8 Amazing Benefits of Coconut Oil for Sunburn

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Coconut oil is extremely effective for treating sunburn, as a result of its vitamin content, fat composition, moisturizing qualities and antioxidant components, while also speeding healing and preventing permanent damage to the skin as a result of a bad burn. That being said, coconut oil is not recommended as a preventative measure, since it does not adequately reflect or protect against radiation from the sun. It is wise to use an alternative sunscreen or protective oil when you go out in the sun, and then turn to coconut oil if you still end up suffering from a sunburn.

Unlike many other soothing oils or salves for sunburn, coconut oil is rich in all-natural ingredients, such as medium-chain fatty acids (lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid), vitamin E, vitamin K, iron, polyphenols and other antioxidants. In combination, these components are able to address sunburn at the source and provide fast reliable relief. [1]

Benefits of Coconut Oil for Sunburn

Some of the benefits include a reduction in “heat”, faster healing of the burn, elimination of wrinkles or scars, pain elimination, blood flow stimulation, moisturizing of the skin, preventing of skin flaking and less itching, among others!

A young man suffering from sunburn applying sunscreen on his shoulders on the beach

Sunscreen applied in the shape of a sun Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Speeds Healing & Regrowth

When you experience a sunburn, your skin cells begin to produce melanin, which effectively works as an umbrella to block the ultraviolet radiation from the sun. However, this radiation can damage the DNA of the skin cells, effectively killing them, which is why they start to flake off. This is the body’s way of preventing those damaged cells from multiplying and potentially leading to skin cancer. Coconut oil can speed the healing process of that damaged skin, and stimulate the regrowth of healthy new skin cells that can continue to protect the inner layers of skin from radiation damage. [2]

Prevents Sunspots

One of the worst effects of sunburn is long-term damage to the skin, primarily in the form of wrinkles, sunspots and permanent coloring of the skin. While coconut oil is not commonly known or used as an astringent, in the treatment of sunburn, it can work to tighten up the skin and improve elasticity. Furthermore, the antioxidant properties of coconut oil’s polyphenols can help to prevent the appearance of skin discoloration and sunspots, which can be weak spots in your skin’s defense against future sun exposure to radiation. [3]

Skin Protection

The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil, such as lauric acid, capric acid, and caprylic acid, also have inherent antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties, which is very important on the skin when you are handling a bad sunburn. Your skin can often crack or peel away following a sunburn, particularly if you are prone to pick at the itchy skin, which can open you up to a host of vulnerabilities from the environment, including pathogens, pollutants and other irritants that can lead to infection. Coconut oil can effectively prevent that from happening.

Cooling Effect

The heat of a sunburn is likely the first thing you notice after a long day being exposed to the sun, so anything that can provide a cooling effect is highly desired. Coconut oil has anti-inflammatory and soothing properties that can eliminate that “heat”, mainly derived from the fatty acid composition of the oil. When you experience a sunburn, the skin registers it as damage to the cells, which increases blood flow to the tiny capillaries and blood vessels beneath the skin, which is why the area becomes red and warm. Coconut oil can counter this inflammation, making it less uncomfortable to wear clothes or put pressure on those newly burned patches of skin. [4]

Prevents Skin Flaking & Blistering

When you have a particularly bad sunburn, the skin can begin to flake or even blister, which is not only painful but can also leave permanent scarring and leave yourself open to infection and a much longer healing time. If you apply coconut oil soon after a sunburn, the moisturizing nature and anti-inflammatory properties of the oil can prevent these nasty effects of a bad burn. [5]

Moisturizes Skin

As with any burn, the sunburned skin will feel tight and dry, leading to cracking skin and discomfort. Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain fatty acids, which are excellent at absorbing into the skin and passing through cell membranes, delivering their moisturizing effects into the skin, rather than just coating the top and effectively blocking the pores. Coconut oil can ensure that your skin cells get the moisture they so desperately need as they try to recover from the burn. [6]

Rich Source of Vitamin E

According to the USDA, coconut oil also provides vitamin E apart from fatty acids. Although the content of vitamin E in coconut oil is not extremely high, this critical nutrient is also known as tocopherol, and functions as an antioxidant to combat oxidative stress in the skin. Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals, and can lead to cancer and other cellular mutations. The levels of vitamin E in this powerful oil are enough to combat that damaging process and allow natural healing to take its course. [7] [8]

Saturated Fat Sunscreen

Although coconut oil shouldn’t be relied on as a pure sunscreen, due to its relatively low SPF level (~2-5), it can offer a small amount of protection if you are going out into the sun for brief stints following your initial burn. For example, if you are out on vacation and get burned on your first day, treatment with coconut oil will do wonders, while also offering a slight shield against more burns next time your step out into the sun.

How to Use Coconut Oil for Sunburn?

Coconut oil can be used to treat sunburn in a number of ways, due to its moisturizing nature, high concentration of beneficial fatty acids, vitamin content and permeability, among other important factors. However, using coconut oil to treat sunburn can be even ore effective if you use this popular oil with other ingredients that can maximize healing and effectiveness when your skin is feeling roasted, dry, painful and inflamed. For most of these remedies, many experts recommend applying a damp washcloth to the skin before using aloe vera or vitamin E oil first. Then, take a bath, drying the burned areas very carefully, and then moving on to your chosen coconut oil treatment.

Pure Coconut Oil

Coconut oil in liquid form should be massaged gently into the sunburned skin and then be allowed to soak into the skin. You can use an ample amount and cover all areas where you’ve been burned. While you may want to use more discretion when consuming this oil, you can treat is like normal lotion when treating a sunburn.

Coconut & Tea Tree Oils

Tea tree oil is naturally rich in antibacterial and anti-fungal components, making it an ideal complement to coconut oil. It is also a strong anti-inflammatory agent. Mix 3-5 drops of tea tree oil into 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil and mix thoroughly before applying to the burned areas. Tea tree oil is extremely potent, so only a small amount is required for excellent results. [9]

Coconut & Lavender Oils

Add a few drops of lavender oil and a dollop of aloe vera to 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. The lavender oil is an antiseptic, so it will cleanse the skin and ensure that no pathogens get into the cracked skin or open blisters. The aloe vera will suck out the inflammation rapidly, while the coconut oil helps to moisturize and speed healing. [10]

Oil Bath

For quick and relaxing relief, try adding a 1/4 cup of coconut oil to a cool bath, along with 5-6 drops of rosehip oil and peppermint oil. The combined power of these antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory oils should give you instant relief in the bath itself, but the effects should also last for quite a while. You should remain in the bath for at least 30 minutes, and you can take this kind of bath every day until the sunburn is gone.

Lip Balm

One of the worst places to get sunburn is on your lips, which can easily dry out, crack and blister, causing a serious amount of pain! Simply take a small amount of softened coconut oil on your fingertips and apply it as you would chapstick. The heat of your lips will quickly cause the oil to dissolve, and the membranous tissue on the lips will rapidly absorb the oil to re-moisturize and soothe discomfort.

Coconut & Castor Oils

Castor oil has a number of natural health applications, and by mixing one part castor oil with two parts coconut oil, you can effectively coat the skin to prevent any pathogens, irritants or pollutants from attacking the exposed skin, while also speeding the healing process and increasing moisture retention on the dry tissue. [11]

Coconut & Honey

As one of the purest and most nutrient-dense substances we know of, it makes sense that honey, when combined with coconut oil, would form a powerful combination to treat sunburn. Honey not only traps moisture in the skin, but it also contains an enzyme that stimulates the regrowth and rejuvenation of damaged skin cells. The natural antibiotic nature of honey also helps protect the damaged skin during the healing process. Mix equal parts honey and coconut oil and apply daily to the skin for 30-60 minutes before washing off with warm water. [12]

Coconut Oil Sunscreen

If you are insistent on using coconut oil as a sunscreen, despite its low SPF level, boost its protective power by combining 2 tablespoons of this oil with 1 tablespoon each of avocado oil and shea butter. Drop in 1/2 teaspoon of aloe vera gel and sesame oil, and mix thoroughly. Store this sunscreen in a jar in a cool place and apply it whenever you are planning a long day out in the sun! [13]

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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