Additional menu

Soothing Your Hawaiian Sunburn the Local Way

Getting a sunburn while on vacation is simply a bummer.  Whether you’re heading on a tour in Kauai, watching the haleakala sunrise, or just baking in the sun on the beach, if you catch a nasty sunburn, your skin will beg for soothing and until it is soothed you won’t want to even leave the hotel room.  Every neck line, pants waistline and bra strap will be a personal torture device, wreaking havoc on the rest of your plans on activities in the sun. For generations, there are some local ways to sooth that sunburn and get your out and about sooner than later.

Apple Cider Vinegar for Sunburn

apple cider vinegar

As a child of Portuguese decent, I’m pretty pale and have had my fair share of sunburns in my lifetime.  A simple trick taught in our family by my great grandmother was to use vinegar for soothing sunburns after a long day in the Hawaii sun. After about an hour of smelling like a pickle, the sunburn would begin to brown and the itching would go away. Experience also showed that the burned skin was less likely to peel. 

Of course, grandmas always know best and we certainly found this to be the best local method of soothing our sunburns.  Don’t just believe Grandma! Modern research shows that there are properties in apple cider vinegar that have pH balancing properties along with vitamins in it that can help. 

But lets face it, when you have dinner a dinner cruise in three hours, you could care less about science.  You can apply it directly to the skin or soak in a tub.  A two-to-one ratio of water to vinegar is what you are looking for.

Aloe Vera for Sunburn

Aloe vera gel

Aloe vera has both anti-inflammatory and pain soothing properties for sunburn.  You can find an array for aloe vera gels at the store, but keep in mind that products mixing the aloe vera with other ingredients may further dry out the skin and be less soothing to the burn than you hope.  Apply aloe every couple of hours.  It will feel cool as you apply it and that right there is addicting in soothing the sunburn. 

The best option is the original plant, which is found locally all over the place.  If you are on a hike or in a residential area, don’t hesitate to take a spike.  Most locals will be happy to give you some from their yard, too.  Simply slice the cactus open and rub the inner jelly on the burn, to sooth the sunburn in true local fashion.

Coconut Oil Suncreen

Coconut oil

Coconut oil and lotions are popular moisturizers these days.  Hawaiians have been using this for hair and skin products, along with all of its fabulous cooking uses, for centuries.  Not only is applying coconut oil going to sooth that Hawaiian sunburn, it can also be used as a local Hawaiian sunscreen.  Most locals don’t use the oil directly though, because coconut oil is a solid at room temperature.  Give yourself a few hours with it slathered on your body, you won’t only smell like a pina colada, you’ll leave an oily trail as the oil melts from body heat.

Instead, locals now purchase products that are lotions with coconut oil and other essential oils in them to sooth sunburns and protect the skin. This provides the healing properties, while protecting against further sunburn while enjoying life in the Hawaiian sun.

Kukui Nut Oil Suncreen

Kukui nut

The kukui nut is not indigenous, but it has been a local favorite for medicinal purposes for more than 1500 years.  Not only does it sooth the sunburn with antibacterial and pain relieving properties, but it is a natural SPF.  Yes, this is another local Hawaiian sunscreen. We can’t imagine a better way to sooth a Hawaiian sunburn than by avoiding it all together. 

You probably won’t be able to find a kukui nut tree to harvest your own, so this local remedy requires finding this gem at the local drug store. It is more expensive than other options, when it comes to soothing that sunburn.  But, keep in mind that you will also be able to prevent further burning with regular use of this oil.  This is been Hawaii’s local and natural prevention and remedy for sunburns for generations.  Who knows the sun around here better?

Avoiding Sunburn

Woman with sunscreen on

But, even with regular prevention, locals still get sunburnt after a long day at the beach or hiking up the Napali coast.  Compared to our pale (glowing white) mainland counterparts, locals are less likely to get a severe burn, because their skin is acclimated. 

For those with pale skin, how to avoid sunburn starts with acclimating your whiteness to golden greatness. This isn’t always easy. Putting board shorts on in a Minnesota winter before you migrate to the islands for winter warming isn’t really practical, but would help. 

No matter how acclimated your skin is, prolonged exposure will lead to a burn.  So, plan on tanning slowly.  The goal is golden brown, not lobster red. Prevent needing to sooth a sunburn by keeping high risk areas covered, especially during the prime 11-2 daylight hours. 

Get the bikini tan at earlier hours in the day.  When in the water, don’t expect a cotton t-shirt to protect that virgin skin on your back.  Get SPF clothing that protects in the water and doesn’t ride up letting the lower back peek at the sun while you peek at fish. 

You will burn more near water as it reflects the rays like prisms. Locals also know that preventing sunburn means using a water quality sunscreen properly.  Apply it 30 minutes before you get into the sun and re-applying it every hour.  Don’t forget the ears and tops of your feet; they are prime places that need soothing from sunburn, because people don’t think about them until it’s too late.

A bright red sunburn will certainly peg you as a tourist.  To avoid this telltale sign and others, read about the dos and don’ts of Hawaii here. 

Remember, sunburn can increase your chances of skin cancer.  Severe burns with significant blistering may require a trip to Urgent Care to not only sooth the burn, but prevent infection.



  • Brian K

    Brian K has been a writer and publisher for 10+ years and has worked for LiveYourAloha as a freelance author and content manager for several of them. There's not much about Hawaii he can't tell you about!