The Best Herbal Remedies to Treat Your Sunburn

by Michael Castleman


Aloe contains compounds—bradykinase, salicylic acid, and magnesium lactate—that reduce the pain, inflammation, swelling, and redness of wounds. Scientific evidence of aloe’s wound-healing power was first documented in 1935, when an American medical journal reported accelerated healing of X-ray burns with aloe gel scooped from the plant’s cut leaves. Since then, dozens of studies have supported the herb’s ability to stimulate healing of first- and second-degree burns. Asian researchers analyzed many studies of aloe for wound healing. Compared with standard care, the wounds of those using aloe healed significantly faster—up to 8 days faster.



Chamomile is so popular among Germans that many call the herb alles zutraut, or “capable of anything.” That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.

Iranian researchers treated 72 people’s surgical wounds with either the topical steroid (hydrocortisone) or chamomile (compresses of a strong infusion twice a day—brew the tea, chill it, soak a soft towel, and apply to the burn). After 28 days, the herb-treated wounds healed faster.



Russian researchers gave 108 children suffering burns or other wounds standard medical care. In addition, half received an ointment with 10 percent comfrey (Traumaplant), while the other half applied the same ointment diluted to contain 1 percent comfrey. The wounds treated with the 10 percent comfrey ointment healed significantly faster. Traumaplant, a German product, is available in the United States. Or mix powdered comfrey with skin cream or with honey, which also aids wound healing.

Comfrey contains allantoin, a compound that promotes the growth of new skin cells. This validates the herb’s 2,500 years of external use on everything from minor cuts and burns to major battle wounds. Comfrey also helps relieve inflammation, adding to its wound-treating action. Wash wounds thoroughly with soap and water before applying the herb.



Science has confirmed echinacea’s traditional use in wound healing. Echinacein—the same compound that prevents germs from penetrating tissues—also helps broken skin knit faster by spurring the cells that form new tissue (fibroblasts) to work more efficiently.

Echinacea preparations can be applied to cuts, burns, psoriasis, eczema, genital herpes sores, and cold sores. Commission E supports the use of echinacea for wound treatment.


Gotu kola

One compound in gotu kola, asiaticoside, speeds wound healing. Another, madecassoside, is an anti-inflammatory. A study in Annals of Plastic Surgery asserts that gotu kola accelerates the healing of burns and minimizes scarring. Other studies have shown that the herb accelerates the healing of skin grafts and surgical enlargement of the vagina during childbirth (episiotomy).



Applied topically, marshmallow mucilage gel helps soothe and protect cuts, scrapes, wounds, and burns.



One study suggests that passionflower helps relieve pain, while two others show that it kills many disease-causing molds, fungi, and bacteria. These findings support the Native American and Eclectic use of passionflower as a wound treatment.


St. John’s wort

Hypericin and other antibiotic and anti-inflammatory compounds in the herb’s red oil help prevent infection and speed healing. A German study showed that compared with conventional treatment, a St. John’s wort ointment (not available in the United States) substantially reduced the healing time of burns—with less scarring. Commission E approves topical application of St. John’s wort preparations for treatment of minor wounds and burns.


Witch hazel

German researchers gave 30 people with sunburn one of three treatments: a medically inactive placebo cream, a skin cream containing aloe gel and vitamin E (both recommended for skin problems), or a lotion containing 10 percent witch hazel distillate. Participants applied their treatments three times over 48 hours. Although differences in redness were not clearly visible to the naked eye, they were to an instrument called a chromameter—and the witch hazel lotion reduced redness best.

Another German study compared witch hazel with a chamomile preparation and hydrocortisone, an over-the-counter anti- inflammatory drug, in 24 people with sunburn. The hydrocortisone worked best, but witch hazel was almost as effective and “clearly superior” to the chamomile lotion.



Yarrow contains many compounds that support its traditional use as a wound treatment. Two of them, achilletin and achilleine, spur blood coagulation. Several more—azulene, camphor, chamazulene, eugenol, menthol, quercetin, rutin, and salicylic acid—have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving action. Several others—tannins, terpeniol, and cineol—are antiseptic.


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