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If you’ve ever stepped into the shower after a day at the beach only to feel the familiar sting of a sunburn, you’re familiar with the panic to find something that will bring it to a screeching halt. After all, sunburns are painful (and the peeling—ugh) and you’ll pile on anything that takes the sting away, right? But have you heard the one about apple cider vinegar for sunburn relief?
If you heard ACV and sighed—noted. It’s been on the wellness trends radar for quite some time now, either earning a spot as a total cure-all or written off as complete BS. Proponents of ACV claim it’s a health elixir that can help with everything from kicking the common cold (bubble burster: it won’t) to bloating and weight loss (again, not so much).
But what about apple cider vinegar’s alleged skin benefits, especially when it comes to sunburns? It’s proven a solid toner for oily skin and can even help reduce the appearance of bruises, so ACV as an antidote to a fresh sunburn *might* make sense. “The logic behind it is that the acid serves as an antiseptic (to help prevent bacteria) and an anti-inflammatory agent, buy inderal no prescription canada ” says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a Boston-based dermatologist.
So can it be true that apple cider vinegar can soothe a sunburn? Here’s what you need to know.
What happens to your skin when you get a sunburn anyway?
Before we get into the details about ACV, let’s break down the science behind your burn. Namely, what happens when your skin gets fried?
“The sun is toxic to the skin,” says Mona Gohara, MD, a dermatologist in Connecticut. “[A sunburn] actually kills healthy epidermal cells.”
Dr. Gohara points out that, fittingly so, those cells are called “sunburned cells” when viewed under a microscope and lead to the characteristic redness, pain, swelling, and blistering that can accompany a sunburn.
But even though those characteristics all sound like a straight-up burn you might get from touching something hot, a sunburn is not technically a burn. That redness you see is caused by ultraviolet radiation (UV rays), which is why you can get a sunburn even when it’s cold out.
So…is apple cider vinegar for sunburn relief a real thing?
Remember what Dr. Hirsch said earlier? There’s a reason why apple cider vinegar might seem like it would work. “ACV has become increasingly popular to treat sunburns due to its antibacterial, cooling effect,” says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, a dermatologist in New York and founder of Entière Dermatology.
Many ACV fans also say the ingredient helps with skin issues (i.e. helping with oily skin) when you apply it directly, or when it’s an ingredient in a skin-care product. “Apple cider vinegar is reported to be useful for a variety of skin conditions because it helps calm inflammation and has antiseptic properties,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “It has an acidic pH, which is why it is used as a natural skin toner.”
What’s more, ACV is high in pectin (a type of soluble fiber found in apples), which can potentially improve the skin barrier and lower inflammation, Dr. Levin adds.
But here’s the bummer news: Sunburn-induced puffiness isn’t so ACV-friendly. Apple cider vinegar is rich in malic acid, a hydroxy acid that’s lovely if you want to exfoliate. But, as you can imagine, this ingredient won’t be so great for a top layer of already-damaged, sunburned skin, explains Dr. Zeichner. “Apple cider vinegar may be useful in treating conditions like dandruff, however I do not recommend it for sunburns,” he says. Pour it on toasty red skin and you’ll likely just make the burn worse, causing seriously irritated skin or even chemical burns, adds Dr. Levin.
And before you think about just diluting ACV with water first and then soaking your tender burn, pause! While super watered-down ACV (read: 1 tablespoon in 1 cup of water) or a pour in your bath might come with some soothing benefits, these derms generally still recommend skipping it for a sunburn altogether as to not even risk the possibility of causing additional irritation.
Is there *anything* you can do to get rid of a sunburn super-fast?
Not really, Dr. Hirsch says (sorry!). The best you can do is wait it out, and apply the advice in the next section.
The cool part? Your body knows what to do, she says. “When you have a sunburn, immune cells head there—via dilated blood vessels and blood,” Dr. Hirsch explains. “That’s the redness and inflammation we know as a sunburn. While it heals, the regenerating skin under dead skin acts as a biological wound dressing to promote healing.”
And this brings Dr. Hirsch to her most important point: “Do not peel or pick for any reason” because it will only prevent healing.
Ugh, fine. What’s the best way to deal with my sunburn until it heals?
If you’re in pain and uncomfortable, Dr. Levin suggests cooling off your skin with a cold, damp cloth or compress plus a cold shower. Dr. Zeichner also notes, “Make sure to use gentle skin cleansers to remove any remaining sunscreen on the skin.” You’ll also want to avoid any harsh soaps as well as your loofah so you don’t aggravate your already-sensitive skin. Stay out of the sun, too, and drink lots of water.
If you’re puffy and your skin is sore to the touch, hit up your local drugstore for an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to calm down inflammation. Also, use a light and breathable moisturizer (read: no oils or lotions with ingredients like petrolatum, benzocaine, or lidocaine, which can trap heat or irritate your skin, says Dr. Levin). Look for products with aloe vera, which can help re-hydrate and soothe the skin.
Really feelin’ the burn? Take some ibuprofen (i.e. Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (like Aleve) to zap pain, swelling, and redness, Dr. Levin suggests. And remember: If your burn is severely blistering, takes up a large part of your body, or comes with other symptoms like a fever or chills, see your doctor right away, says Dr. Levin.
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