Oh Mr. Sun, Mr. Golden Sun...
Sunburn – sure, I know most of us are saying “I wish!” when it comes to the possibility of sunburn right now. Nevertheless, eventually these overcast skies will give way to plenty of sun . As those of us who were here through the long heat wave last summer will remember, the Pacific Northwest can offer prime conditions for too much of a good thing– it’s no fun getting fried from a sunburn or exhausted from dehydration. No matter how happy the sun can make you feel, moderation is the best guideline to follow regarding sun exposure.
Sunburn: OK, almost everyone reading this has probably suffered from a sunburn at least once in their lives. Too much exposure to the UVA and UVB wavelengths in ultraviolet radiation (commonly from the sun but also from other ultraviolet sources) literally burns the tissues of our skin, causing the characteristic red, tender inflammation. Such an injury can happen within 30 minutes of being exposed, even less in tropical latitudes where the UV index is very high. For people who have little previous exposure (i.e. all of us up north by the end of a long, cold winter!), the susceptibility to burn can happen in as little as 15 minutes, although the symptoms usually don’t begin until 2-4 hours after the damage has been done and may take as long as 24 hours to fully develop. The greatest risk is around solar noon, when shadows are at their minimum and the sun’s radiation passes more directly through the atmosphere. A first degree sunburn is when the skin turns pink or red; a second degree sunburn is where the skin actually blisters, but both are painful and can increase the possibility of skin cancer down the road.
Prevention: Did your mother ever nag at you to cover up? Put on sunscreen? While sunscreen does seem to help prevent sunburn and may protect against basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, it doesn’t necessarily protect against the most serious skin cancer of all, malignant melanoma. There are plenty of articles you can read to either convince or confuse you about sunscreen’s viability so do your research and make the decision which seems best to you , but back up your decision by covering your exposed skin as much as possible. Hats, long sleeves, all those things my teenage daughters can’t imagine doing have come to make sense to me and are undoubtedly the safest and surest way to prevent sunburn, as well as more serious damage from the sun. Of course staying out of the sun during the peak period of UV radiation is also smart and for our location on the planet right now, I consider that to be between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. - but you can adjust this to your own geographic latitude and time of the year, as needed.
Damage done: And then – despite precautions (or not), it happens. Red, painful, burning, tight skin has left you in varying degrees of discomfort and dryness. Hopefully you got out of the sun before actual ulcers or blisters developed, but even a mild sunburn isn’t any fun. As the evening progresses, symptoms often become more uncomfortable, making sleep difficult.
Homeopathic Help: Sunburn or other ailments from too much sun/heat exposure often respond quickly to homeopathic treatment. Here are some homeopathic creams and remedies to keep on hand that can immediately sooth and speed the healing process:
7 Cream – This is a wonderful product to gently rub right on the sunburned skin. 7 Cream was developed by a British homeopath named Robin Logan and is an excellent all-round product for skin irritation, from eczema to chemical or radiation burns. It is parabens- and fragrance-free and full of fabulous organic ingredients including Manuka honey, shea butter, aloe vera, calendula, neem, avocado and coconut oils. It goes on gently and sooths all manner of irritations and is one of those products that belongs on your medicine shelf or travel kit (for more information, go to www.natural-skin-health.com) during all seasons.
Calendula Gel (or cream) – if you can’t find any 7 Cream in your local health food store, then get a tube of calendula gel or cream. For sunburns, I find the gel is cooler, and therefore more soothing, and easily absorbed - but the cream works fine as well, you just have to be gentle in rubbing it in as it goes on white. Calendula speeds the healing of injured tissues, so this is something you can also put on a wound or abrasion to lessen the chances of infection, promote a healthy regeneration of skin and also minimize scarring.
Besides these topical creams, there are homeopathic remedies you can take to help your whole system respond to the state of sunburn and neutralize any potential damage. A homeopathic remedy works to strengthen and support your whole system ‘s healing response and so not only will the right remedy help the superficial skin symptoms of sunburn, but should also relieve any emotional or systemic symptoms which may accompany the burn. In choosing which remedy to try first, do your best to match the remedy’s symptoms to those being experienced by the person.
Urtica Urens – This is the remedy I usually suggest anyone heading to a tropical beach take with them. It has a double-whammy of being good for both first degree burns (i.e. sunburn) as well as itching eruptions of the skin. So you can think of this remedy for itchy sunburns that may sting and burn, as well as insect bites that also have those same characteristics (itching, burning and/or stinging). The emotional symptoms can reflect this feeling of itching and burning as they may be irritable and impatient, and unable to get comfortable.
Cantharis – This is a remedy for a more severe case of sunburn, either 1st or 2nd degree, where the pain and burning sensation is severe. The inflammation will be violent, with severe symptoms developing quickly after too much exposure to the sun. There may be eruptions and blistering of the skin as if it has been scalded and will burn terribly. As the physical symptoms are more extreme than Urtica urens, so are the mental/emotional symptoms and the person may be anxious or enraged and above all restless from their symptoms, “constantly attempting to do something but accomplishing nothing.”
Belladonna – This is the remedy for cases of heat- or even sunstroke, where the area affected turns bright red, throbs with pain, and is dry to the touch. The person may suddenly run a high fever and can have a bright red face but with cool extremities. There can be a pounding headache which will feel as though their head could burst. They may complain of pulsating, throbbing pain, and will be very sensitive to touch, light, and jarring. They may express great irritability and strong emotions and with the high heat or fever, even hallucinate. Belladonna means “beautiful woman” and people needing this remedy will often have an unusual glistening to the eyes.
Heat stroke is a very serious condition and medical attention should be sought immediately. On the way to emergency, you can give Belladonna every 15 – 30 minutes .
Administration and potencies of the remedies: You can apply the 7 Cream or Calendula gel liberally and frequently for as long as needed. When using homeopathic remedies for cases of sunburn, 30C is a good potency to use and the one most readily available from health food stores or other homeopathic sources. In mild cases of sunburn, give 2 doses (each dose being 2-3 pellets) within an hour’s time. After that, repeat the remedy again an hour or so later or when the symptoms are more bothersome. If, after 3-5 doses and several hours, there has been no improvement in symptoms, then you probably need a different remedy and can try something else. For most cases of sunburn, the right remedy will bring significant improvement within hours. Make sure the person drinks plenty of fluid (an electrolyte replacement drink may also be helpful) and keep them as shaded as possible for a few days.
So while we all need to treasure these days of sunshine, being smart around sun exposure and using homeopathy when too much has been had, can protect our long-term health and keep us enjoying our activities. Have a great summer!