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Sunburn- Prevention and Treatment

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This article deals with the prevention and treatment of sunburn. Read below to get more information about sunburn.

Written by

Dr. Karthika Rp

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nidhin Varghese

Published At November 7, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 27, 2024


Skin can burn when exposed to too much sunlight without proper protection. The skin receiving too much exposure to ultraviolet rays or UV will sometimes lead to chronic damage to the skin. Sunburn also promotes skin aging, which leads to skin cancer in many cases. An increased number of sunburns cause an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sunburn is treatable and preventable.

What Is Sunburn?

Sunburn is an inflammatory response that arises due to overexposure to ultraviolet or UV rays on the skin. Ultraviolet rays or UV radiation damage the epidermis's outermost layer of the skin, called the stratum corneum. Melanin is the pigment on natural skin to protect the skin from ultraviolet rays. In people with less melanin pigmentation, exposure to the sun for a prolonged time causes sunburn. Sunburn appears as a red, painful swelling on the skin. Sometimes sunburn causes skin blistering in severe cases. It is essential to treat sunburn as soon as it appears.

What Are the Various Etiology of Sunburn?

Too much exposure to sunlight or similar artificial light or source of ultraviolet rays causes sunburn. There are some contributing factors to sunburn; contributing factors of sunburn will increase the severity of sunburn.

The several contributing factors of sunburn are mentioned below:

  • Drugs: risk of sunburn is increased by certain medications, which include Tetracycline, especially Doxycycline, Thiazide diuretics, Fluoroquinolones, Sulfonamides, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, retinoids, and St. John's wort.

  • Increased ultraviolet rays during the mid-noon time, increased sun exposure with decreased cloud coverage, and higher altitudes.

  • Ozone depletion causes the increased penetration of ultraviolet rays in the sun.

  • Skin phototype, lesser the melanin pigment, the easier the sunburn.

  • Tanning is the darkening of the skin due to increased exposure to the sun. Tanning also increases the risk of sunburn.

  • Other additional factors include individuals with tanning lotions, sports persons engaged in physical activity in the sun, and overweight people who will likely get sunburn.

What Is the Risk of Sunburn?

Repeated sunburns will raise the risk. It is found that repeated ultraviolet rays suppress the tumor suppressor gene causing fewer chances of host repair mechanisms before cancer progression.

Other risk factors of sunburn are listed below:

  • Alteration in tumor suppressor gene.

  • Greater risk for skin cancer.

  • One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence increases the risk of melanoma in later life.

What Does a Sunburn Look Like?

Sunburn on physical examination appears with various degrees of redness, and the individual also experiences pain in proportion to the severity of sun exposure. The areas of the skin protected with clothes, masks, hats, and sunglasses remain unaffected. The skin on the touch will be warm, edematous, and pruritic in severe cases. Extreme cases present systemic symptoms, including nausea, fevers, and chills.

How to Prevent Sunburn?

Prevention of sunburn is easy to follow. Water-resistant sunscreen can be applied frequently during sunny times. Direct exposure to sunlight without protective measures should be avoided. A broad-spectrum sunscreen prevents the effects of sunscreen. It is also essential to protect children from sunburn by following specific guidelines.

Some of the approaches to protect children's skin from the sun's ultraviolet rays are mentioned below.

  • Always use broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor or SPF applied before an hour of sun exposure.

  • Water-resistant sunscreen products should be used.

  • Outdoors protect the children with long sleeves and long pants. Lightweight cotton clothing and sun protection factor-rated clothing and hats are advisable.

  • Keep the children in the shade as much as possible.

  • Beach umbrellas and other similar objects provide shade.

  • A hat with a wide brim is advised.

  • Cool the skin with a cool shower.

  • Apply sun protection factor or SPF-containing cream or spray.

  • Drink plenty of water.

  • Allow adequate healing for sunburnt skin.

  • Avoid tight clothes.

  • The application of ice packs or petroleum jelly to the affected area should be avoided.

  • Scratching or peeling burnt skin is also strictly avoided.

What Is the Treatment for Sunburn?

Sunburn will get on its own within a week. To avoid the occurrence of a severe form of sunburn, early treatment is necessary.

The various methods to treat sunburn are listed below.

  • Avoid sun to prevent skin from further damage.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs can be used for relieving pain.

  • Dehydration of the skin can be treated with the intake of plenty of water.

  • The topical application of aloe vera cream or hydrocortisone cream can be useful.

  • Skin soothing is obtained from cool colloidal oatmeal bathing.

  • In people with electrolyte imbalance, rehydration is indicated in a severe form of sunburn.

What Is the Differential Diagnosis of Sunburn?

Similar symptoms of sunburn are present in the following conditions. Comparison of symptoms will avoid misdiagnosis.

The various differential diagnosis of sunburn is listed below:

  • Autoimmune diseases include systemic lupus, erythematosus, and dermatomyositis.

  • Infections such as cellulitis.

  • Eurycephalus.

  • Neoplastic conditions include sezary syndrome.

  • Solar reaction on the skin consists of solar urticaria and phototoxic reactions.

  • Idiopathic diseases like pityriasis rubra pilaris.

  • Congenital disorders like ichthyosis.

  • Rosacea.

  • Acne.

  • Tasis dermatitis.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis.

What Is the Natural Remedy for Sunburn?

Avoiding sunburn is the best way to prevent the occurrence of sunburn and its effects. There are some natural ingredients available to relieve sunburn pain.

Some of the best natural remedies for sunburn pain are mentioned below:

  • Aloe vera contains aloin, an anti-inflammatory agent that helps in the healing of sunburn and protects the skin, and helps in skin hydration.

  • Coconut oil or jojoba oil helps in skin hydration.

  • Oatmeal, the colloidal oatmeal, has antioxidant properties. It reduces skin itching and improves skin dryness.

  • A cold shower and frequent cold shower helps in relieving pain that is associated with sunburn.

  • Plain yogurt helps to prevent sun damage with its healthy enzymes and probiotics.

  • Honey has antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, which improve healing.

  • Witch hazel or tea contains tannins which are used to reduce inflammation.

  • Cornstarch or baking soda will reduce the redness due to sunburn.

  • Hydration by drinking plenty of water.

  • Eat hydrating foods, which include grapes, watermelon, and oranges.


Sunburn occurs due to increased exposure to ultraviolet rays or UV rays. Sunburn is usually a benign condition that gets healed without any medical therapy. However, frequent sunburn will increase the risk of skin cancer. Patient education with protective measures for sunburn will decrease the risk. Proper skin care and skin hydration help to avoid sunburn. The routine application of sunscreen is highly vital in keeping sunburn and related conditions at bay. It should be noted that there is not a single premium sunscreen available. Instead, patients are requested to consult their respective health care professionals to understand their skin type and thus avail suitable sunscreens as necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions


How to Get Rid of Sunburn Quickly?

Sunburn takes some time to get healed completely. But some ways can help relieve symptoms and help in the healing process. These ways include:
- Taking a shower to cool down the skin.
- Applying lotion to help soothe the skin.
- Applying moisturizer. 


How Long Does Sunburns Take to Heal?

Mild sunburns often cause redness and pain, which can last for about three to five days. Severe sunburns may take longer to heal, about several weeks. The rate of healing depends majorly on genetics, but other factors like age and overall health also play an important role.


How to Treat Sunburn?

The treatment focuses mainly on easing pain, swelling, and discomfort. For severe sunburns, a healthcare professional may prescribe corticosteroid cream. Some home remedies include:
- Taking pain relievers.
- Applying moisturizer.
- Using cold water on the affected skin.
- Leave blisters alone.
 - Treat peeling skin gently.


Can Sunburns Fade Into a Tan?

After the sunburn heals, the affected area can be more tan than usual, but tanning is another form of skin damage. Tanning is caused by ultraviolet A radiation penetrating the skin's lower layers and triggering the melanocytes.


Can Sunburn Fade Away Overnight?

No. Even mild sunburn can not fade away overnight. The redness due to sunburn occurs after two to six hours of sun exposure, and it takes about two days to fade. However, cold compresses can help relieve symptoms of sunburn.


What Are the Best Products for Sunburn?

The best products that can help relieve sunburn symptoms include:
- Moisturizing cream.
- Aloe vera gel.
- Coconut oil.
- Thermal spring water.
- Hydrocortisone hand and body lotion.


What Are the Types of Sunburn?

There are two types of sunburn.
- First Degree Sunburn - This causes damage to the outer layer of skin. This type heals on its own in a few days.
- Second Degree Sunburn - This causes damage to the inner layer of the skin and blisters to appear. It requires medical attention and takes several weeks to heal.


Can Sunburn Get Worse Overnight?

Yes, as the ultraviolet (UV) damage to the skin continues after sun exposure. The immediate symptoms of sunburn include skin feeling hot, sore, and looking red. These often get worse 24 to 36 hours after sun exposure. Pain gets worse six to 48 hours after sunburn.


Why Are Sunburns Red and Hot?

Due to the ultraviolet radiation of the sun, the blood vessels of the skin dilate and increase blood flow and bring immune cells to the skin to clean up the mess. This causes redness, swelling, and hot and painful sensation.


What Are the Signs of Severe Sunburn?

The signs of severe sunburn include:
- Red, inflamed, and hot skin.
- Swelling and blistering of the skin.
- Fever.
- Chills.
- Headache, fatigue, and nausea.


Can Sunscreen Be Applied on Sunburn?

People with sunburn should avoid going out in the sun. But if it can not be avoided, sunscreen should be applied on the skin to avoid further damage and keep reapplying as long as they remain outside under the sun.
Dr. Nidhin Varghese
Dr. Nidhin Varghese



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