Everyone knows that staying out in the sun for too long can have painful consequences. We have all been there – maybe you were having too much fun at the pool or the beach and you forgot to put on sunscreen. Or you went out for a long run and didn’t remember to reapply. In any case, it’s very common to get a sunburn every now and then.
Sunburns, like any other type of burn, can be very painful and uncomfortable. The UV rays cause symptoms like inflammation, redness, soreness, itchiness, and peeling. In severe cases, sunburns can even become infected or lead to permanent scarring.
Preventing a sunburn is always the best way to go, since excessive UV exposure can lead to abnormal changes to your skin, including precancerous lesions and even skin cancer. An individual’s risk of developing skin cancer doubles if they suffer from five or more sunburns throughout their lifetime.
Even without taking skin cancer into consideration, it’s still important to remember that excessive sun exposure is one of the biggest causes of premature aging and skin problems. Even the sunburns that occur during childhood can increase your chance of aging prematurely or developing cancerous lesions later on in life.
The good news is that there are many home remedies available for sunburn. If you have already developed a sunburn, you will be happy to learn that coconut oil can provide great relief for your symptoms. Coconut oil is an inexpensive product that many of us already have in our kitchens.
What Is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is obtained from the white, fleshy portion of the coconut fruit. There are many different ways to extract oil from a coconut, which is why you can find many different types of coconut oil at the supermarket shelves. The healthiest coconut oil is the extra-virgin, cold-pressed variety since it preserves the purity of the oil and doesn’t have to undergo any heat that could damage its components.
Unlike more traditional oils, such as olive oil and canola oil, coconut oil is usually solid at room temperature. This occurs because coconut oil has a higher melting point than other oils, which makes it more stable than other types of oil.
Although coconut oil has many health benefits and has become more popular in recent years, nutritionists recommend using it in small quantities, since it’s still saturated fat. The benefits of coconut oil include:
- Increasing HDL or “good” cholesterol.
- Preventing liver disease.
- Helping control blood sugar.
- Reducing stress levels.
- Relieving asthma.
- Aiding in weight loss.
Coconut oil has also become a popular ingredient in the beauty industry. It can be used as a skin moisturizer and hair conditioner. Many people also use it as a makeup remover, and it can even be mixed with other common ingredients – such as sugar – to create body or lip scrubs. It has also been used to replace shaving cream and to control frizzy hair.
The Science Behind Using Coconut Oil For Sunburns
Unfortunately, most of the research on sunburn relief doesn’t center specifically around coconut oil. But certain components in coconut oil have been studied and found to have beneficial properties that could help with your sunburn.
Just like other oils, coconut oil is a lipid-rich substance. In 2012, the American Academy of Family Physicians published a study that stated that lotions or ointments with a high lipid content could accelerate the repair of damaged skin after a burn and reduce dryness. So while this study isn’t centered around coconut oil, we know that lipids, in general, are a great way to soothe a burn and help it heal faster.
Other studies have also shown that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic properties. These findings reflect the fact that virgin coconut oil can relieve pain, swelling, and temperature when applied to an injury. These characteristics can be very helpful when treating any type of burn.
Coconut oil contains substances like lauric acid, capric acid, and caprylic acid. These are medium-chain fatty acids that have been shown to possess antimicrobial properties. Research has shown that coconut oil is effective against many types of bacteria and fungus.
The exact antimicrobial mechanism of coconut oil isn’t known; however, researchers have theorized that the medium-chain fatty acids that we previously mentioned interfere with certain bacterial processes and destroy different bacterial cell structures, causing microorganisms to die.
Lauric acid, in particular, has shown great anti-infective potential. This acid, when combined with another naturally-occurring substance called glycerol, becomes monoglyceride monolaurin. Research indicates that monolaurin is actually the most powerful antimicrobial agent contained in coconut oil. Although coconut oil isn’t as potent as antibiotic ointments, it has been proposed as an alternative for people with light to mild infections or injuries.
Coconut oil is also a highly moisturizing substance. Coconut oil has been proven to be more effective than other types of oil, such as mineral oil, in the treatment of dry skin and other conditions, such as eczema. Its hydrating properties could potentially relieve sunburn symptoms.
In addition to these facts, coconut oil is also rich in antioxidants. It contains polyphenols, vitamin E, vitamin K, and iron. Antioxidants fight free radicals, which are unstable atoms that lead to inflammation. The antioxidants found in coconut oil are another reason why it can be effective against sunburns.
How To Use (Properly) Coconut Oil For Sunburn
Coconut oil is very beneficial and can be used to lessen the symptoms of sunburn. However, experts don’t recommend applying coconut oil -or any other type of oil, actually- immediately after the burn has occurred. This is because using oils can trap the heat inside your skin and worsen your symptoms rather than improve them.
You can, however, apply coconut oil to stimulate healing and nourish your skin once the sunburn has been cooled down. Ideally, you should wait approximately 24 to 48 hours after sustaining a sunburn before applying coconut oil. This will give you skin time to cool off and begin the healing process on its own before you apply the coconut oil.
Keep in mind that you should use extra-virgin coconut oil to really see any benefits. Cold-pressed oil is also favored over other varieties. This way, you will be using high-quality coconut oil that hasn’t lost any of its beneficial components during the manufacturing process. Additionally, lower quality coconut oil could be mixed with other oils or contain additives that could potentially worsen your burn or cause an allergic reaction.
So rather than applying coconut oil right after a sunburn, try these dermatologist-approved steps first:
- Get out of the sun. The first thing you need to do once you realize you got a sunburn is to seek protection from the sun. If you can’t get indoors at the moment, try to find an umbrella or any other structure that can shield you from the UV rays.
- Apply cold water. You can try using a wet, cold tower; other people prefer to take cold showers or baths. Coldwater will help your skin cool down.
- Drink plenty of fluids. When you get a burn, your tissues become dehydrated. Drink lots of water to prevent dehydration symptoms or excessive dryness.
- Moisturize your skin with aloe vera or soy-based lotions. Aloe vera and soy are great to soothe your skin immediately after a sunburn. Avoid lotions that contain lidocaine, benzocaine, oils, or petroleum, since these ingredients could worsen your symptoms.
- Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin can help reduce inflammation, swelling, and pain.
- Wear fresh clothing. Wearing light and natural materials, such as cotton, can help your skin heal by keeping it dry and fresh. Stick to garments made with lightweight fabrics but with long sleeves to keep your skin protected.
Once your skin has started to heal and is completely cool, you can start applying coconut oil on a sunburn. The coconut oil will hydrate and moisturize your skin while helping to prevent infections and blisters. It can also accelerate the healing process, meaning that you’ll recover faster than you would without the coconut oil.
You can apply coconut oil to a sunburn a couple of times a day. You can use coconut oil on its own, or mix it with other beneficial substances. Mixing a spoonful of extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil with aloe vera gel, lavender oil, or vitamin E serum is a great way to help your skin recover after a sunburn.
It’s very important to remember that home remedies are only meant to be used to treat first-degree sunburns. Although it’s infrequent, sunburns can cause more serious injuries that need to be treated by a medical professional to avoid complications. Seeking medical help quickly is the best way to get the necessary treatment in these cases and avoid long-term consequences.
Please see a doctor if your sunburn symptoms include:
- Large blisters that cover more than 20 percent of your skin.
- Symptoms such as high fever, chills, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, confusion, or headaches.
- Signs of a skin infection, including pus, swelling, or red streaks that radiate from the sunburnt area.
- Pain or other symptoms that don’t subside with home remedies.
Can You Use Coconut Oil Instead Of Sunscreen?
Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be a good idea. A 2010 study found that coconut oil has an SPF of approximately 8. Dermatologists recommend that you use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 every day, although the FDA recommends a minimum SPF of 15. Coconut oil, with its SPF 8, doesn’t meet these standards for sun protection.
You should always keep in mind that using a good sunscreen is of vital importance. You need to apply sunscreen every day, even if you’re going to be indoors. If you’re going to be out in the sun, it’s always a good idea to go with a higher SPF and to reapply your sunscreen periodically. Especially if you’re going to get in the water, you need to reapply your sunscreen frequently or use a waterproof formula.
Excessive sun exposure can cause irreparable damage to the cells in your skin, leading to premature aging, wrinkles, sun spots, and dry skin. In severe cases, sun exposure can increase your risk of developing precancerous lesions and even skin cancer. In the US, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other types of cancer combined.
In order to prevent skin damage caused by sun exposure, go with a dermatologist-approved sunscreen with a high SPF. Nowadays, there are many different formulations that are safe and gentle on your skin. You can find many different types of sunscreen at the drugstore, including natural formulations, products for sensitive skin, and sunscreens that don’t leave a white cast on your face.
If you’re not sure about which type of sunscreen you should use, you can always as your primary care physician or dermatologist. When it comes to your skin’s health, you shouldn’t take a gamble by using DIY sunscreens. If you want to harness the benefits of coconut oil for your skin, apply it as a moisturizer after you have been in the sun – using a good sunscreen.
Final Thoughts About Coconut Oil For Sunburn
Here are some of the basic facts that you need to know about using coconut oil for sunburn:
- Scientific research has shown that coconut oil has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antipyretic properties.
- It can also reduce the risk of developing a skin infection and accelerate healing.
- You shouldn’t apply coconut oil immediately after sustaining a sunburn.
- Make sure you only use extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil. Other types of coconut oil can contain additives that could potentially cause allergic reactions and aggravate your symptoms.
- Replacing sunscreen with coconut oil isn’t a good idea. Coconut oil has a very low SPF that won’t keep you protected from harmful UV radiation.
Andrea, M.D is from Valencia, Venezuela. She is passionate about sexual health and education, and public health and global health. Additionally, she enjoys researching and learning about beauty, skincare, and cosmetic innovations. She has also volunteered in several NGOs in Venezuela. In her free time, Andrea enjoys reading, drinking copious amounts of coffee, making desserts for her family, going to the beach, and spending time with her dog, Dorito.