Sunburn its risk factors, prevention, and Treatment

What is Sunburn

Red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch usually appears within a few hours after too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunshine or artificial sources, such as sunlamps.

Intense, repeated sun exposure that results in sunburn increases your risk of other skin damage and certain diseases. These include dry or wrinkled skin, dark spots, rough spots, and skin cancers, such as melanoma.

What does melanin do in the body?

  • Melanin is the dark pigment in the outer layer of the skin (epidermis).
  • It gives your skin its normal color. When you’re exposed to UV light,
  • your body protects itself by accelerating the production of melanin.
  • The extra melanin creates the darker color of a tan.

What happens when you get a suntan?

  • A suntan is your body’s way of blocking the UV rays to prevent sunburn and other skin damage. the protection only goes so far.
  • The amount of melanin you produce is determined genetically.
  • Many people simply don’t produce enough melanin to protect the skin well.
  • Eventually, UV light causes the skin to burn, bringing pain, redness, and swelling.

Can you get sunburned on cloudy days?

  • You can get sunburn on cool, hazy or cloudy days.
  • As much as 80 percent of UV rays pass through clouds. Snow, sand, water and other surfaces can reflect UV rays, burning your skin as severely as direct sunlight.
  • You can usually find sunburn relief with simple home remedies.
  • Sunburn may take several days or longer to fade.
  • You can prevent sunburn and related conditions by protecting your skin. This is especially important when you’re outdoors, even on cool or cloudy days.

Sunburn Symptoms

Sunburn signs and symptoms include:

  • Pinkness or redness
  • Skin that feels warm or hot to the touch
  • Pain, tenderness, and itching
  • Swelling
  • Small fluid-filled blisters, which may break
  • Headache, fever, nausea, and fatigue if the sunburn is severe

Parts Of Your Body That Are Most Vulnerable To Getting Sun Damage

  • Any exposed part of your body including
  • Earlobes, Scalp, and lips can burn.
  • Even covered areas can burn if, for example, your clothing has a loose weave that allows ultraviolet (UV) light through. Your eyes, which are extremely sensitive to the sun’s UV light, also can burn. Sunburned eyes may feel painful or gritty.

Signs and symptoms of sunburn usually appear within a few hours after sun exposure. But it may take a day or longer to know the full extent of your sunburn.

How long does sunburn redness last?

  • Within a few days, your body may start to heal itself by “peeling” the top layer of damaged skin.
  • After peeling, your skin may temporarily have an irregular color and pattern.
  • A bad sunburn may take several days or longer to heal.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if the sunburn:

  • Is blistering and covers a large portion of your body
  • Is accompanied by a high fever, extreme pain, headache, confusion, nausea or chills
  • Doesn’t improve within a few days

Also, seek medical care if you notice signs or symptoms of an infection. These include:

  • Increasing pain and tenderness
  • Increasing swelling
  • Yellow drainage (pus) from an open blister
  • Red streaks leading away from the open blister

Risk factors

Risk factors for sunburn include:

  • Having light skin, blue eyes, and red or blond hair
  • Living or vacationing somewhere sunny, warm or at high altitude
  • Working outdoors
  • Mixing outdoor recreation and drinking alcohol
  • Having a history of sunburn
  • Regularly exposing unprotected skin to UV light from sunlight or artificial sources, such as tanning beds
  • Taking a drug that makes you more likely to burn (photosensitizing medications)


Intense, repeated sun exposure that results in sunburn increases your risk of other skin damage and certain diseases. These include premature aging of your skin (photoaging) and skin cancer

Premature aging of your skin

Sun exposure and repeated sunburns accelerate the skin’s aging process, making you look older than you are. Skin changes caused by UV light are called photoaging. The results of photoaging include:

  • The weakening of connective tissues, which reduces the skin’s strength and elasticity
  • Deep wrinkles
  • Dry, rough skin
  • Fine red veins on your cheeks, nose, and ears
  • Freckles, mostly on your face and shoulders
  • Dark or discolored spots (macules) on your face, back of hands, arms, chest and upper back also called solar lentigines.

Precancerous skin lesions

  • Precancerous skin lesions appear as rough,
  • Scaly patches in areas that have been damaged by the sun.
  • They may be whitish, pink, tan or brown.
  • They’re usually found on the sun-exposed areas of the head, face, neck, and hands of light-skinned people.
  • These patches can evolve into skin cancer.
  • They’re also called actinic keratoses and solar keratoses

Skin cancer

Excessive sun exposure, even without sunburn, increases your risk of skin cancer, such as melanoma. It can damage the DNA of skin cells. Sunburns in childhood and adolescence may increase your risk of developing melanoma later in life.

Skin cancer develops mainly on areas of the body most exposed to sunlight, including the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands and legs. Skin cancer on the leg is more common in women than in men.

Some types of skin cancer appear as a small growth or a sore that bleeds easily, crusts over, heals and then reopens. With melanoma, an existing mole may change or a new, suspicious-looking mole may develop. A type of melanoma called lentigo maligna develops in areas of long-term sun exposure. It starts as a tan flat spot that slowly darkens and enlarges.

See your doctor if you notice a new skin growth, a bothersome change in your skin, a change in the appearance or texture of a mole, or a sore that doesn’t heal.

Eye damage

The sun can also burn your eyes. Too much UV light damages the retina, lens or cornea. Sun damage to the lens can lead to clouding of the lens (cataracts). Sunburned eyes may feel painful or gritty. Sunburn of the cornea is also called snow blindness.


Use these methods to prevent sunburn, even on cool, cloudy or hazy days. And be extra careful around water, snow, and sand because they reflect the sun’s rays. In addition, UV light is more intense at high altitudes.

Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The sun’s rays are strongest during these hours, so try to schedule outdoor activities at other times. If you can’t do that, limit the length of time you’re in the sun. Seek shade when possible.

Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds

Using tanning beds to obtain a base tan doesn’t decrease your risk of sunburn

Cover up

When outside, wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that covers you, including your arms and legs. Dark colors offer more protection, as do tightly woven fabrics. Consider using outdoor gear specially designed to provide sun protection. Check the label for its ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), which indicates how effectively a fabric blocks damaging sunlight. The higher the number, the better.

Use sunscreen frequently and generously.

  • Apply water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 30 or greater and broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.
  • About 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors,
  • Apply sunscreen generously on the skin that won’t be protected by clothing.
  • Put on more sunscreen every 40 to 80 minutes, or sooner if it has washed off from swimming or sweating.
  • If you’re also using insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend products that combine insect repellent with sunscreen.

FDA recommendation for Sunscreen

  • The Food and Drug Administration requires all sunscreen to retain its original strength for at least three years.
  • Check the sunscreen labels for directions on storing and expiration dates.
  • Throw sunscreen away if it’s expired or more than three years old.

AAP recommendation for Sunscreen

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using other forms of sun protection, such as shade or clothing, for babies and toddlers.

Keep them cool and hydrated.

You may use sunscreen on babies and toddlers when sun protective clothing and shade aren’t available.

The best products for them are those that contain physical blockers (titanium oxide, zinc oxide), as they may cause less skin irritation.

 Precautions and Safety Measures to be taken

  • Wear sunglasses when outdoors. Choose sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. Check the UV rating on the label when buying new glasses. Darker lenses are not necessarily better at blocking UV rays. It also helps to wear sunglasses that fit close to your face and have wraparound frames that block sunlight from all angles.
  • Be aware of medications that increase your sensitivity to the sun. Common drugs that make you more sensitive to sunlight include antihistamines, ibuprofen, certain antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and some cholesterol-lowering drugs. Talk with your pharmacist about your medication side effects.

What home remedies get rid of mild to moderate sunburns fast? 

  1. Place a cool compress on sunburned skin for immediate sunburn pain relief, for example, a compress containing Burow’s solution (such as Domeboro Powder Packets -1 packet in 1 pint of water) to comfort and soothe sunburn.
  2. Take a cool shower or bath to cool your sunburned skin.

Some natural bath therapies to soothe sunburn pain and other symptoms include

  1. Add one cup of apple cider vinegar to a bath to help balance the pH (acid or alkalinity) of sunburned skin, and promote healing.
  2. Soak in an oatmeal bath. This is especially helpful for itchy, sunburned skin.
  3. Add some lavender or chamomile essential oil to the bath to help relieve some of the stinging and pain.
  4. Add 2 cups of baking soda to the bath to help ease irritation and redness from sunburn.
  5. Avoid soap or perfumes in the bathwater as these can be drying on already dry and sunburned skin.

Essential oils, herbs, and natural products to relieve pain and other sunburn symptoms

  1. Essential oils such as lavender or Helichrysum can be applied in small amounts to the skin to soothe sunburn.
  2. Use lotions that contain aloe Vera to soothe and moisturize sunburnt skin. Some aloe products contain lidocaine, an anesthetic that can help relieve sunburn pain. Aloe Vera is also a good moisturizer for peeling skin.
  3. Apply freshly brewed tea after it has cooled to sunburned skin using a clean cloth. The tannic acid in black tea reportedly helps draw heat from sunburned skin, and aids in restoring the pH balance. Add mint to the tea for a more cooling effect.
  4. Apply teabags soaked in cold water to sunburned eyelids to soothe the burn and reduce inflammation.
  5. Witch hazel, when applied to the skin, can help reduce inflammation, and can help relieve sunburn.
  6. Apply petroleum jelly or Aquaphor ointment on sunburned lips to keep them moisturized.

Foods and vitamins to soothe and relieve sunburn pain

  1. Apply cool, not cold, milk with a clean cloth to your sunburned skin. The milk will create a protein film that helps ease sunburn discomfort.
  2. Like milk, yogurt applied to sunburned skin also can be soothing.
  3. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and can help decrease inflammation caused by sunburn. Use Vitamin E oil on the skin, or take a regular dose of the supplement. Vitamin E oil also can be rubbed onto peeling skin.
  4. Cucumbers have natural antioxidant and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. Chill cucumbers, then mash in a blender to create a paste and apply to affected sunburned areas including the face. Cucumber also can be soothing for peeling skin following a sunburn.
  5. Boil and mash peeled potatoes, let cool and apply as a dressing to sunburned areas. It is believed the starch in the potatoes helps draw out heat, which may reduce pain and speed healing.
  6. Cornstarch also can be mixed with water to form a paste that can be applied to the skin to help soothe the sunburn.

How to care for blisters and peeling from a severe sunburn

  1. If your skin is peeling following a bad sunburn, avoid picking at it or peeling it further.
  2. If you have blisters, this is a sign of a severe sunburn. It is best to cover them to prevent tearing and leave them alone until they heal.
  3. The best remedy against sunburn is prevention. Always use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, wear protective clothing and sunglasses, and avoid direct sun exposure.

Other tips for a bad sunburn (pictures of blisters from second-degree burns)

  1. Hydrate, drink a lot of water, juice, or sports drinks. Your skin is dry and dehydrated. Replacing lost body fluids will help your skin heal from sunburn more quickly.
  2. If you feel hot from your sunburn, keep your house cool. Turn down the A/C and use fans to help blow cool air over the skin.
  3. Go inside or in the shade, and stay out of the sun until your sunburn fades. Exposure to more sunlight will only make things worse.

How to choose a sunblock

Commercial preparations are available that block UV light, known as sunscreens or sunblocks. They have a sunburn protection factor (SPF) rating, based on the sunblock’s ability to suppress sunburn. Basically, the higher the SPF rating, the lower the amount of direct skin damage.

  • A sunscreen rated as SPF 10 blocks 90 percent of the sunburn-causing UVB radiation;
  • An SPF20 rated sunscreen blocks 95 percent.

Modern sunscreens contain filters for UVA radiation as well as UVB. Although UVA radiation does not cause sunburn, it does contribute to skin aging and an increased risk of skin cancer. Many sunscreens provide broad-spectrum protection, meaning that they protect against both UVA and UVB radiation.

Research has shown that the best protection is achieved by application 15-30 minutes before exposure, followed by one reapplication 15-30 minutes after exposure begins.

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