Massage Therapists: Aloe Vera – Best Remedy for Sunburn

A sunburn, the literal burning of the top layer of the skin by overexposure to the sun’s rays, is best remedied by a liberal and frequent application of Aloe vera gel. It’s a natural product, provides immediate, soothing relief and promotes the healing process. It’s also a natural addition to any massage or bodywork therapist’s practice whether you live in a sunny resort area or not.

Vacation destinations that are far more sunny than where one lives, more often than not lead to painful sunburns. It’s just a fact. This is true despite the preponderance of public service announcements warning against the risk and imminent danger of skin cancers, and an overabundance of sun blocks and sunscreens available in almost every store to help prevent sunburn. Yet and still, the most frequent and unexpected souvenir brought home from a sun-filled vacation is, quite literally, a blistering sunburn. And of course, no sunburn is complete without unsightly peeling, flaking and itching skin as the epidermis recuperates from the damage.

Having grown up in Southern California, I happen to know a thing or two about sunburn ~ far more things, in fact, than I’d care to know. Specifically, I grew up in Los Angeles, where almost every Sunday and even some Saturdays of my childhood were spent at the beach. It was my mom’s thing to go to the beach and relax after a tough week at work, lying on the sand with a good book while soaking up the sun’s tanning rays. Our thing ~ my brother’s and mine ~ was to play in the waves and dig never-ending holes in the sand. We were often asked if we were digging to China. Nope, just digging. As a result, every Sunday we returned home exhausted, and sunburned.

Each Spring, beginning in the early Sixties, for variety, my family would venture a hundred miles east to the Palm Springs desert. The desert’s crystal clear azure skies, swaying palm trees, blazing hot sun, shimmering pools, with its nighttime warm temperatures and an indigo sky blanketed with a gazillion stars welcomed us. Sometimes we’d go just for a weekend, sometimes for a whole week.

My brother and I would spend our hot desert days splashing about in the pool ~ and our nights shivering in our air-conditioned motel room, slathered with the then “new” product, Noxzema, to sooth our raging sunburns. The white cream in the cobalt-blue jar was a staple in our house throughout the Sixties and Seventies. Developed in 1914 as a sunburn cream it was originally called Townsend R22. In the early Sixties it was discovered to also improve eczema, thus its new name and re-launch as Noxzema. The three main ingredients in Noxzema skin cream are camphor, menthol and eucalyptus. Camphor is a natural pain reliever; menthol is derived from the mint plant and has cooling properties, and Eucalyptus is included as a moisturizer, providing short-term, soothing relief.

We didn’t have sunblock per se back then, and the only suntan lotion I remember was Coppertone, which was known at the time for its billboard ads of a little dog tugging at a little girls bathing suit bottom. It was meant to enhance sun tanning, not necessarily protect skin from ultraviolet rays. There always was a bottle of it at the bottom of the beach bag as I recall, but we rarely used it.

It’s not just the obvious bright, sunny days that can scorch your skin, either. I’ve acquired more than my share of bad sunburns at the beach or on the water on overcast days.

As a teenager, regular attempts to damage my skin was a frequent past time. Tanning was “cool” and it was popular to use baby oil, Hawaiian Tropic oil or Coco Butter to attempt to get to that desired brown berry skin tone. Some of my friends even used regular butter! It makes me want to cringe thinking what we did to our future skin. Unfortunately, when you have ultra fair skin like mine, it’s tough to get a deep tan no matter what product you use, so any of my attempts to tan were followed by ~ you guessed it ~ a painful sunburn followed by the handy-dandy Noxzema treatment.

I remember the first time I ever tried to actually “get” a suntan at the beach ~ forgoing all that adolescent digging and frolicking in the waves ~ by actually “laying out.” A whole day spent patiently laying on the beach and carefully rotating my body every fifteen to thirty minutes. I’ve never been so bored in my life getting a “tan,” and my reward for surviving the boredom? A lovely 2nd degree sunburn that blistered my skin for two weeks after. It was so bad I literally had scars for years. That was fun.

Thankfully, as the years passed, my quest for the perfect tan became less and less important, especially as more and more information became available indicating the risks associated with unfettered exposure to ultra violet rays. As I became more aware, I also became that much more cautious about my skin.

Those were days of self-inflicted skin damage I hope won’t come back to haunt me someday. Now that I reside full-time in a resort area with nearly year-round sun, excessive sunbathing or getting a tan is actually no longer of interest to me both because of the potential life-threatening risk, and because of the long-term effect it has on skin quality. Living where long-time sun worshippers come to retire, I’ve seen what years of sunbathing, excessive and even moderate, can do to skin and I have to say, it is not pretty. I might lay out for ten or fifteen minutes every few days to get my natural dose of Vitamin D, but beyond that I’m just not interested in sun exposure unless I’m hiking or working in the yard. It’s important for the body to get a natural source of Vitamin D which comes directly from the sun, so I certainly don’t avoid the sun altogether, nor to I recommend doing so.

As a massage therapist in a sunny resort town, I witnessed sunburns on visitors from just about everywhere in the world. Weekend warriors suffered the most. They tried to cram a week’s worth of tanning into the first day so that their second day and final was spent in misery. The sun where I live, like anywhere where there’s an abundance of sun and plenty of distractions, really sneaks up on people. I would tell my visiting clients to be careful while here because the sun is so strong you can almost get a sunburn just by sitting in your living room!

No matter where you go in this area during high tourist season, you will see a multitude of truly awful sunburns. Some of the sunburns are almost comical where you can tell the person forgot to turn over, or spent too long floating in the pool, or failed to wear sunscreen while golfing or watching golf, or some other activity that leaves interesting demarcations burned onto the skin. The most difficult ones to witness are those where it’s obvious the vacationer is burned to a crisp and every movement, however minute, is painful.

Working in hotel spas and then on my own, I kept running into the unpleasant situation where people would either come to a bodywork session too badly burned to actually get a massage or body scrub, or would cancel at the last minute because of their scorched skin. After too many cancellations, I saw that it was clearly a problem in desperate need of a solution.

Searching for a solution for my own sunburned clients, my first brilliant brainstorm was to give them a Noxzema application, an idea I quickly dismissed. Not only would it have been cost prohibitive, but I knew it would be too messy and a bit odoriferous with such a strong menthol, almost medicinal aroma. I also prefer a more natural and ideally, an organic product. Also, walking around with a white cream coating over your skin is not very appealing. It’s common to see someone with a white nose or lips, but I think the whole body would be a bit much. So I scoured through my massage suppliers’ catalogs searching for just the right application. Sadly, almost every product I found contained too many synthetics and chemicals and/or was really expensive.

Finally, I found organic Aloe vera gel ~ a product so natural and so simple. I consider it such a magic skin elixir that I integrated it into body treatments and applications to treat my clients’ skin in general, but especially for sunburned clients. Aloe vera gel has also traveled with me on my own vacations to tropical locales and anywhere I know I’ll be exposed to the sun just in case I ended up burnt, or for that matter, stung, or even bitten by some pesky bug.

Organic Aloe vera gel, also known as Lily of the desert due to its membership in the Lily family, has a long, long history of being a healing plant used as far back as the early Egyptians for the skin and so much more. Applied to the skin it’s very soothing and prevents the skin from blistering and peeling except in cases of extreme skin damage. It also dramatically speeds up the healing process. There’s so much more about the extensive healing properties of organic aloe gel that it’s now the new staple in many homes for first aid purposes ~ internally as well as externally. Burns, cuts, scraps, rashes… the list goes on.

It’s been said by many reputable sources, including major Aloe growers that Aloe has properties that have five primary functions. The first is that it’s an antibiotic, it’s also an antiseptic and a coagulating agent. It’s also a pain inhibitor, and it’s a growth stimulator for normal external and internal cells. What that means is that it helps accelerate tissue and skin surfaces that have been injured in some way. In addition to all that, it’s also non-toxic and nonallergenic. In addition to being a detoxicant, Aloe vera has no side effects which as we all know is often problematic with synthetic drugs.

Those are some pretty impressive healing properties for a simple and readily available plant. What’s not to love about a natural substance that has those wonderful properties, especially when the topic is sunburn?

Ideally, the best way to use Aloe vera is fresh from the plant. I actually know of some people in this valley who keep many Aloe plants in their yard specifically for their own medicinal use in case of emergencies and otherwise. Most people can’t or won’t do that, so the next best thing is a commercial organic gel, or at the very least, a non-organic Aloe vera gel. It really is a miracle plant, especially when it comes to sunburns. It’s also an extremely hardy plant that can take quite a lot of abuse or neglect before it will finally succumb.

Aloe vera gel can be used successfully on clients, on yourself when you’ve spent a little too much time working in the yard or hiking, at a ballgame or anytime you’ve over-indulged in sun exposure. In my own experience, using organic Aloe vera gel on a sunburn significantly, if not completely, reduces blistering and subsequent peeling. The healing time is really abbreviated.

If you’re a bodyworker in a sunny locale or vacation destination, I urge you to consider adding an Aloe vera massage, or at the very least an application, to your menu or list of services for those clients who overdo it in the sun. Who knows? You could very well be the person who saves your client’s vacation! As a bonus, the amino acids in Aloe vera help soften the skin, so if you’re dealing with someone who has rough, weathered skin, they will definitely feel a difference after an Aloe vera session. Even if you don’t live in a sunny resort town, you will still more than likely have clients who return from their vacations with a souvenir sunburn. Offering some type of Aloe vera gel session to accelerate your sunburned clients’ healing process may help your receipts

If you’re planning on visiting a super sunny destination where you’ll be exposed to more sun than you’re used to, my best advice is to obviously bring your sunscreen ~ and use it ~ but also bring along a supply of Aloe vera gel. The absolutely best and 100% successful remedy for sunburn, of course, is to not get one in the first place. Despite every precaution, however, it’s not always avoidable, so Aloe vera in your suitcase or makeup bag is an excellent travel companion ~ just in case. Unfortunately, you can’t always find it where you’re going, and it’s really the best natural remedy to have with you, so bring it with you. Do be aware, however, that given it’s a gel, you’ll want to be careful how you pack it if you’re flying on a commercial airline. Even if it’s in its original bottle, if it’s over a certain size, you won’t be able to carry it on the flight with you.

If you’re like me and you’ve experience a lot of skin damage over the course of your life, or if you live in a climate with year-round sunshine, I just can’t think of a better preventive against potential skin cancers than Aloe vera gel. I won’t make any health claims here beyond suggesting you check out the wonderful properties of Aloe vera for yourself, and you’ll get a sense of just how amazing the Aloe vera plant is.

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