Is Vinegar Good for Sunburn? Debunking Common Summer First Aid Myths

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

If you look online, you’ll find plenty of creative ideas to heal sunburns. While some of these natural remedies can help reduce the pain and promote healing, others can do more harm than good.

Does vinegar help sunburn? Is mustard good for burns? We asked our experts to address some popular sunburn relief myths and recommend at-home remedies that actually work.

Myth: Vinegar is good for sunburn

A lot of people recommend using vinegar on sunburned skin because it has some anti-bacterial properties. But is it actually safe to use on the skin, let alone on a sunburn?

Vinegar is highly acidic, which means it can cause chemical burns, especially if you apply it straight to an already sensitive and damaged area — like a sunburn. It can lead to more inflammation, dryness, and pain and slow down the healing process.

A bottle of apple cider vinegar to use for sunburn

So why do so many people believe that vinegar is good for sunburns? Due to its antiseptic and antifungal properties, diluted vinegar can help with certain skin conditions like dandruff or fungal infections. But it’s very easy to get the proportions wrong, so why risk it? We recommend that you stay clear of it when you have sunburn. After all, you want to soothe the inflamed skin, not irritate it further.

Verdict: Not Safe!

Myth: Use noxzema for sunburn care

Noxzema is a type of cold cream designed for acne-prone skin. Often, people use cold creams on sunburns because they provide a cooling, soothing sensation, which feels like it helps to heal the burn. Although noxzema can offer temporary relief and reduce redness and inflammation thanks to the salicylic acid, it also contains ingredients that can potentially irritate your sensitive skin, such as:

  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Menthol
  • Camphor
  • Limonene (from citrus peel)
  • Fragrance

In general, noxzema is not designed for sunburns and is not tested for this purpose. So it’s best to opt for other treatments that are tried and tested and backed by science.

Verdict: Not Safe!

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Myth: Mustard helps burns

Mustard contains a lot of nutrients and antioxidants and can reduce inflammation, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest it can help heal a burn and reduce pain. In fact, it is more likely to have the opposite effect. Even the mildest mustard has some heat to it; imagine putting it on your sensitive, sunburned skin — ouch!

Mustard is a stimulant and can be irritating, especially to sensitive skin.

But the store-bought condiments also contain vinegar and other ingredients that can further burn and damage your skin. So it’s best to keep it on your plate rather than on your skin.

Verdict: Not Safe!

Myth: Apply butter on a burn

Another popular home remedy you should stay clear of. While fatty acids in butter can be moisturizing to the skin, you should avoid putting any greasy substance on a burn as it can make things worse. Here’s why:

  • Firstly, you need to keep the wound clean, and introducing a non-sterile product like butter to the damaged area can cause infections.
  • Secondly, any type of grease creates a layer on your skin that prevents the burned area from cooling down, which can result in a more serious burn.
Butter that is not safe to put on a burn

What you need to do if you have a mild burn is to run it under cool water. It helps to clean the wound and stop the burn from further damaging your skin. Seek medical help if you have a more severe burn and experience swelling and blistering in the affected area.

Verdict: Not Safe!

Other home remedies for sunburn that work

We mentioned some of the most popular myths about treating sunburn you should avoid, but are there any natural remedies that can actually help? The answer is yes! Fortunately, there are several ways to calm your sunburned skin at home. Here are some of them.

Apply cold water to your burn

Whether you have a sunburn or burned yourself on a hot surface, the best way to avoid any serious damage to your skin is to cool it down as soon as possible. Have a cool shower or run the affected area under cool water for 10 to 15 minutes to stop the burning, ease the pain, and reduce the swelling. If you don’t have access to running water, a cold compress should also do the trick. But avoid using ice as extreme temperatures can cause more damage to your skin.

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Use a gentle moisturizer

Any burn leaves your skin dehydrated and tender. Keeping your skin moisturized can minimize discomfort and help your sunburn heal faster. Applying a gentle, fragrance-free lotion after a shower or whenever your skin starts feeling tight can prevent dryness and reduce irritation. Gently rub the moisturizer on your skin until it’s fully absorbed. You can apply several thin layers if needed, but avoid thick, heavy creams that can clog the pores and create a greasy layer on your skin.

Treat your burns with aloe vera

Aloe is a bit of a miracle ingredient: it has anti-inflammatory properties, helps to heal your burn, and reduce pain. You can use the pure gel taken straight from the succulent’s leaves or get a moisturizer with aloe in it — but make sure it doesn’t contain any ingredients that can irritate your skin.

Applying aloe vera gel to your burn can keep it moisturized and prevent blisters and skin peeling.

To further soothe your damaged skin, keep the gel in the fridge and reapply it throughout the day to cool the burn down.

Bottom line

Burns are one of the most common household injuries, so no wonder there are a lot of myths about treating them at home. Some of the popular natural remedies for burns like vinegar, mustard, and butter can cause more damage to your inflamed skin. Since your goal in treating a burn is to reduce pain, prevent infection, and help it heal faster, you should avoid using anything that can cause irritation — for example, highly acidic vinegar or heavily-fragranced creams. Instead, clean the burn with cool water and keep it moisturized with a lightweight lotion or aloe vera gel. Mild burns should heal within a week or two, but if your burn gets more painful with time and you start to run a fever, seek immediate medical help.

September 2, 2022