Fresh aloe vera is the best ingredient for treating sunburned skin. It is a natural moisturizer that also reduces inflammation while promoting collagen production for skin repair. Once you drain away the yellow latex, you can apply aloe vera straight to your skin, but for those who are looking to take their crafting skills to the next level, you can use the aloe vera gel to make a soft, velvety after-sun cream, which can also be used as a daily body moisturizer.
The best aloe vera gel comes straight from the plant, otherwise, aloe vera leaves can be bought in some health food shops or markets and packaged aloe vera gel can be purchased in some supermarkets.
Plants and Oils For An After-Sun Cream
- Oats have a similar pH to your skin and they also have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Oats also help reduce the itching sensation as the skin heals, as well as moisturizing, softening, and cleansing your skin.
- Some essential oils have natural cooling effects when applied to the skin, including mint, lavender, chamomile, pine, and thyme. These essential oils are also strong anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants.
- If possible, choose a carrier oil that is high in vitamin E, such as sunflower, almond, or soybean oil, otherwise, any plant-based oil will still provide moisture as well as reducing irritation by decreasing the amount of friction on your skin due to your clothes.
- Consider infusing your carrier oil with medicinal herbs that can help repair skin or provide pain relief, for example, as analgesics, both St John’s wort, and willow bark reduce pain in the early stages of sunburn when used topically, while everlasting flower (Helichrysum spp.) can be used to treat a number of skin irritations thanks to its healing and soothing abilities.
- OPTIONAL: Add vitamin E oil as an anti-oxidant to extend the shelf-life to 1 month. Anti-oxidants will not prevent mold and bacteria from eventually growing though.
Products to Avoid in an After Sun Cream
- Avoid chemicals and ingredients that end in “-caine”, for example, benzocaine or lidocaine.
- Avoid any petroleum products, as these tend to trap the heat in.
- Avoid using compounds that are extremely acidic or alkaline, such as like salicylic acid or witch hazel.
- It is unwise to apply vinegar to sunburned skin. This is because the acidity will dry out your skin which will cause further irritation and delay the healing process.
The recipe below makes enough aloe vera after sun cream to fill a cosmetics jar (100ml) which should last 1 week with multiple applications a day on a small area, such as the face and neck.
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) of aloe vera gel
- 1 tablespoon (15 g) of carrier oil (you can infuse this oil beforehand with any of the herbs mentioned above. I had some mint, thyme, pine, chamomile and willow bark infused oil in the cupboard, so I used this)
- ½ teaspoon (2.5 g) of beeswax
- 1 teaspoon (3 g) of colloidal oatmeal
- 20 drops of essential oil
Making this cream can be broken down into the following four steps;
Step 1: Make a Soft Salve
Melt the beeswax into the carrier oil in a double boiler (or a jar sitting in a pot of warm water) to make a soft salve.
For this recipe, try to aim for a softer salve with a higher amount of oil in it. This will make it easier to whip into butter and will make it easier to apply to tender skin.
Once the beeswax has melted remove it from the heat, but give it a stir every 5 minutes or so while it slowly cools.
Step 2: Whip the Salve into a Butter
Once the salve has cooled but not completely solidified, whip it into a smooth butter.
At this stage, you can also add your chosen essential oils to the mixture.
Step 3: Whip in the Oatmeal
Gradually add the colloidal oatmeal to the mixture while whipping it. The mixture will take on a slightly thicker texture.
Step 4: Add the Aloe Vera Gel to Make your After Sun Cream
If you are using aloe vera gel harvested fresh from your own plant, make sure to blend the gel first so that it is fluffy and easier to whip into the mixture.
Very slowly add the aloe vera gel in small quantities at a time. This can take up to 5 minutes to slowly add and whip into a soft, moisturizing cream. Be sure not to overwhip the mixture because it will separate again and be impossible to re-combine.
*** Aloe Vera Gel
In most situations, aloe vera gel is best used directly from the fresh plant as you need it, so it’s best to only harvest what you will need immediately, or in the very least, within the next few days. One small leaf, approximately 6 inches (15 cm) long yields at least half an ounce (15 g) of gel.
A broken aloe vera leaf won’t regrow or repair itself, so it’s better to harvest the whole leaf by cutting it at the base of the plant. Do not harvest the inner leaves, as this will damage and potentially kill the plant.
How to Make Your Own Aloe Vera Gel
- Cut 1 – 2 of the outer leaves from the base of the plant.
- Place the leaves upright in a glass to allow the yellow tinted latex to drain out of the leaves. This will take approximately 10 – 15 minutes
- Cut and discard the tip of each leaf; the tip contains more latex and skin than gel, so it’s better to remove the first 2 inches (5 cm) or so. If you are working with large leaves, then cut them into smaller, manageable lengths.
- Slice off the thorns on the margins of the leaf first, then slice and peel back the skin on the flat side of the leaf with either a vegetable peeler or a knife. Make sure to remove all of the skin. OPTIONAL: The skin can be washed again and eaten in salads or added to smoothies.
- Use a spoon to scoop out the aloe vera gel inside the leaf.
Storage and use
Place the cream in the fridge so that it is cool when applied to your burnt skin over the next week or two.
Apply the aloe vera after-sun cream liberally to burnt skin about 2 – 3 times a day for at least a week.
This cream will only last 1 – 2 weeks in the fridge because there are no preservatives to prevent bacteria and mold from growing in it. Despite many claims, any salve or cream that contains a water-based ingredient won’t last longer than 1 – 2 weeks without a genuine preservative. And just because it looks and smells fine doesn’t mean it isn’t contaminated; you won’t see the bacteria, mold, or yeast growing in your DIY cream or salve until it’s mature enough to produce a fruiting body on the surface. Therefore, whenever you are making a water-based product, make sure you only make enough for 1 – 2 weeks.
It’s important to note that all packaged aloe vera gel will contain preservatives and possibly some other ingredients to extend its shelf-life. So, if you use aloe vera from a package, these preservatives may also extend the shelf-life of your homemade aloe vera after-sun cream.
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