Summer is my favorite season. Whether I’m spending it hiking, biking, swimming or just relaxing on the patio with a good book, I love the long sunny days out in nature. But summer has its dark side as well: sunburns, poison ivy, splinters, athlete’s foot, and other minor mishaps can take the joy out of the season. Here are six tips for a simple, all-natural summer first aid kit.
Sun burns: Whether you are frolicking at the beach, enjoying drinks on a patio or tending to your garden, the sun has a way of finding your exposed skin. While avoidance is the most effective option, sometimes you still want to get out and enjoy the day. You can try light long sleeves shirts, pants and hats with brims. There are some effective natural sunscreens available, as well. You can also build your sunburn defenses by eating foods rich in beta carotene. Many of these delicious foods are orange-colored, like carrots, sweet potatoes, squashes, cantaloupe and peppers; however, dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and mustard are also excellent sources of beta carotene.
If you are unable to avoid a sunburn, aloe vera gel relieves pain, speeds healing and prevents blisters and scars. You can purchase a high quality aloe vera gel in health food stores but you can also keep an aloe vera plant on hand and use fresh gel from one of the leaves. Aloe is easy to grow – just keep it in a sunny place and water every couple of weeks when the soil is dry. To treat your burn, simply break off a leaf and split it open and squeeze out some of the gel. Apply the gel directly to the burned area a couple of times per day. It can reduce the healing time by half in some cases.
Pure lavender essential oil (not to be confused with fragrance oil which is synthetic and doesn’t help sunburns) is also extremely helpful post-sunburn and is supported by research in its effectiveness to speed healing and prevent scarring from sunburns or other types of burns.
Athlete‘s Foot: If you hate wearing shoes in the summer, you are not alone. But the heat and perspiration can increase the risk of picking up fungal infections like athlete’s foot. Spending more time barefoot outdoors also can increase your exposure, causing dry, itchy, sore and cracked skin.
Tea tree oil (melaleuca alternifolia) is a potent anti-fungal remedy. Massage a few drops in a ¼ teaspoon of oil like olive oil or almond oil and rub onto your feet. Do this twice daily until the itching stops—usually within a few days. Then continue to apply once a day for the next few months to be sure the fungus is completely gone. Otherwise, the spores tend to embed themselves deep within your skin. If that happens you may think the infection is gone but it may return down the road.
Poison Ivy: There is nothing like a forest hike off the beaten path. Unfortunately, poison ivy is a fairly common plant in the wilderness and even on the edge of manicured suburbs. Always consult a doctor if you suspect poison ivy, particularly if it is on or near your face, if you have trouble breathing, or if you develop a fever. It’s caused by a resin in the poison ivy plant. The rash usually appears anywhere your skin touches the resin.
The homeopathic remedy Rhus toxicodendron, which is also called Rhus tox, contains minute amounts of the natural substances that encourage the body to heal itself from poison ivy. Take a 30C dose (usually pellets, or drops) as soon as you notice symptoms. Take up to 4 doses per day for 3 days. That should help with the itching and the rash should disappear a few days after you’ve stopped taking the remedy. Avoid eating or drinking or putting anything in your mouth 20 minutes before or after taking Rhus tox.
Bug Bites: Summer brings hot weather, sun, flowers, picnics … and bugs. Bugs love me so it was really important to me to find a natural remedy that takes the itch out of bug bites. One of the most effective remedies I’ve found is Echinacea. Most people take Echinacea capsules at the first sign of a cold, but if you use the tincture form applied directly to the bug bite, you’ll often find it alleviates the itching and swelling. A tincture is an alcohol-based extract of an herb. Echinacea tincture is available from most health food stores and pharmacies. In addition to putting a few drops directly on bug bites, you can also place a few drops under your tongue to help your immune system counter any possible infection.
Because ticks are also a concern in the summer, it is a good idea to get into the habit of showering after being outdoors, particularly if you’ve been in the woods. Take a look at your skin after you come indoors to make sure you’re not accompanied by any ticks on your skin. They usually take some time before they bite and you can remove any that may have come in with you.
Splinters: I repaired the deck on my house a couple of weeks ago and could not believe how many splinters entered my hands and feet. Sometimes you can simply pull them out directly or with tweezers and give the wound a good wash; however, if they are really lodged in your skin, consider using a banana peel as first aid. Bananas are more than a delicious source of potassium. If you have a splinter or suspect you have one, place a small piece of banana peel with the fleshy side against your skin and tape it into place with surgical tape. Leave it on overnight. Banana peels contain an enzyme that helps lessen the inflamed tissue and draw out the splinter. If it is deeply embedded in your skin, you might need to reapply a fresh chunk of banana peel for another day or two. Then, you should be able to pull out the splinter with tweezers.
image credit: Victoria Henderson, via Flickr
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