The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Soothe Sunburn with Greek Yogurt

Of all the remedies readers recommend to soothe sunburn, Greek yogurt might be one of the most unusual.

In an ideal world, nobody would ever get a sunburn. We would all exercise prudence and slather on sunscreen if we were going to be outside for any length of time. We would stay inside or under cover in the middle of the day. And we would wear big hats, long sleeves and trousers if there were any question about having adequate sunscreen. But none of us lives in that ideal world, so once in a while, it’s helpful to know how to soothe sunburn.

What Can You Use to Soothe Sunburn?

Q. I got a really bad sunburn (bubbling skin all over my body) several years ago because I ran out of sunscreen. We were in a rural area (which is why I couldn’t get more sunscreen) and my Greek roommate recommended lathering myself in cold unflavored Greek yogurt. It really worked.

Any time I get a bad sunburn now, I put yogurt on and it melts from the heat of my skin and continues to bake until it’s completely dried on. Not only does cold yogurt feel good, but I do think it helps a lot more than using my aloe vera plant does. My roommate claims the probiotics help skin heal faster. Is there any truth to this?

Do Probiotics Help Skin Heal?

A. Surfing the web turned up a number of reports that either cold milk or yogurt could be used to ease the pain of sunburn. We couldn’t find any scientific studies of this approach, perhaps because dermatologists want to encourage people NEVER to run out of sunscreen. Consequently, we have no idea if there is any truth to your roommate’s assertion. It doesn’t seem to have been tested.

Readers have used popular remedies such as Listerine or Noxzema to help soothe sunburn. Aloe vera gel from a leaf is also reputed to ease the pain. Several medications can increase the risk of a bad sunburn and require extra caution.

Natural Sunburn Protection?

Although most sun protection is applied topically, there is some research into a fern extract that would be taken as a pill. Scientists are investigating the fern Polypodium leucotomos for its ability to prevent sunburn, wrinkles and skin cancer (International Journal of Dermatology, March, 2015).  Our dermatology expert, Daniel Mark Siegel, MD, MS, discussed this in a one-hour interview on natural approaches to summer skin care (Show 1001).

Don’t Skip Your Skin Checkup:

Dermatologists warn that burns like the one you had could increase your risk for melanoma skin cancer. Please have your skin checked regularly.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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We Italians beat an egg white and olive oil until mixed and apply to sunburned skin. Mmmm, nice. I don’t think it prevents freckles…or is it because we are redheads? ha ha

We used to use a cool baking soda bath for burns or insect bites, cold water in the tub with a bunch of baking soda dissolved in it, then get in!

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