Last week I wrote about and challenged you to experience nature therapy and its benefits. I followed my own advice and attended the South Texas District Royal Rangers campout along with 500 other campers. This weekend was perfect weather for camping: 60 to 80 degrees with a light breeze and a little bit of cloud coverage. Being the “camp doc,” I was routinely called to evaluate a young man for any variety of medical needs. One very common problem I examined was sunburn. Sunburns increase your risk of developing skin cancer. With the changing weather, it’s important to remember what to do about the sun as you go out for your nature therapy sessions.

The best “treatment” for a sunburn is prevention. Long sleeve shirts and pants can provide you with great protection against the sun, but be careful not to get overheated with those layers. There are two forms of sunscreen, physical and chemical blockers. Physical blockers such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide reflect the sun’s rays by creating a physical barrier on the skin. Make sure to cover the entire skin that’s exposed to provide protection. Chemical barrier sunscreens absorb the UV radiation to prevent skin damage. Be cautious with chemical barriers, as they can occasionally cause skin reactions.

But what are some ways to help once you have the sunburn? The best therapy is proper hydration. Ensuring you have plenty of water can help promote the healing process. Sunburns cause localized swelling due to the inflammation from sun’s UV rays damaging the skin tissue. Proper hydration can ensure that you don’t become dehydrated. Not only should you ingest it, but cool showers or baths can help relieve the pain. The sooner you do this, the better, as it reduces the inflammation from the burn. Don’t put ice on your burn, as this could worsen the damage. Make sure to apply a moisturizer afterward to seal in that moisture.

One of the best natural therapies for sunburn is aloe vera. Aloe vera helps moisturize the skin and can stimulate the immune system to promote healing. You can use aloe vera leaves with some vitamin E or purchase pre-made gels at your local pharmacy. I use one with a little lidocaine to ease the pain, but it’s not necessary.

Coconut oil can also be used as a great moisturizer and pain reliever. Applying it after a cool shower can help calm the stinging and has a great smell for those who like it. Other possible therapies that may help include a blended cucumber paste, rose water, spritzing with white vinegar, or applying a vinegar/baking soda paste overnight. One of the important things to remember is to allow your body to heal and not pop blisters or peel the skin, as this creates the potential for possible infections.

Stay safe this summer and don’t forget your sunscreen. Now, if you’ll excuse me… I need to go apply some aloe vera.

Dr. Samuel Mathis is an assistant professor in UTMB’s Family Medicine Department.

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