It’s that time of year again. After months of hiding under garments, legs and arms get to see the light of day. Inevitably, fair skinned arms and legs will blush at first exposure as if embarrassed by their pallor. We might feel a stinging sensation from that initial unveiling, but with careful attention to duration, most of us can benefit from a little sun exposure. Of course, we all experience summer days when we lose track of time or forget to pack our hat and sunscreen. In short, sunburn happens.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine emphasizes nature’s effect on the human body. Sunburn is considered as heat and dampness trapped under the skin’s surface. Treatment with acupuncture and herbs aims to release the heat from the skin and drain dampness through the urinary tract.
Yes. I know. You have a sunburn. There is no way you’re going to let someone insert needles into your blistering hot skin, no matter how small and fine. In the case of sunburn, however, just a few strategically placed needles can help ease your discomfort. Below are points that are commonly used to mitigate discomfort from over exposure to summer sun. They also are great for self-massage.
Large Intestine 4 (He Gu)
- This point is referred to as the valley of harmony. It is in the valley of the web between your thumb and index finger and is a rock star among acupuncture points. It relieves all kind of pain throughout the body, but primarily in the head. In addition, LI4 helps reduce inflammation and boost the immune system.
Gall Bladder 20 (Feng Chi)
- The English translation of this point’s name is “wind pool.” This is an excellent point to clear heat from the body and release pain relieving endorphins. It is located and the base skull about two inches out from the spine on both sides. Massaging this point will help ease pain and placing a cool cloth will help reduce body heat.
Urinary Bladder 40 (Wei Zhong)
- Located at the center of the back of the knee, UB 40 specifically functions to clear summer heat. Large blood vessels lie close to the surface in this area, so placing a cold cloth on UB 40 can help cool circulating blood.
- The ear can be viewed as a circuit board for the body. Insertion of tiny needles in ear points that correspond with painful body regions can reduce pain.
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Chinese herbal medicine uses numerous herbs to help with sunburn and heatstroke. The herbs are combined into formulas to be taken internally or some are intended to be used externally as a wash or as a compress. Don’t worry if you can’t get to your acupuncturist right away to pick up your herbal formula. You may find effective remedies right in your kitchen. Read below for
For the inside
Did you know that one of the best medicines for summer heat is watermelon? In traditional Chinese medicine watermelon has powerful cooling properties. It is a diuretic, which helps reduce swelling and inflammation associated with sunburn, but the fluid in watermelon will also keep you hydrated. When you use watermelon for medicinal purposes, be certain to include as much of the white rind as your palate allows—the good medicine is condensed there.
Another cooling easily found herb is green tea. Surprisingly, it doesn’t even need to be cold to cool you down. In fact, Chinese medicine discourages consumption of iced or slushy beverages and foods because they slow down the body’s metabolic processes. Brew up a big batch of green tea, allow it to reach room temperature, and sip throughout the day. It has excellent antioxidant properties to help calm damaged, inflamed tissues.
Eat pineapple, cucumber, cantaloupe, honeydew, celery, mushrooms, zucchini, pears, and peaches to cool down your body from the inside out. Don’t forget to plenty of water (not ice cold, please!).
For the outside
We all know that aloe vera is the go-to remedy for sunburn. Aloe vera is a power house of vitamins and minerals. It also contains bradykinase, an enzyme that reduces skin inflammation. Fresh aloe pulp is best, but not all of us have a potted aloe vera plant on our deck. It is worth the time and money to visit your local natural food market and purchase a quality aloe vera product. Some of the best contain up to 90% aloe where some of the more commonly found gels contain only 10%. Add essential oils to the aloe gel to boost its healing properties. Lavender essential oil soothes and has antibacterial properties. My personal favorite is helichrysum, which is known to heal and rejuvenate the skin.
It goes without saying. Prevention is the best medicine. Outlined below are ways to avoid painful sunburn.
- Avoid direct sun exposure between the hours of 10 to 4.
- Cover up. During peak hours wear long sleeves, pants, high necked shirt, and hat. Use a sun shade. Even when you are under a shade at the beach, 17% of the UV rays hitting the sand and water reflect back to you, so cover up vulnerable body parts with clothing.
- Wear sunblock, but not just any sunblock. Chemical sunblock’s contain ingredients such as oxybenzone that are linked to cancer. Instead, look for mineral sunblock’s made from titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Visit the Environmental Working Group to learn about the best sunscreens. http://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/
- Protect your skin with nutrition. Red, purple, and orange fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients that keep skin healthy. Load up on those summer blueberries, red grapes, carrots and red peppers! Salmon and fish oil contain astaxanthin, which helps defend eyes and skin against UV rays. Almonds and pumpkin seeds are good sources of vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant that protects the skin.
Sunburn is sneaky. No one intentionally overexposes themselves to sun and heat. For those times when the sun does a number on your skin, consider visiting an acupuncturist to reduce your pain and speed up healing.
Joni is board certified to practice acupuncture and chiropractic in the State of California and is an NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) Diplomate of Oriental Medicine. In addition to acupuncture and herbal medicine Joni employs a variety of healing techniques including Sacro Occipital Technique, Applied Kinesiology, and Neuro Emotional Technique to restore balance and awaken the body’s innate healing potential.
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