Can Coconut Oil Ease Sunburn Pain? Yes, But There's A Catch

Year-round, any opportunity to spend copious amounts of time in the sun is almost always welcome with open — and bare — arms. Whether you're hitting the beach for spring break, summer has arrived, or simply backpacking through southeast Asia, being in the sun feels therapeutic. And to a certain extent, it is. We know that time spent under the sun provides us with much-needed vitamin D, which can boost our mood and support our mental health, on top of our physical well-being, as per Solius. However, not to sound too much like Mrs. Brady, but have you slathered on your SPF today? Yes, this is your friendly and motherly reminder that you need to put on sunscreen to protect your skin from the damaging UVA and UVB rays known to cause skin cancer and bad sunburns.


On the off chance you forgot your SPF 30 at home or just neglected to reapply, you might end up with a nasty sunburn. We've all been there, the redness, the peeling, the pain. The worst is when you've got it on your back and can't even sleep at night. At that moment, what is your go-to remedy? Have you tried coconut oil? Yes, your favorite cooking oil can help heal your sunburn, but using it too soon could make the burn worse.

Using coconut oil too soon can worsen the burn

When dealing with a sunburn, some of us might reach for Advil for the pain. Others might grab some over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to relieve the redness. If you're like us, you may be an aloe vera gel ride-or-die gal. The all-natural goopy green stuff cools the skin and heals the burn like magic. However, some people swear by coconut oil as a remedy for a burn, and experts agree that it definitely can help. 


Coconut oil isn't unlike Vaseline in that it can moisturize your skin, Dr. Geeta Yadav, dermatologist, told Well+Good. In fact, the pantry staple acts as an anti-inflammatory to repair the skin and contains antimicrobial elements to kill bacteria, dermatologist Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil adds via Well+Good. However, like most things in life, timing is everything. Both doctors warn that if you apply it 24-48 hours after being burned, it can make the burn worse because the oil will trap the heat inside your skin. Dr. Yadav puts it this way, "Think about how quickly oil heats in a pan on a low temperature." That's right folks, the coconut oil can make your skin feel like it's cooking.

This effect is due to coconut oils' occlusive properties (aka moisturizers that work to protect the skin), dermatologist Dr. Michelle Green told Byrdie. "This can worsen the burn, increase inflammation, and keep your skin hot and red, making the healing process take longer."


Use aloe vera before reaching for the coconut oil

If you want to include coconut oil in your sunburn healing routine, wait a couple of days until your skin is ready. A good rule of thumb, Dr. Geeta Yadav told Well+Good, "If your skin is noticeably hot to the touch, it is too hot for you to apply coconut oil to it." Dr. Michelle Green agrees, telling Byrdie that only once your skin has cooled off, coconut oil "will nourish and energize the skin cells. That will stimulate your body's healing and repair process to naturally help your skin shed those excess layers of dead cells that make it rough, uneven, dull, and scaly."


So what should you do in those first two to three days when your skin is redder than a lobster and more painful than a UTI? It turns out the tried and true remedies are the best, as a 1995 study in the Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand found aloe vera heals skin faster than other products like Vaseline. "Aloe vera allows the skin to breathe and is best used initially on a sunburn," Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil told Well+Good.

However, Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose shares with Byrdie that you should use aloe vera gel in concert with other staples, such as a cool compress, Ibuprofen, and hydrocortisone cream.