- Tea tree oil is an essential oil known for its soothing and healing effects on sunburns.
- This oil soothes inflamed skin and encourages the regeneration of tissues damaged by the sun, making it a popular ingredient in after-sun lotions.
- Tea tree oil should not be applied before sun exposure, as it has the potential to increase sun sensitivity.
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has long been used as a natural remedy for a variety of inflammatory skin conditions. This oil has potent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which can help soothe irritation, prevent infection and reduce redness, swelling, blistering and itching. These properties make tea tree oil for sunburns an effective treatment.
Can Tea Tree Oil Treat Sunburns?
Sunburn is the result of an immune response to the damaging effects of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV radiation penetrates skin cells and damages their DNA, leading to cellular mutation and death. This triggers inflammation in the affected area as the body works to purge layers of dead skin cells and regenerate damaged tissue.
Sunburn usually appears within a few hours of overexposure to the sun’s UV rays, and can range significantly in severity. Mild-to-moderate sunburns are characterized by redness, tenderness, itching, swelling and peeling; skin feels hot to the touch. More severe burns can also cause blistering, fever, headaches and nausea.
Tea tree oil is often applied for sunburn relief due to its potential to relieve discomfort and facilitate healing. By reducing inflammation, this oil eases the painful symptoms of sunburn. At the same time, its antimicrobial properties stave off infection and ensure a clean wound environment conducive to healing.
Tea tree oil’s anti-inflammatory properties help reduce the blistering that accompanies severe sunburnt skin. However, when blisters cover a wide area of skin accompanied by fever and chills, these cases may be a cause for serious concern; seek immediate medical attention instead.
Itching and redness
The inflammation that accompanies sunburn can cause the skin to become red and irritated. As the burn begins to heal, skin will begin to peel and flake as the body rejects the layers of dead, sun-damaged skin cells. This can exacerbate irritation and cause the skin to itch.
By easing inflammation, this essential oil reduces the appearance of redness and provides a cooling effect that soothes discomfort. It also reduces the severity of peeling, which further helps to relieve the itching sensation.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil to Treat a Sunburn
In order to safely and effectively treat sunburnt skin, tea tree oil must be diluted in a carrier oil prior to topical application. Undiluted tea tree oil is extremely potent, and can cause irritation and rashes when it makes contact with the skin. As a precaution, it is advised to perform a spot test first to determine if you have any negative skin reactions.
Follow these steps for the safe preparation and application of tea tree oil.
- When using a pure, undiluted tea tree oil product, add one part tea tree oil to 10 parts carrier oil – such as olive, coconut, jojoba or sweet almond oil
- For an additional cooling, antioxidant effect, add a few drops of aloe vera gel or lavender oil to your diluted tea tree oil
- Gently apply the oil to sunburnt skin, including any blistered areas, and allow to dry
- Reapply as needed, two to three times daily
As an alternative to essential tea tree oil, you can purchase an after-sun lotion formulated with this oil; for added benefits look for one with aloe to help relieve the sensation of burning or stinging.
Treating the facial area
Tea tree oil may be applied to the face in the same way as elsewhere on the body. However, those with especially sensitive facial skin should always perform a spot test first and wait 24 hours to determine how their skin reacts. You can also dilute the formula further with more carrier oil.
A Word About Tea Tree Oil and Sun Exposure
Tea tree oil has been found to have a mild SPF value (under 2), and this coupled with its effective sunburn healing properties has led to its inclusion in many sunscreen formulas. However, the sun protectant effects of this oil are not potent enough to be clinically significant, and it has also been known to sensitize the skin to UV radiation.
For this reason, it is not advisable to apply tea tree oil prior to sun exposure. Doing so may worsen the effects of sun damage and ultimately lead to more severe sunburn.
Other Essential Oils for Sunburns
If you have a sensitivity or allergy to TTO, or you simply want to explore other options in the treatment of your burn, consider applying a different essential oil.
Marigold essential oil
Recognized for its potent antioxidant properties, marigold essential oil can help soothe inflamed skin when applied topically. One study also found that it can protect against UV radiation.
Peppermint essential oil
Menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint oil, has been found to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties to support the healing process of sunburn and reduce irritation.
Geranium essential oil
When included in sunscreen formulas, geranium essential oil contributes a mild SPF of 6.5, and reduces oxidative stress. These combined effects offer some protection against ultraviolet radiation, and can reduce one’s likelihood of experiencing sunburn or other forms of sun damage.
Prevention is the best protection against sunburns. Taking the following measures can help you avoid the discomfort of sunburn and resulting photodamaged skin.
- Select a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
- Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors to allow time for it to absorb
- Avoid direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when UV radiation is at its highest
- Remain in the shade when possible
- Wear sunglasses with UV protection, a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that covers as much skin as possible
When applied topically to sunburnt skin, tea tree oil reduces inflammation, soothes irritation and kills bacteria, which prevents infection and accelerates the healing process. These properties make it an effective treatment for relieving the symptoms of sunburn, including redness, blistering, irritation and itching.
Like all essential oils, tea tree oil should never be applied directly to the skin in its pure form, but must be diluted first with a carrier oil. Those with especially sensitive skin should perform a spot test first to see how their skin reacts to this oil before applying it to their facial skin. Tea tree oil should not be applied prior to sun exposure as it can increase photosensitivity and ultimately lead to more severe burns.
If you have adverse reactions to this oil, consider trying other essential oils. Marigold and peppermint oil have soothing, inflammation-reducing effects, while geranium oil offers mild UV protection.
If your sunburn is severe, make an appointment to have it examined by a professional and do not attempt treatment on your own.
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