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Ask Dr. Sears: Sunburn Remedies

Q. What's the best way to relieve my daughter's sunburn?

A. If the skin is reddened but not blistered, it's a first-degree burn that needs only hydration, moisturizing, and time. To soothe it, try a home remedy I often prescribe: Add a cup of oatmeal to your child's bath, and let her soak for as long as she wants. (A lukewarm bath is best for the skin, but if the sunburn is sore, cooler water may be more comfortable.) As soon as she gets out of the tub, gently blot (don't rub!) her skin with a towel  -- but don't dry it completely. Leave the burned area damp, and then liberally apply a moisturizer with aloe to it (steer clear of topical antihistamine and anesthetic creams, which can cause inflammation). Beyond soothing your child, the moisturizer will trap the water in the top layers of the skin and may cut down on itching and dryness. Repeat this regimen for several days afterward.

If the skin is blistered, your child has a second-degree burn that needs more intensive care: It's at greater risk of infection. The doctor may recommend a prescription cream to apply several times a day. Don't break the blisters  -- they're nature's own protective dressing  -- and tell your child not to pick at them. Once they open on their own, keep the area covered  -- usually with cream and nonadherent gauze.

Prevention is the best form of protection. Blistering sunburns are a risk factor for the development of skin cancer  -- so be sure your child wears sunscreen with an SPF factor of at least 30 (that contains avobenzone or zinc oxide) whenever she's exposed to the sun.

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