Can you use essential oils for a sunburn?

Spending time outdoors without proper sun protection may leave you with a sunburn. Sunburns can range in severity, though even mild sunburns can be uncomfortable.

Essential oils have been touted with a number of health benefits — for their healing and pain-relieving properties, among other things. Because of these properties, you may be interested in using essential oils to soothe your sunburn. However, it’s important to note that there’s a lack of scientific research definitively linking them as a sunburn treatment and more research is still needed.

When using essential oils, it’s imperative that you use them correctly. Never swallow essential oils. Essential oils themselves are very concentrated. Therefore, you should always dilute them before use. You can dilute them with:

  • Water. This can be useful when diffusing essential oils in the air.
  • Carrier oils. These can dilute the oils for topical application on the skin, as well as in a bath (along with water). Good carrier oils to use are unscented and include avocado, almond, rosehip, and jojoba oils. Make sure that the oils are safe for topical application before using them on the skin.

Try roman chamomile essential oil to relieve your sunburn. This is one of two well-known varieties of chamomile, known for its calming effect. It’s often used in aromatherapy, skin care products, and make-up. Try adding a few drops to a cold bath to soothe your sunburn or diffuse it in the air to calm your mind.

You can purchase lotions that contain chamomile or the pure essential oil online and in stores.

Menthol essential oil is recognized as a cooling agent and may help relieve the pain and heat from a minor sunburn for an hour or so. You should make sure to dilute a small amount of the oil with a carrier oil or find an over-the-counter (OTC) product containing it. Discontinue use if you notice any reaction when applying the diluted oil.

This essential oil is an antioxidant with several benefits. It protects the skin from ultraviolet (UV) exposure and heals the skin after a sunburn. Applying a product with green tea essential oil aims to add antioxidants to your skin. This often targets deeper areas of the skin and can be useful following sun exposure even if you don’t have a sunburn.

Many OTC products contain green tea for sunburn and sun exposure.

Lavender is an essential oil with many health benefits. It’s recognized for its ability to reduce anxiety as well as its pain-relieving qualities. Add it to a carrier oil and apply the mixture to your skin to see if it provides relief for your sunburn. Additionally, inhaling lavender for a brief amount of time or diffusing it into the air may relax you when managing a sunburn.

Marigold essential oil may help your inflamed skin. The flower is recognized for its antioxidant properties. One study from 2012 also found that it can protect your skin from UV rays.

Look for this essential oil in creams and lotions available OTC to protect and soothe your skin from sun exposure.

Tea tree oil is an essential oil commonly used for skin conditions. It’s even recognized for its antifungal and antibacterial qualities. Talk to your doctor about the use of tea tree oil if you end up with an infection after a severe sunburn.

Tea tree oil is included in some sunburn creams and lotions and should only be applied topically to the skin. You should never ingest tea tree oil.

Using essential oils should always be done cautiously. Keep in mind that:

  • Essential oils are potent, distilled concentrations of plants found around the world. They should always be diluted before use.
  • There’s a lack of scientific research supporting the use of essential oils for health conditions and there are no official guidelines for application of essential oils. Using them for health conditions is considered complementary medicine and should be done with caution.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate the production and marketing of essential oils, so there’s no guarantee of their quality.
  • You may have a reaction to an essential oil. Discontinue use immediately if you notice irritation from the essential oil and contact your doctor. You should do a test patch on a small area of your skin before applying to your sunburn.
  • Essential oils may be unsafe for infants, children, and pregnant or nursing women.
  • Some essential oils may make your skin more susceptible to UV damage when exposed to sunlight, including citrus-derived essential oils.

Don’t delay medical treatment for moderate or severe sunburns. Symptoms that require medical attention should be treated by a doctor and include:

  • significant blistering on your body
  • a sunburn that doesn’t heal after a few days
  • a high fever
  • headaches
  • unrelenting pain, chills, and weakness

If the sunburn gets worse, contact your doctor as it may be infected.

If you have a minor sunburn, you may want to find some ways to soothe your skin and make it feel better. Using the above essential oils or products containing them to treat your sunburn should be done carefully. You can find these oils in over-the-counter products, or use them by diluting the pure oils.

Consult your doctor for instructions on how to use these oils safely to treat your sunburn. If your sunburn is more severe, make an appointment to have it examined and don’t try to treat it on your own.