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August 8, 2009

BehindTheMedspeak: World's best sunburn treatment — and you don't even need a doctor (Blast from the past)

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Reading an article in the August 6, 2009 Wall Street Journal about how to deal with a sunburn, I wasn't surprised to see nary a mention of the very best sunburn remedy on the planet, seeing as very few doctors have ever heard of it.

The so-called "expert" — Chris Salgardo, president of skin-care and cosmetic lines Kiehl's USA and Shu Uemura, clearly needs to spend less time in the sun and more in the biomedical library.

Barring that, he should sign on here and let me do the heavy lifting.

But I digress.

Long story short: Aspirin, two tablets the instant you realize you've got — or will soon have — sunburn issues.

Rx: Take 2 every four hours until the sunburn's gone, for days if your burn's that bad.

This simple treatment has attenuated much pain and discomfort for me and my red-headed, fair skinned friends over the years.

It was good advice when I posted it back on May 10, 2007 and it's equally good now.

Here's that post.

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BehindTheMedspeak: World's best sunburn treatment — and you don't even need a doctor

Two regular aspirin, taken every four hours around the clock until the pain stops.

That's it.

This treatment is simple, cheap, and more effective than the most expensive creams, ointments, and lotions you can buy and apply.

Don't wet or wash your affected skin: dryness afterward will only increase the pain.

I learned of this remedy in a two-paragraph letter to the New England Journal of Medicine from a family physician in Miami, back when I was in medical school.

I tried it: it worked!

Keep a little container of aspirin in your car's glove compartment, so you always have it handy at the pool or beach.

The sooner you begin treatment, the better the results.

But, even if you can't get your hands on any aspirin until bedtime, take two then, and again first thing in the morning when you wake up: you'll still get relief.

Mechanism of action? Aspirin is a powerful prostaglandin inhibitor; sunburn causes prostaglandin release, leading to inflammation in the skin and subdermal tissues.

Aspirin blocks the inflammatory response.

A second site of action is the brain, where the pain of sunburn is ultimately perceived; aspirin targets these receptors as well, lessening the discomfort and agony.

I find it a continuing source of amazement that other doctors have never even heard of this remedy, instead dispensing gibberish advice like "apply cool compresses" and prescribing steroids and all manner of ridiculous, expensive, less-than-efficacious meds with all manner of potentially deleterious side effects.

Why pay more?

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No, Tylenol is not the same as aspirin when it comes to sunburn.

It'll help with pain, true, but why not get two benefits for the price of one?

August 8, 2009 at 05:01 PM | Permalink


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Hi Flautist, think 'lubrication'. You can be a vintage chevvy baby, put if you got no oil in your engine your not gonna go very far. Cod liver oil is really mainstream you can get it in supermarkets. One a day capsules, so your swallowing it rather than rubbing it on. In the UK I can get 30 capsules for 6 or 7 quid, so what's that, ten bucks?? Stick at it. It won't happen over night. You can eat the fish, of course, but you'd have to eat a lot to get the same amount of oil. I use to have a wicked click in my neck, so loud people around would turn round to see! I was told it was dehydration, to drink 50ml of water every 15 mins for maximum absorption over the day. It worked! I guess it is wear and tear over the years, but if you lubricate your inners as much as poss it will help. Also caffine, sugary drinks and salt are bad for dehydration. but hey, I'm no expert, I'm just an enthusiastic amateur! I have tonnes of charts of herb in my kitchen and let the info slowly sink in while I'm cooking and so on. I'm sure you'll read all the labels and check it out with your doc if needs be. good luck. Also, are you sure oranges are the ones for potassium? I'm thinking bananas! x

Posted by: jo | Aug 10, 2009 2:53:37 PM

So jo -- creaky necks & joints are caused mostly by dehydration? Really? I'd not ever heard that. I always thought it was just 'cause of joint usage over the many many years I've had them. I guess I can fix being dehydrated easy enough, probably. Although every time I go to the doc I get told that my potassium is super low, and I eat boocoos of oranges & things loaded with K. Hunh. God, does this mean I'm gradually turning into an old dried up, stringy, wizened, bristly beef jerky kind of creature? With achy joints?

So anyway, jo, clue me in on this fish oil business. I have to admit I don't pay much attention to health tips and whatnot, so tell me (I'm perfectly serious, now) -- do I eat the fish oil or do I oil my creaky neck with it? Or both? What kind of fish oil? Why couldn't I just eat a whole fish? Doesn't it have oil in it? I bet fish's joints never hurt.

Posted by: Flouchtist | Aug 10, 2009 8:33:13 AM

Hmmm...never heard of this! My dad was a physician and I am surprised he never talked about this! It sounds very intriguing for sure. Our family prefers natural ingredients and has been using the Topricin pain cream for our sunburn issues if we ever have any! We really use sunscreen well, but this is also good for aches and pains etc. I appreciate your thoughts on sunburns for sure. Hopefully- with all the coverage we get from our sunscreen, I won't even have to worry about this. Good info though!

Posted by: smilinggreenmom | Aug 10, 2009 7:02:56 AM

I thought I had scene most cartoons on "puns & others" in my life, but in it's simplicity this one was a "beer out my nose" episode...LOLBOMN!

Posted by: Joe Peach | Aug 9, 2009 4:53:20 PM

ok, obviously I am slightly misguided if I think I can come on a anesthesiologists blog and be anti-drugs!!! but.... I am a bit shocked by how 'normal' a lot of you think it is to down truck loads of chemicals every day! http://www.naturalnews.com/023280.html alternatives?? no? just me? Flautist have you thought about fish oils? did you know the majority of stiff joints particularly necks is caused by simple dehydration?

Posted by: jo | Aug 9, 2009 3:19:55 PM

Aspirin does the job for my creaky neck pains and joint agonies (caused by vigorous overuse, of course - hmph), and I used to worry that relying on it for that would rapidly turn my stomach into an ulcerated bag of goo, but this kind with the added gut protection helps me a whole lot with that:

http://www.wonderdrug.com/products/es/esbp.htm

Posted by: Flautist | Aug 9, 2009 2:16:17 PM

Don't keep aspirin in the glove box -- heat will degrade it quite quickly, I should think.

Posted by: jim` | Aug 9, 2009 10:11:57 AM

Reminds me of Agador's "Pirin tablets" Birdcage.

This is a tough pill to swallow (rimshot!) for people whose stomachs are sensitive to aspirin. Are there any of the pain-relieving alternatives like Ibuprofen or Ketoprofen that would work as well as aspirin?

Of course, some preventative Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap measures are still well-advised.

Posted by: Rob O. | Aug 9, 2009 7:09:41 AM

hmmmm.... aspirin...inflammation....got stung by a wasp today....

Posted by: Alix | Aug 9, 2009 1:40:16 AM

My dad was one of the few doctors that knew this. While vacationing in Florida in the late 60's, he had me and my brothers each take 4 baby aspirin before we went out in the sun. People rarely believe me when I suggest aspirin for sunburn. Now I can show them this! Thanks Joe!

Posted by: ageekymom | Aug 8, 2009 5:51:28 PM

you're such a bunch of pill poppers! never mind sunburn when you've stripped the lining out of your stomach on asprin!! Aloe Vera is all you need.

Posted by: jo | Aug 8, 2009 5:30:58 PM

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