Heal Your Sunburn Overnight

The Background

Like any real American on the Fourth of July weekend, I spent a little too much time in the sun. Honestly, I was not wearing any sort of protection because well, I never do. I’m unsure if it’s the 1/16th Cherokee in me or something else is at play, but it’s really hard for me to sunburn, and I tan fairly easily.

However, there are days when I get a little brash, and the sun gets tired of me poking fun at it. It’s as if it’s said, “Alright, that’s enough now Jake.” But of course I have to poke just one more time… Then it’s no longer fun and games, and things like putting on a t-shirt become not only a chore but a torture device.

Needless to say, I poked one too many times this weekend. I became beat red and could tell the next week had the potential to be hell. Trying to get out in front the storm; however, I headed down to the local pharmacy in search of aloe vera gel to bathe my wounds.

The Problem

I picked up nearly every piece of skincare recovery, moisturizing cream, hydrating formula, etc. in the pharmacy. What I wanted was simple, so I thought; just some aloe vera gel, free of parabens, artificial colors, and other synthetic toxins.

However, every product I picked up contained AT LEAST 2-3 ingredients on my NO list.  Even the “Naturals” products included a laundry list of ingredients with multiple words that could knock off any aspiring national spelling bee student.

Let’s run through some of these and their potential issues:

1. Methylparaben and Propylparaben

Parabens and other skincare preservatives are growing in controversy as studies indicating when skin is exposed to UV light (sunlight) in the presence of methylparaben, can be harmful and damaging by “significantly increasing cell death, oxidative stress, NO production, lipid peroxidation and activation of transcription factors” (1).

Oxidative stress, cell death, peroxidation…This is why there’s been a resurgence in the sunscreen world of paraben-free products.

I know I’m looking for something to place on my skin AFTER sun exposure, but why would I want to put something potentially harmful into my body in the first place? I’ve inflicted enough damage on my skin at this point. No need to rub salt into the wound.

On top of that, parabens have been shown to increase estrogenic activity, although very weakly (3). Since they are synthetic, they act as xenoestrogens or synthetic estrogen-like substances. Although it would be virtually impossible for me to apply enough parabens on my body to significantly increase my estrogen levels, I’m still going to avoid placing anything in my body that acts hormonally.

It’s this same reason why we have discontinued BPA in our plastics and why we don’t put hot food directly into Tupperware. The plastic can potentially be cooked into your food and act as exogenous hormones, mainly estrogen. This is not suitable for men or women.

Lastly, parabens have been shown to exhibit carcinogenic activity (2). Need I say more?

So, parabens are off the table.

2. Sodium Benzoate 

Sodium Benzoate is another preservative, and mold inhibitor used widely by the food and cosmetic industries. With the war against soda in the United States, it has gained more recognition and limelight as of late.

Specifically, in soda and in the presence of other acids, sodium benzoate is known to break down to form benzene.

Benzene is the real problem here. Not only is it a known carcinogen, amplified in the presence of vitamins C and E, but it can weaken your immune system while depriving your cells of oxygen and eventually damaging your DNA. (4)

Again, I know I’m not ingesting sodium benzoate in this instance, but I’d like to stress that your skin is the largest and most porous organ of your body. Whatever I absorb through my skin, will result in the same net effect at a cellular level as ingesting a substance. This is why nicotine patches work so well.

3. Propylene Glycol

This name may sound familiar to you, and that’s because it is closely related to ethylene glycol, also known as antifreeze. Propylene glycol is mainly used as a humectant or a solvent that allows the freezing point of water to be lowered, locking in moisture to whatever it’s attached.

The cosmetic industry includes propylene glycol in products for this very reason: to bring and seal the moisture into your skin as well as penetrate your skin for delivery of everything else in the formula.

Although propylene glycol has been proven non-toxic at small doses (10), and thus why it is widely used in foodstuffs, coffee drinks, ice cream, and sodas, some of its other uses lead me to stay away from it at all costs.

Other uses:

  • De-icing commercial aircraft during sleet and icy conditions (5)
  • Winterize your plumbing system during the winter months or when vacant (6)
  • Alternative to antifreeze in eco-friendly vehicles (7)
    • You’ll be happy to know “it’s only 1/3 as hazardous as antifreeze.”
  • Main component of liquid nicotine and e-cigarettes (8)

In conclusion, propylene glycol will not kill you. In fact, there is a plethora of academic research stating propylene glycol is non-toxic, noncarcinogenic, safe for consumption, etc. This very fact makes me wonder who is actually funding these studies. All we need to do is look at the sugar industry as an example and how it saved face throughout the 80’s and 90’s by backing research.

Regardless, in light of the uses mentioned above, it is not something I wish to consume.

My Solution

I walked out of the pharmacy and across the street to the grocery store. There I found the largest aloe vera leaf I could find, picked up some vitamin C, coconut oil, and headed home to the lab in my kitchen.

Here it is, my stripped down aloe vera formula that moisturized, healed, and renewed my skin in two applications.


  • Aloe Vera Leaf
  • Vitamin C (powdered if possible) or Vitamin E
    • Grape seed extract works great as well
  • Coconut Oil

1. Cut Open Leaf and Let Resin Drain


2. Slice Out the Gel and Place into Blender (cut into smaller pieces if needed)


3. Place 1000 mg of Vitamin C/E or Grape Seed Extract in with Gel

This serves as a natural preservative if you would like to keep for more than 1 week.

Here I was forced to blend Chewable vitamins which can work when you’re in a pinch.


4. Place 1/4 cup of Coconut Oil in with Gel and Vitamins

Coconut Oil will help rehydrate and soothe your damaged skin while providing a barrier to your environment.


5. Give it a blend!


6. Place in the ultimate DIY container: The Mason Jar


7. Rub on the damaged areas and let the healing begin!


This should give you at least 1 cup of mixture and can last up to 1 month with the vitamins as preservatives. Keep in the fridge to be extra refreshing! Apply generously and as often as you see fit.

Let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Share with us your pictures and any other recommendations you have when brewing up your own aloe!


  1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X06004641
  2. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx800066u
  3. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0041008X98985441
  4. http://www.naturalnews.com/033726_sodium_benzoate_cancer.html
  5. http://pubs.acs.org/cen/whatstuff/stuff/7901scit5.html
  6. http://www.wikihow.com/Winterize-a-Vacant-Home
  7. http://learn.eartheasy.com/2011/08/greening-your-car-with-non-toxic-alternatives/
  8. http://poisoncontrol.uchc.edu/pdfs/flyer_liquid_nicotine_facts.pdf
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27108784
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23656560

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