What are the best ways to treat sunburn?

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Everyone hears the warnings, but when summer arrives so do the sunburns.

Dermatologist Dr. Howard Brooks of Georgetown Skin says think cool. The best treatment for an average sunburn is to apply cool compresses.

The temperature “is not only soothing, it helps the skin to heal,” he says.

Brooks also recommends an aloe vera gel or lotion, which will cause the skin to calm down a little bit. An alternative is over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

“Hydrocortisone is an anti-inflammatory medication so it decreases the inflammation that the sun damage has done,” he says.

Cool showers or baths also help. But blistering skin, or significant pain, is a sign that stronger medicine is needed and even a visit to the doctor.

And then there is the dreaded peeling.

Brooks says patients often ask him whether they should do something to remove the flaky, dead skin. He says the best thing is to “let the peeling occur naturally,” though it is OK to slather on a thick, heavy fragrance-free moisturizer. Any brand that contains glycerine or aloe vera will work just fine.

Of course, the key to dealing with sunburn is not to get one in the first place. Brooks says sunscreen should be worn all year on both sunny and cloudy days. Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen that offers protection from UVA and UVB radiation.

While sunscreens come with an SPF of 100 or more, an SPF 30 is usually enough, he says. The key is to apply the sunscreen a half an hour before going out in the sun.

“It is not something you put on immediately and it protects you immediately,” he says. “It has to really set on your skin.”

It is also important to reapply it often. Two hours is the norm — more often for adults exercising outdoors and any kids sent out to play. Brooks says that despite waterproof labels, all sunscreens need to be reapplied after a dip in the pool.

For many busy moms, the sunscreen of choice these days is a spray. Kids love them, but just giving them a quick spritz is not enough.

“You have to spray and rub it in. You can’t just spray and let the kid go.”

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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