Dear Pharmacist: I bought aloe vera gel from the pharmacy and it didn't feel good on my sunburn; it actually stung. Can you recommend something else? -J.S., Sebring, Florida
I bet you bought a gel that contains a few other ingredients and possibly even alcohol because plain, natural aloe vera gel would not do that. It would help. Sunburn pain ranges from annoying to downright disabling if you get second-degree burns.
Aside from natural anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen, acetaminophen), here are some natural solutions that could help reduce burning, pain and redness:
Tea bags: Don't drink them, put 6 of them into a pitcher of warm (or hot water) and steep for 15 to 30 minutes or longer if desired. Your goal is to make strong tea because the tannins in the tea are comforting to the skin. Then cool the pitcher of tea with ice cubes or in the refrigerator. Dunk a rag into the tea and make a compress. Do this several times a day for several days unless you have some kind of issue. If you're traveling, you can always wet a tea bag with cold water and apply it to your skin.
Lavender essential oil: You can apply this to areas of your skin where it hurts really bad, like around your bikini line, your shoulders, ears, nose or shoulders.
Baking soda bath: Fill the tub with cool water and drop in 4 to 6 heaping tablespoons of baking soda. This soothes your skin, but only soak up to 20 minutes, no more. If you soak too long, it will dry your skin too much and add to your misery. You don't have to take a bath, you can make a thin paste out of baking soda and water (optional 2 drops of lavender essential oil) and apply to your skin until it dries, then gently rinse off.
Oatmeal: I've not had luck with it, but some people swear by this trick. Fill up the bath with cool water and put in 1 or 2 cups of uncooked oatmeal and soak for 15 to 30 minutes. You can use cooking oatmeal or a prepared commercial product called Aveeno that's sold online and at drugstores. Don't shower afterward, just pat your skin dry.
Suzy's sunburn spritzer: Find a spray bottle and mix 2 ounces of distilled water with 5 drops of essential oils of lemon, lavender, calendula and frankincense (boswellia). If you don't like one of those scents you can substitute Roman chamomile, which is another skin soother.
Prevention: Carrot seed oil mixed in with your natural sunscreen is helpful. Astaxanthin, taken orally, has been clinically shown to reduce damage to the skin from ultraviolet radiation. Other dietary supplements that are skin-protective include vitamin A, E and D as well as resveratrol. Forget fashion, cover up your skin with clothes if you're prone to sunburn. Who cares if you have a T-shirt on in the pool?