Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Sunburn
Sunlight can help our mental outlook and help us feel
healthier. For people who have arthritis, the sun's warmth can help relieve some of
their physical pain. Many people also think that a
suntan makes a person look young and healthy. But
sunlight can be harmful to the skin, causing immediate problems as well as
problems that may develop years later.
sunburn is skin damage from the sun's
ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most sunburns cause mild pain
and redness but affect only the outer layer of skin (first-degree burn). The red skin might hurt when you touch it. These sunburns are
mild and can usually be treated at home.
Skin that is red and
painful and that swells up and blisters may mean that deep skin layers and
nerve endings have been damaged (second-degree burn). This type of sunburn is usually more painful and takes longer to
Other problems that can be present along with sunburn
Long-term problems include:
skin type affects how easily you become sunburned.
People with fair or freckled skin, blond or red hair, and blue eyes usually
Although people with darker skin don't sunburn as easily, they can still get skin cancer. So it's important to use sun protection, no matter what your skin color is.
Your age also affects how your skin reacts to the sun. The skin
of children younger than 6 and adults older than 60 is more sensitive to
You may get a more severe sunburn depending on:
Preventive measures and home treatment are usually all that is
needed to prevent or treat a sunburn.
If you have any
health risks that may increase the seriousness of sun
exposure, you should avoid being in the sun from 10 in the morning to 4 in the
Check your symptoms to decide if and
when you should see a doctor.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Pain in adults and older children
If you're not sure if a fever is high, moderate, or mild,
think about these issues:
With a high fever:
With a moderate fever:
With a mild fever:
Severe dehydration means:
Moderate dehydration means:
Mild dehydration means:
You can get dehydrated when
you lose a lot of fluids because of problems like vomiting or fever.
Symptoms of dehydration can range from mild to severe. For
You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be
able to take care of this problem at home.
Symptoms of infection may
Severe dehydration means:
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The
problem probably will not get better without medical care.
Based on your answers, you need
Call911or other emergency services now.
Symptoms of heatstroke may
Heatstroke occurs when the body can't control its own
temperature and body temperature continues to rise.
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Many prescription and nonprescription medicines can cause the
skin to sunburn more easily. A few common examples are:
Symptoms of an allergic reaction may
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Home treatment measures may provide
some relief from a mild sunburn.
A sunburn can cause a mild fever and a headache. Lie down in a
cool, quiet room to relieve the headache. A headache may be caused by
dehydration, so drinking fluids may help. For more
information, see the topic
There is little you can do to
stop skin from peeling after a sunburn—it is part of the healing process.
Lotion may help relieve the itching.
Other home treatment measures, such as chamomile, may help relieve your sunburn
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Home treatment may help decrease
pain, prevent infection, and help the skin heal.
Watch for a skin infection while your
blister is healing. Signs of infection include:
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
Use the following tips to
protect your skin from the sun. You may decrease your chances of developing
skin cancer and help prevent wrinkles.
The best way to prevent a
sunburn is to avoid sun exposure.
Stay out of the midday sun (from
10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon), which is the strongest sunlight. Find
shade if you need to be outdoors. You can also calculate how much
ultraviolet (UV) exposure you are getting by using the
shadow rule: A shadow that is longer than you are means UV exposure is low; a
shadow that is shorter than you are means the UV exposure is high.
Other ways to protect yourself from the sun include wearing protective
clothing, such as:
start protecting your child from the sun when he or she is a baby.
If you can't avoid being in
the sun, use a sunscreen to help protect your skin while you are in the
Be sure to read the information on the sunscreen label about the SPF factor listed on the label and how much protection it gives your skin. Follow the directions on the label for applying the sunscreen so it is most effective in protecting your skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays.
Sunscreens labeled "water-resistant" are made to protect people while they are swimming or sweating. The label will say if the sunscreen will protect you for 40 minutes or 80 minutes.
Remember that skin that is healing from a sunburn is sensitive to more damage from the sun, so be sure to prevent more sunburn in those areas. The following tips about sunscreen will help you use it
Do not use tanning booths to get a tan. Artificial
tanning devices can cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin
cancer. If you want your skin to look tan, try a sunless tanning cream or spray that makes your skin look tan. And keep using sunscreen when you are in the sun.
For information on sun exposure and vitamin D, see Getting Enough Vitamin D.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerPatrice Burgess, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as ofMay 27, 2016
Current as of:
May 27, 2016
Patrice Burgess, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2016 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
I Want To...
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.