Skin feels hot to the touch
- Small blisters and some skin peeling
Signs of a severe sunburn (possibly third-degree) that might need medical attention include:
- Skin is very inflamed, swollen, tender, and painful
- Skin is very pink or red (especially in Caucasian people)
- Skin feels very hot to the touch
- Medium and large fluid-filled blisters
- Major skin peeling, lost skin layers
- Nausea, headache, fatigue, fever
- Heat exhaustion or heat stroke symptoms
When dealing with severe symptoms and issues, it’s best you contact a doctor or emergency room to get your burn treated. It’s not recommended to solely rely on or use natural remedies and essential oils—these can be inadequate for the burn and dangerous!
If you’re only dealing with mild burn, however, essential oils for sunburn may help.
Best essential oils for sunburn
On their own or used with some of the above natural treatments for sunburn, essential oils can lend an extra hand to the sunburn healing process. Some oils can soothe skin, some may help with pain, and some may even help prevent burns from getting infected.
Some ways to use the following incredible essential oils: Combine a drop or two of any of these with a carrier oil and use as a cold compress on your burn. Mix one or two drops with every dollop of aloe vera gel, lotion, or skin product you use for healing sunburn.
The soothing compounds from this flower’s petals make it a choice essential oil for the home treatment of burns, especially at the healing and recovery stage. In classic forms of herbalism, calendula was utilized for skin issues of many types, including burns but also skin inflammation, irritation, eczema, dryness, and more.
Studies show not only that calendula can help soothe the inflammation of a sunburn, but that it also could help lend some natural sun protection in the meantime to prevent sunburns from happening again.2 3
If you’ve got pain issues with your sunburn, and if CBD or other cannabis products are legal for you to access in your state, you may want to give cannabis essential oils a try. Regardless of their contents or ingredients, cannabis essential oils help with a wide spectrum of pain: both inflammatory and nerve-related.
Both these types of pain can happen with sunburn. Research shows that cannabis can help with topical pain (such as with sunburn), and that it could also have specific benefits for skin inflammation as well.4 5
Not unlike calendula, chamomile is another flower remedy for skin: classically used for itchiness, dryness, and yes, minor burns at times. Besides being a soothing tea, it also soothes inflammation fairly well in essential oil form.
Both traditional and medicinal plant scientific sources on the herb say it is an excellent natural remedy for sunburn.6 It’s not uncommon to find it ready-to-go as a botanical ingredient in lotions or sunscreens, too, because of its healing and emollient properties.
The root of the beautiful iris flower (also called blue flag or orris root) can yield a superb essential oil with powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. In fact, some herbalists may claim that iris works better for sunburn than aloe vera itself!
That said, there hasn’t been a lot of updated or recent research on the plant or its essential oils proving that it works for sunburns. We still have tons of empirical evidence on iris, however, showing that the root and its constituents have been used to heal burns (among other things) for thousands of years—so it must not be a coincidence.
It may not be the first remedy you think of when it comes to sunburns, but it can (and does) work. Lavender essential oil is slightly anti-inflammatory while having some mild antimicrobial properties that could reduce the risk of sunburn infection, all while being famously hypoallergenic and gentle for most skin types.
Besides its topical benefits, research suggests that even a whiff of its heavenly fragrance could create some pain relief in and of itself—and yes, for burns!7
No plant healer is nobler, more beautiful, and better suited to skin healing than rose: whether it’s the petals, its tea, or its essential oils.
Rose has a grand reputation in natural healing for balancing any type of skin back into a state of harmony while soothing and healing inflammation. Yes, it could also be helpful for the prickly discomfort of a burn, according to many traditional herbalists, especially during the post-burn healing stage—though there aren’t many up-to-date studies to explore this. Nonetheless, it is used religiously and successfully throughout the natural healing world.
It’s not unheard of that someone would want to put something cooling on a burn, like cold water. But what about the cooling effects of menthol from spearmint (or peppermint, for that matter). Can this help?
According to many who use essential oils, spearmint treatments can bring cooling relief to a sunburn when used safely and properly. Elsewhere in the natural healing world (and in conventional medicine), spearmint has proven itself as a very effective topical pain reliever and to even help manage chronic pain8.
St. John’s wort
We know it first as a natural depression remedy, a sunny flower that can lift one’s spirits. But did you know that one of St. John’s Wort’s original healing purposes was as a wound healer, even for burns (and very likely sunburn too)?
Tapping into the essential oils from this European plant could help with both mood and burn healing. While there are no studies specifically on how St. John’s Wort helps sunburns, there is research showing it could help with pain, first aid, and the healing of contact burns, which are physiologically no different than sunburns in most ways.9 This means that St. John’s Wort essential oil could be a top choice for sunburn healing.
This dainty purple flower may seem very common and unassuming. Meanwhile, its essential oils could be a secret weapon for sunburns!
Traditional herbalists will be quick to recommend both the leaves and flowers, as well as any preparations (including the oils or tea) for soothing a sunburn or really any other type of burn or skin issue. Most incredibly, violet could also add some UV protection against burns, preventing sunburn altogether.10
Best essential oil sunburn blends
For the best home treatment, relief, and healing, herbs and essential oils work better together than alone. When dealing with certain issues related to sunburn, here are some of the best essential oil sunburn blends to try.
Pain relief blend – Cannabis, spearmint
Combine these two for the best pain-relieving effect, whether early on during the most painful stage of sunburn or later. This blend will be most effective as a cold compress.
First aid blend – Iris, calendula, violet
Use this blend immediately after getting a sunburn. Combine with the pain relief blend if it’s an especially painful burn. Use with a cold compress or aloe vera gel for the most effectiveness.
Burn healing blend – Rose, chamomile, lavender, St. John’s Wort
Once the burn has healed, is less painful, and skin or blisters are peeling, apply this blend to support your body’s healing process. This is best used in combination with a skin-healing lotion or skin treatment, though aloe vera and cold compress are effective too.
Other treatments & prevention tips
Essential oils for sunburn are one excellent natural approach for first aid, treatment, and pain management of a mild sunburn. That said, there are quite a few other natural methods to stock up on should a sunburn happen and that are quite effective, too. Plus, some can be used in combination with essential oils.
Some other great natural options are:
- Aloe vera gel. This is best to apply immediately after getting burned (a gel, not a lotion).
- Moisturizing or emollient lotion. For the healing process, a skin-healing, moisturizing lotion can help.
- Cooling shower. This can be helpful for soothing the burn and some pain relief.
- Cold compress. Applying cool, clean water to a burn can help with some of the pain.
- Oat or oatmeal skin treatments. For healing very painful burns and skin damage, try oat skin treatments—or even an oatmeal bath.
A nasty sunburn (no matter how minor) can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and even cause self-consciousness about your appearance. Pain and discomfort are one thing. But while dealing with one in its worst stages, sometimes you may not want to wear certain clothes or attend public gatherings while the burn is still fresh!
To reduce risk of future sunburn, make sure you stay in the shade on very sunny or high UV days, and wear loose clothes that cover your body. Be sure to choose a sunscreen if you absolutely must be in direct sun contact. We especially encourage you to choose wisely from the safest sunscreen options.
But even among the most careful of us, sometimes a sunburn happening is inevitable. Natural essential oils can help you out in a pinch: with soothing pain, protecting against infection, and even supporting the healing process, making it sooner than later when you can step back out into the world pain- and burn-free again. Best of all, essential oils are natural, easy to use, and have no side effects when used correctly.
About Adrian White
Adrian White is a certified herbalist, organic farmer, and health, food, and agriculture freelance writer—and upcoming author. She is a past contributor to Healthline with bylines in The Guardian, Civil Eats, and Good Housekeeping. Adrian is also the co-owner and operator of Jupiter Ridge LLC, an organic farm growing diverse vegetables, mushrooms and herbs.
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