On Vitiligo... and Sunburns. Mostly Sunburns.

I have vitiligo as a result of Hashimoto's Disease, aka Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. It started out as a small patch on my knee after I fell and scraped it as a child. I remember my pediatrician measuring it every year and mumbling something as she wrote notes in my chart, but she never really explained why.

The vitiligo progressed a little during my college years, showing up as a white streak of hair at the base base of my neck and a patch of white eyelashes. It seemed to stop there for several years. Hormonal changes that came with my daughter's birth did not affect it. Neither did the stress of several life events.

What seemed to accelerate it was moving to Colorado. The dry air caused my skin to crack and chafe easily, something I had never experienced before. Next thing I knew, I had white patches all over my hands, and then the pigment began disappearing rapidly from my arms, spreading to my trunk. A cafe au lait birthmark I had on my upper stomach dissolved away; ironically, I had finally grown to accept it as a part of me after years of hating that birthmark because of childhood teasing, to where I refused to wear bikinis for a very long time. Now, it was gone, and I was mourning it.

The vitiligo continued to spread even after I exchanged the dry Colorado climate for the more humid settings of Texas. Apparently, the damage had been done, and is continuing.

I have discovered just how bad it's gotten the hard way: Sunburns. This year in particular has been worse; I already experienced a bad burn on my shoulders a couple of months ago. I also had the "joy" of discovering that the pigment on my face is almost gone when I forgot to bring sunblock for my son's track meet this weekend.


This picture is as of this morning. I might not look so scorched here, but the burn sure feels awful. As in the Indiana Jones face melting scene, heat of a thousand suns, praying I accidentally knock myself out so I don't have to feel the pain kind of awful. Apparently, when your skin stops producing melanin, it's a whole different experience to get a sunburn, as in much more pain and damage.

My face felt like a tight mask last night after I got home. Because I was a lector for Mass at my parish and I only had ten minutes from when I got home from the meet to get my family and I over to the church, I hurriedly swiped some foundation over my skin to try and hide the fact that it was glowing in the dark. I suspect it made things worse, along with remedies I tried after I got home to quell the burn, because I woke up with my face flaming red and my eyes and upper lip were puffy.

I have decided as a result that vitiligo sucks. It was a mere inconvenience before when I still had the ability to make pigment over most of my body... now it's upsetting.

My husband told me recently that he thought vitiligo made me look "exotic" because I still have darker legs with white splotches. He got a nice earful over how much I resented him thinking that my inability to go out in the sun the way I could as a child and a young adult without needing a minimum of 30-90 SPF sunblock made me "exotic."

My poor son got singed too and he does not have the same problems I do. This was despite my using sunblock that another parent generously offered on his back and shoulders. He's currently wandering about the house shirtless.

Trust me, I won't be so forgetful at the next meet. It's clear that vitiligo has changed how I need to care for my skin and my son doesn't deserve a flaky mother neglecting his skin either.

I am usually a proponent of natural remedies first, over the counter (OTC) next, then prescriptions if all else fails. That includes with sunburns. I have read up on several sites offering natural/home and OTC solutions and tried several between my shoulder burn recently and my face. I am definitely finding out what works for me and what doesn't, and I wanted to share my experience with what I've tried.

Coconut Oil

Many websites rave about how effective coconut oil is. It has a lot of beneficial healing properties in general and sunburns are among the ailments claimed to benefit from coconut oil.

My experience: My skin actually stung more and got redder after I applied it. I left it on overnight and it did absolutely nothing. I did find one website - and I really do mean one - that said not to apply it for at least 24 hours after a burn... well after the fact... well, gee, thanks for making that common knowledge.

My verdict: Okay, maybe coconut oil would work if I waited the 24-hour period recommended by the one website; however, I have had too much of a negative experience after several attempts to want to try again. I'll stick to using it in the kitchen and as a makeup remover.

Aloe Vera

This is another one well-known for providing relief following a sunburn. Aloe vera is available in gel form, in after sun lotions, and you can buy the leaves or plants in a variety of places.

My experience: I've tried the lotions, gels, and the leaf method, in which you cut open a piece of leaf and rub its very thick, gel-like juices directly on the skin. The most relief I've had is with the gels and the leaf.

The pain relief is immediate, though it doesn't seem to last very long. The nice thing about aloe vera is you can also put the gel or leaf in the refrigerator to help cool and soothe your skin even more. The verdict is out on whether you can freeze the leaf without compromising its healing benefits, from what I understand, so I would say play it safe and keep it in the fridge.

My verdict: Thumbs up... with limitations. Again, the relief is temporary, depending on the burn, meaning you may be applying it frequently and go through it quickly.

Also, read the label on any aloe vera gel or lotion you are considering (and again, I find gel was better, though your mileage may vary). Some products contain alcohol or other ingredients that could further irritate your skin. The more pure the product is, the more you'll benefit, and it's worth paying a little extra for additional relief and to avoid causing more pain.

Witch Hazel

Witch hazel comes from the leaves and bark of a shrub and is a great astringent. I use it on my skin and it helps control my son's acne without being too harsh.Some tout it as a sunburn remedy, saying that it helps soothe the sting.

My experience: I've tried this several times and like coconut oil, it only seems to make things worse. I suspect it's the alcohol base, which, as I mentioned above, can irritate sunburned skin even more. My skin felt more dry and irritated after applying it.

My verdict: Avoid. There are better remedies.

Preparation H

According to Livestrong and a couple of other sites, the makers of Preparation H originally marketed it as a sunburn cream before rebranding it as a remedy for, ahem, much more private purposes. I tried the pain-relieving cream and I tried melting a suppository for the original formula to rub on my skin.

My experience: The suppository actually gave some relief. It's a pain in the, well, you know, to melt it, but once I got it on my skin, it wasn't so bad.

The original formula for the suppositories has just two ingredients, cocoa butter and phenylephrine, which shrinks tissues and reduces inflammation. Cocoa butter is another suggested sunburn remedy as it moisturizes and can soothe. I think it did help, and I think the phenylephrine did reduce some of the swelling in my face.

Then, I tried the cream. Oh God. The horror. I wiped it off as quickly as my tender skin would allow and I was more red and blotchy than ever.

My verdict: Try the original suppository. It's worth a shot. Again, you'll have to melt it before applying. I cannot recommend the cream, however, specifically the one with pramoxine for pain relief.

Rosewater

Rosewater is pretty simple stuff: Water infused with roses. You can make your own or purchase it at a health store. I picked some up in a spray bottle from Natural Grocers on a whim, not knowing at that point that some advocate using it for sunburn relief.

My experience: The relief is immediate. Even my son liked how quickly it stopped the pain, exclaiming, "Oooh, that felt good!" on contact... and despite it smelling very strongly of roses, he didn't mind the smell at all! Unfortunately, with how bad of a burn I have on my face, it was temporary; within a few minutes I was back to being miserable.

My verdict: If you have a mild sunburn, this would probably be a good main remedy to have on hand. If you have a more moderate to severe sunburn, I think the cost of premade rosewater would outweigh any benefits, however positive, because you would likely need to spray it on yourself constantly.

On the other hand, there are several ways to make rosewater that appear to be inexpensive, so that could be a way to still receive the benefits without hurting your wallet too much. It does a great job at stopping the pain right away, regardless, so you could use it to supplement other treatments if your burn is more serious.

Blue-Emu Super Strength Cream

Many people praise emu oil for soothing sore muscles, bruises, and similar ailments. I have a small jar of Blue-Emu Super Strength Cream that I found at Walmart. I keep on my nightstand for when I've overdone it with a workout or did something stupid, such as pushing myself too hard during a Callanetics stretch.

My experience: I don't know why, but I grabbed the jar and looked at its ingredients this morning. Aloe vera is the first one on the list, and I didn't have any aloe readily available, so I thought, well, I've already done other things, why not try this?

To my surprise, it was soothing. I also liked how it moisturized my skin without being too greasy, and the effects seemed to last a while. I was able to go about my business for an hour or two before I began to feel discomfort again. I later read about others claiming benefits from using Blue-Emu to treat a sunburn.

My verdict: For me, this is a legit remedy. It is a little pricey, about $15 for a 4 oz. jar through Walmart; however, a little goes a long way, so don't worry about blowing through the whole thing in a short time. I've had my jar for quite some time and I've barely made a dent in the supply.

Black Tea

My experience: I first learned about this as a sunburn remedy when my daughter got burned on her shoulders after her sunblock wore off during a day at the beach the week I was getting remarried. I knew she didn't want to have those kinds of glowing shoulders in her spaghetti strap dress and I wanted to end her misery quickly. A quick online search educated me on using black tea for sunburns, explaining that tannins help pull toxins out of the skin and provide pain relief.

I went a bit extreme; I rubbed the actual tea leaves on her back after boiling them and letting them cool, and I soaked paper towels in the brewed, cooled tea itself and laid them across her back and shoulders while she lay on her stomach for an hour or so. Something must have done the trick, because her burn looked a lot better the next day, and she progressed to a nice tan by my wedding a few days later, with no blistering or peeling in between.

I remembered this when I stared at my red, puffy face and promptly boiled two black tea bags in half a cup of water. We had a couple of different kinds of black tea in the house; I had used Earl Grey for my daughter, but this time, I chose pu-erh, which is a fermented black tea from a specific region in China and that touts various health and healing benefits.

Like the rosewater, the pain relief was immediate when I dabbed the concentrated tea on my skin. I also noticed that the redness went down very quickly. I thought perhaps I was imagining things, so I asked my son if my face seemed less red, and he said yes. I also sent photos to my husband before and immediately after doing a tea treatment; he agreed that I looked less red and my skin tone became more even.

I dabbed some tea on my son's upper back and shoulders as well. He said it felt really good where I applied it, and now I'm seeing less redness where he got burned.

My verdict: This is my favorite remedy, not only because of the quick pain relief but because of how much it seems to speed the healing process. I've heard a combination of green and mint tea can also help and that it may provide the same benefits faster and to a greater degree, but that if all you have is black tea then that will work fine.

Bear in mind that you must leave the tea on your skin; do not rinse afterward. If leaving it to air dry naturally is annoying, I found it feels especially good to use a blow dryer on a cool setting after dabbing the tea on my skin.

The one thing to bear in mind is that you will get the tea's benefits the more frequently you can apply it. I'm keeping a cup of the cooled tea with the bags in it and a cotton ball in the cup, and I'm dabbing it on my face every time I think about it.

If you can soak a small towel, paper towels, gauze, a washcloth, or a rag in the tea and apply it to the burn for at least an hour, as I learned with my daughter's experience, that is ideal. It's up to you whether you want to rub the brewed leaves on your skin directly. I would base it on your comfort level, e.g., how painful the burn is to the touch. If it's not too bad, then go for it.

Conclusion

As with everything I mention on this site, draw your own conclusions and do what works for you - we all have different skin types even if we have the same things going on with our bodies, and you may find that you react to some ingredients differently. For now, I've settled on applying the pu-erh tea to my burn, intermittently using cool aloe vera leaves, and putting the Blue-Emu cream on my skin in between to keep my skin moisturized and reap the cream's benefits. I'm hoping this will minimize the damage from my poor choices, and I'll be doing the same for my son to help him with his burns.

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