Most folk remedies against sunburn are ineffective and might exacerbate inflammation, Chi Mei Medical Center department of dermatology doctor Cheng Pai-shan (鄭百珊) said.
Using aloe vera to soothe burns and relieve pain, or using cucumber slices to rehydrate the skin, might cause contact dermatitis, Cheng said.
Minute amounts of photosensitive matter in aloe vera and cucumber might also increase the absorption of ultraviolet rays by the skin, she added.
Cheng suggested using aloe or cucumber extracts instead of directly applying the plants to the injured area.
Ointments such as Tiger Balm or Mentholatum are mistakenly perceived as effective treatments for burnt skin and as soothing inflammation due to the “cooling” effect of the products, Cheng said.
The cooling effect stems primarily from menthol contained in the products, and their application to sunburnt skin will not only increase irritation, but might also hamper the dissipation of heat through pores, Cheng said.
The best treatment for sunburn is to help skin cool using compresses made from towels soaked in cold water, she said, adding that the dissipation of heat will not only slow down inflammation, but will also soothe the pain.
Using anti-inflammatory ointments would be the next step if only a small area is affected, Cheng said, adding that people should see a dermatologist for large sunburns.
People can also apply moisturizer to the burnt area, Cheng said, adding that exfoliating products should not be used to help the inflamed skin repair itself.
Cheng said people should wear long-sleeved clothing and use parasols to prevent sunburn.