Sunburn

Overview

Definition

Sunburn is red and painful skin. It is due to being in exposed to too much sunlight or indoor tanning devices. Over time, it can raise the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.

First Degree Burn
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Sunburn is caused when skin is exposed to UV rays for too long. This happens from spending too much time in the sun or indoor tanning devices.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of sunburn are:

  • Being in the sun
  • Using an indoor tanning device
  • Having light skin color
  • Taking certain medicines that increase sun sensitivity, such as antibiotics and diuretics
  • Living in a place that gets a lot of sun

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

Sunburns can vary from mild to severe. This depends on a person's skin type and how much time they were exposed. Symptoms may appear within a few hours of being exposed.

Problems may be:

  • Skin redness, warmth, or swelling
  • Tingling or painful skin
  • Blisters
  • Fever or chills
  • Weakness

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. It will focus on the skin. This is enough to make the diagnosis. Severe sunburns may need to be seen by a doctor who treats skin problems.

Treatments

Treatment

Treatment depends on how bad the sunburn is. The goal is to manage symptoms and heal the skin. Choices are:

  • Staying out of the sun while the skin heals
  • Supportive care, such as cool compresses
  • Medicines, such as:
    • Pain relievers
    • Creams to put on the skin to ease symptoms and help with healing

Prevention

To lower the risk of sunburn:

  • Avoid spending too much time in the sun.
  • Stay out of the sun during peak hours. This is between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.
  • Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat with a broad brim.
  • Wear sunglasses that have 99% or 100% UV absorption.
  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Use a protective lip balm.
  • Do not use indoor tanning devices.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Dermatology https://www.aad.org 

Skin Cancer Foundation https://www.skincancer.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Dermatology Association https://dermatology.ca 

Health Canada https://www.canada.ca 

References

Holman, D; Ding, H. Prevalence of sun protection use and sunburn and association of demographic and behaviorial characteristics with sunburn among US adults. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(5):561-568.

Minor burns. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/minor-burns. Accessed January 5, 2021.

Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed January 5, 2021.