Ask Lifehacker: Do Home Remedies Work on Sunburn?

Ask Lifehacker: Do Home Remedies Work on Sunburn?
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This week on Ask Lifehacker, we’re looking at an odd one. We’ve been asked, “Can tomatoes really cure sunburn?”

If you’ve never heard of this idea before, it’s a fairly popular home remedy used to soothe burns. You take slices of tomato and pop them on your red raw skin. The cooling sensation works like slices of cucumber would (in theory); calming angry burns over time.

There is also talk that eating tomato before sun exposure can help prevent skin damage. According to Good Housekeeping, studies indicate that eating a few toms before getting out in the sun can protect you from ultraviolet light. A clinical trial published in The Journal of Nutrition that saw a group of volunteers compare UV-induced erythema (reddening of the skin) after eating tomato paste, or not.

The trial demonstrated, according to researchers, that “it is feasible to achieve protection against UV light-induced erythema by ingestion of a commonly consumed dietary source of lycopene”. (Tomatoes contain lycopene). But is that enough to state that tomatoes can protect you from the sun?

I chatted with Dr Shreya Andric, a dermatologist with Northern Sydney Dermatology over email to find out what’s up. Here’s what she said:

What’s the best treatment for sunburn?

On this, Dr Andric made a point to highlight that “prevention is better than the cure” but in the case that you’re hit with some nasty sunburn she advised:

“The mainstay of treating of sunburn is mostly to provide relief of the discomfort it can cause. The best ways to do this is by taking pain relief as needed, [along with using] cool baths, aloe vera lotions and moisturisers.”

Would you ever consider using tomato (or other home remedies) as sunburn treatment?

Tomato sunburn treat
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Dr Andric had never heard of popping tomatoes on your skin as a means of managing sunburn. I’m not too surprised, really.

But what she did say was that sunburn treatment is mainly about “providing pain relief, so anything soothing will probably be helpful in that sense but won’t necessarily speed up how quickly it resolves”.

While she said she wouldn’t personally bother, Dr Andric didn’t say you shouldn’t use this approach if you’re into it.

What would you say to people who argue sunscreen is bad for you?

There are those who avoid using sunscreen because of beliefs that it is harmful to their health. I asked Dr Andric what her thoughts were on this, and her answer was clear.

“Skin cancers are much worse for you.”

“There is a lot of talk around certain chemical-sunscreen ingredients (eg, oxybenzone and octinoxate) being absorbed into the bloodstream. Many studies have been done which have found that the amount absorbed is minuscule and that the amount absorbed is actually safe. That being said, these two ingredients have been removed from many sunscreens as they have been found to be damaging to coral reefs. There are many other chemical sunscreen ingredients which have not been found to be absorbed into the bloodstream or damage coral reefs, so there are other options out there.”

She advised that if you’re uncomfortable with chemical sunscreens you can opt for “physical blockers or mineral sunscreens such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide” instead.

“These ingredients are made up of large molecules which sit on top of the skin, rather than being absorbed by the skin,” Dr Andric shared.

“The downside of these is that they can leave a white cast and they also do not provide as good protection from UVA as an SPF 50+ chemical sunscreen.”

Lastly, if you’d like a sunscreen recommendation here are a few:

Dr Andric shared that she personally uses Ultraviolette Supreme Screen on her face daily. But that if you’re acne-prone, La Roche Posay Anthelios sunscreen is a solid choice. If you’ve got sensitive skin, consider SunSense Sensitive Invisible. And for the whole bod, she suggests Neutrogena Beach Defence Sunscreen.

Overall, however, she says that “As cliched as it is, my favourite sunscreen is the one you will use!”

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