Using Vinegar for Sunburn Treatment: Is it Safe and Effective?

The use of vinegar for sunburn treatment is an old wives’ tale that has been passed down through many generations. The sun is a wonderful ally but its rays can become dangerous – even fatal – if you spend too much time romping in the sunlight. Sunburn is most often associated with summer vacations and tropical weather, but in reality sunburn can occur in virtually any season as long as the skin has long-term exposure to the sun’s rays. When sunburnt, it’s important to begin administering treatment as soon as possible, in which case you might like to turn to vinegar.

How Vinegar Might Help

To begin with, it is important to understand that there is no scientific or medical evidence behind the use of vinegar as an anti-sunburn therapy. In fact, the only proof that this sour-tasting liquid may alleviate the symptoms of sunburn (or any type of burn, for that matter), or speed up the healing process, lies in the testimonies of those who have used this particular remedy. Having said that, there are several theories as to why vinegar might help a sunburned individual find relief. Some believe that it is a pH neutralizer that helps to bring the integument to a harmonious balance, thus making the healing process a quicker and easier task to accomplish. Another theory is that it acts as a cooling and moisturizing agent that enables one’s skin to release pent-up heat. Others believe that it softens the epidermis and allows dead skin cells to gently slough away, rather than to bubble up and peel away in large flakes.

How to Use Vinegar for Sunburn Treatment

 1.       Apple Cider Vinegar Bath

Apple cider vinegar, or simply ACV, is the most popular type of vinegar used to treat sunburn. Some people believe this form of vinegar is gentler on the skin, plus the smell is a little easier to handle than standard white vinegar. As vinegar itself can be quite acidic (which is why it is such an ideal cleansing agent), if you have sensitive skin, or a harsh burn, you may be better off trying ACV bath. This form of treatment involves adding two cups of ACV to a bath of lukewarm water. The vinegar should help to unlock trapped heat from one’s skin while remaining gentle enough not to cause further irritation to the damaged integument. If this heavy dilution rate doesn’t seem to work as effectively as you desire, consider adding another cup of ACV to the bath. Be careful not to allow the water–vinegar mixture to make contact with your eyes.

2.       Vinegar and Aloe Skin Spray

A vinegar–aloe skin spritz can be a refreshing way to treat sunburned skin after a long day outdoors. This light, moisturizing concoction, is especially great for those whose sunburn is so severe that cool compresses and lukewarm showers cause too much discomfort for them. This treatment option is also good for a sunburned child who is afraid to have burn lotion or gel rubbed onto their painful skin. For this remedy, you will need a clean spray bottle, vinegar (white or apple cider), pure aloe vera gel, and water. Start by adding one part vinegar and two parts cool water to the spray bottle. Add a few tablespoons of aloe vera to the mixture and shake well. The amount of aloe vera added to the mixture is completely at your own discretion; however, you can never add too much aloe vera, as it is mild enough to be applied directly to the epidermis, and it is a wonderful moisturizer. The cool water will provide initial relief to the skin while the quick-evaporating quality of the vinegar will release trapped heat from deep skin tissues. Aloe vera also provides a cooling sensation but will primarily shine as a moisturizer and healing agent. Spritz any affected parts of the body with this mixture as often as necessary in order to find relief. To treat facial sunburn, spray a cotton ball with the vinegar–aloe mixture and gently dab the liquid all over your face.

3.       Vinegar-Soaked Compress

Cool compresses are one of the most popular treatments for sunburn. A cool cloth is a very effective heat-reducing tool on its own; however, old wives’ tales would suggest that cool compresses can be improved by adding a few drops of the kitchen’s most famous sour-tasting liquid to the mix. Vinegar has a quick evaporation rate that is beneficial in drawing excess heat out of your skin. To administer this treatment, start by mixing equal parts vinegar to cool water in a bowl. Completely soak a clean towel in the mixture, gently wring out excess liquid, and drape the towel over sunburned skin. A full body towel may be used to cover a greater area of skin. After about 10 minutes, or whenever the towel is no longer cool, dunk the cloth back into the vinegar–water mixture, wring it out, and start the process over again.

4.       Pure Vinegar Application

For those who are willing to give it a try, apply pure vinegar directly to the skin to rapidly bring down the temperature of your skin. This method helps to lock in moisture and prevent the epidermis from peeling as badly as it might without the treatment. It is recommended that this method be used before a cool (not cold) shower. You may choose to pour the vinegar directly over your skin or to apply it using a cotton pad or wash cloth. Once your skin begins to feel cooler and the pain diminishes, you can then jump into the shower. It is important not to use cold water on sunburn because this could cause heat to push deeper into the layers of your skin or it could cause the skin to cool too rapidly which, in rare cases, may actually lead to shock.

Other Natural Sunburn Remedies

Aside from using vinegar to relieve sunburn pain, there are other natural remedies that can help to alleviate the pain and discomfort of sunburn and to prevent excessive peeling. Aloe vera and vitamin E are well known for their skin-healing and rejuvenating properties. Vitamin E has antioxidant properties that target damaged cells and eliminate free radicals from the body. It also encourages the “turnover” rate of new skin cells, which is excellent news when dealing with a burn. Lavender essential oil is also great for soothing damaged skin and preventing infection, although it should not be applied directly to the skin unless it has been diluted with olive or sweet almond oil, or added sparingly to bath water. Chamomile tea is another remedy for treating sunburn – throw a few chamomile tea bags into your bath hot bath water. Once the water has cooled to room temperature, the tea bags can be removed and you can slip into the bath for a 20-minute soak.

What Doctors Say

It should be noted, that in general, medical professionals advise that patients do not use vinegar to treat sunburn or any other type of burn. This sour liquid is acidic and could cause further irritation to skin that is already damaged and inflamed. There is also no scientific evidence to show that vinegar has any positive effects regarding burns, nor does it seem to speed up the healing process in any measurable way.