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Science looks to soothe sunburn's sting

WASHINGTON -- If you've hit the beach, chances are you've experienced an unfortunate rite of summer: Sunburn.

Skin so swollen it hurts to bend. The heat that rises from reddened shoulders. The "ow, ow, ow" in the shower after you'd thought the pain had faded.

For all the creams that promise to soothe, there aren't super treatments for a sunburn. Dermatologists say the best bet is some of the same pills you pop for a headache -- like the ibuprofen found in Motrin and Advil, or naproxen brands such as Aleve.

British scientists found a clue to what causes this touch-sensitive pain in some people who volunteered to be sunburned for science. Researchers from Kings College London tracked how their volunteers' sunburned skin became more sensitive. At the peak of pain, they cut away a small bit of damaged skin to analyze the biochemical changes inside, and found a protein responsible for triggering the pain and redness.

The protein summons inflammation-causing immune cells to the damaged spot as sunburned skin cells die off, the researchers reported last week in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

One reason sunburns are so common is that by the time you see pink and head indoors, more damage already is brewing. Unlike an immediate burn from, say, touching a hot stove, a sunburn's pain is delayed as the red darkens over the next 24 to 48 hours.

To self-treat the pain, take ibuprofen or similar over-the-counter painkillers known as NSAIDs within a few hours of reddening skin, advises Dr. Roger Ceilley of the American Academy of Dermato-logy and the University of Iowa.

But don't use them before going out in the sun; they're among a host of medicines that can make your skin more sun-sensitive.