Coconut oil for sunburn: Does it work?
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is nearly 100 percent fat.
Coconuts are a tropical fruit, the products of which are widely used for cosmetic, culinary, and medicinal purposes.
People who live in tropical regions of the world have used coconut oil, as a moisturizer, for a long time. As consumer interest in natural beauty products grows, coconut oil is now being incorporated into many commercial hair and skin items.
Coconut oil is produced from what is called the meat of the coconut fruit. To make refined coconut oil, the meat of the fruit is dried before the oil is extracted. The oil is then bleached and deodorized to remove impurities and smells.
Virgin coconut oil is less processed and can be produced from coconut milk or fresh coconut meat. It is not bleached or deodorized.
Nutritionally, coconut oil is nearly 100 percent fat, 90 percent of which is saturated fat.
Benefits of coconut oil for sunburn
Coconut oil is a good moisturizer due to the high fat content.
Coconut oil is often cited as a natural remedy for sunburn. However, there has not been much scientific research, to date, to support the use of coconut oil as a treatment for sunburn.
The oil may, however, help relieve some of the symptoms associated with sunburn, such as dryness and itching.
Listed below are some of the skin benefits of coconut oil that may help soothe sunburn:
The high fat content of coconut oil makes it a good moisturizer. One study compared coconut oil and mineral oil, as treatments for people with very dry skin.
Both oils helped improve skin moisture when they were applied two times per day. After the 2-week study period, coconut oil was shown to be more effective.
However, more research is needed to confirm the effectiveness of coconut oil, as a treatment for dry skin.
Sunburn may result in itchy skin. While not related to sunburn, eczema is another condition that causes dry, itchy skin. Eczema is more common in children than adults, and coconut oil has been studied, as a potential treatment.
Virgin coconut oil and mineral oil were compared as treatments in a study of children with mild to moderate eczema. Approximately 1 teaspoon of oil was applied to the children's skin two times per day for 8 weeks.
The virgin coconut oil was found to be a significantly more effective treatment than the mineral oil. More than 90 percent of the children in the virgin coconut oil group had moderate or excellent improvement in their eczema.
Based on the above results, coconut oil could potentially relieve itchy skin caused by sunburn.
A study in rats found that virgin coconut oil was temporarily able to decrease swelling caused by inflammation. The same study also found that virgin coconut oil reduced fever in the rats and may have provided them with pain relief.
How to use coconut oil for sunburn
Choose cold-pressed coconut oil for use on skin. Processing methods that use heat or chemicals destroy some of the components of coconut oil that may be helpful for sunburned skin.
Coconut oil should not be the initial step in sunburn treatment. The American Academy of Dermatology recommend first taking a cool bath to reduce the heat from a sunburn, then putting moisturizer on the skin.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, oil-based lotions may cause sunburned skin to retain heat, which could aggravate the burn. Because of this, it may help to wait at least 1 day after the burn before putting coconut oil on sunburned skin.
Once skin has started to recover, coconut oil can be applied to it, as a moisturizer. The coconut oil can be applied alone or combined with another skin soothing agent, such as a couple drops of lavender essential oil or aloe vera gel.
To reduce inflammation, hydrocortisone cream can be applied to the skin or an anti-inflammatory medication can be taken by mouth.
Hydration is also very important, as sunburned skin takes water from other parts of the body.
Blisters are a sign of a serious sunburn, and coconut oil should not be used. A sunburn that results in blisters is considered a second-degree burn. and people should see a doctor if blisters are extensive or accompanied by other symptoms, such as chills, headache, or fever.
How to prevent a sunburn
Wearing sunscreen is the best way to prevent sunburn.
Sunburn prevention is very important to reduce the risk for certain types of skin cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the incidence of skin cancer has been rising and it is now the most widely diagnosed cancer in the United States.
The best way to prevent a sunburn is to wear sunscreen, which blocks the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Products with a high sun protection factor (SPF) do a better job protecting skin from sunburn.
Some sunscreen products contain oils, and the oils themselves may contribute to the SPF number. One study found that coconut oil has an SPF of approximately seven. This was the second highest SPF of the oils tested. Olive oil came in first, with a slightly higher SPF than coconut oil.
Ways to prevent sunburn include:
- limiting time in the sun, during the hottest hours of the day
- wearing clothing and hats that shield the skin from the sun
- applying sunscreen adequately and regularly
- not using tanning beds
When choosing a sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends selecting one that provides broad-spectrum UV protection. This stipulation means that it shields the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
UVA rays are responsible for causing more severe skin damage, but UVB rays are more likely to result in a sunburn.
The sunscreen should also be water resistant and have a minimum SPF value of 30.
Sunscreen should be used regardless of the time of year. Clouds and windows do not offer protection from UVA rays. Additionally, water, including in the form of snow, and sand, magnify the effect of UV rays.
Sunscreen should be put on 15 to 30 minutes prior to going outside and then every 2 hours thereafter. Sunscreen may need to be reapplied sooner if someone goes in the water or sweats heavily.
It is important to stay on top of preventative measures, as sunburn is not usually visible until 3-4 hours after the damage has occurred. The full extent of a sunburn may not be seen until 24 hours after the damage was done.