(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 24, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)

Wow, it feels so nice out here. The sun is moving closer overhead and it becomes warmer as you begin to move furniture out and pick up trash that the winter has blown in. Gotta get out of this long sleeved shirt! Rustling under the bed for your long lost summer clothes, you find a sleeveless shirt that will surely give you the range of motion you want.

Back outside, you continue your work; some may call it piddling in the garden, but we all know this is important labor. Gosh, don't you love this weather? Dig, dig, dig; rake, rake, rake; bask, bask, bask.

Then you are interrupted, maybe by your dear indoor-loving spouse or a nosey over-the-fence neighbor. "You look like a tomato!" they say.


As gardeners, especially in the early stages of spring, we tend to work without regard to time, hunger, and sometimes pain. We easily work ourselves to the bone, or in this case the burn. Revel in your first sunburn this year, but remember to take care of your skin. Just because it's March doesn't mean your skin won't burn! It is just not used to this sun thing.

You don't want to start out the year looking like this do you? These diagrams are affectionately referred to as the "impossible-to-get-rid-of tank top tan," "the farmer's tan," and the "what was he thinking tan?".

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Don't forget the sunscreen

SPF stands for sun protection factor and according to the FDA, SPF is "a measure of how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin (i.e., in the presence of sunscreen) relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin. As the SPF value increases, sunburn protection increases(1).

Some people mistakenly think that the SPF rating is related to time. For example, SPF 8 means you can spend 8 hours in the sun safely. This is false and could provide a dangerous false sense of security. Be aware that SPF is not directly related to time of solar exposure but to amount of solar exposure, which can vary for the time of day and year.

The FDA recommends frequent reapplication, especially if you are working hard or sweating, which is important for continued protection. If you have sensitive skin, consider using a product specifically geared toward your skin type.

Don't forget these easily forgotten and ouchy-when-burned places:

  • Back of the knees, ears, and hands
  • Neck and chest
  • Back of the ears
  • Scalp or hair part

What to do if you remember sunscreen too late (or completely forget it)?

So you've got the first farmer's tan of the year, actually make that a farmer's burn! Whatever you do, don't go out and buy bottled aloe vera gel. Most companies put alcohol of some sort in the gel to make it evaporate faster which in the end dries out your skin worse than before. If you don't already own one, go out and buy an aloe plant. Any will do really, but Aloe vera is specifically known as medicinal aloe. You can often find them at hardware stores, hippy-dippy super markets, and at garden centers.


Cut off a a plump, long leaf and put it in the refridgerator for several minutes. After the leaf has cooled to the core, take a paring knife and slit down the side of the leaf from the bottom toward the tip. You can now peel the leaf in half and lay it flat against your burn. Ah...what a sensation. Your skin will soak in the moisture from the leaf and it will become drier. Once this happens, you can scrape the jelly-like substance from the leaf and rub it into your skin. You can repeat this process as many times for as many days as your skin needs. Be aware that sometimes aloe can give your skin a yellow tint after multiple reapplication.

Other remedies for sunburn include:

  • Take a warm shower
  • Take 2-3 over the counter pain medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce inflammation and pain
  • Swab witch hazel on the burn with a cotton ball to create a soothing and cooling sensation (2)
  • Use a frozen veggie bag compress such as corn or peas

Toni Leland's article on safe hot weather gardening might also be of interest to you. Beware though you winter hangers-on, when you shed your warm clothes be nice to your tender summer skin(3).

Special thanks to these DG members for usage of their photos!:

Tomato Face: Depsi

Aloe vera: CaptMicha

(Close up of sun and sun burns are from Wikimedia Commons and morguefile.com; thumbnail of skyscape courtesy of morguefile user alvimann)


1. •1. http://www.fda.gov/cder/offices/OTC/understanding_spf_sunscreen.htm

2. 2. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/263785/10_ways_to_relieve_and_heal_sunburn.html

3. • A reference to "Summer Skin" by Death Cab for Cutie released in 2005 by Atlantic Records.