What Is Sunburn

Sunburn is a burn or reddening and swelling in your skin resulting from excessive exposure to the sun’s rays and damage to blood vessels. Sunburn may also occur from exposure to other UV light sources such as tanning devices.

At a cellular level, sunburn is associated with microscopic changes in the skin that can play an essential part in the body’s immune defense system.

Signs and Symptoms of Sunburn

These usually occur after 2 to 6 hours of exposure and peak at 12 to 24 hours, may include:

  • Erythema (redness)
  • Edema (swelling)
  • Tenderness and/or irritation
  • Skin feels hot to the touch
  • Pain
  • Blistering (severe cases)
  • Chills and fever (severe cases)

At about 4 to 7 days after exposure, skin may start to peel and flake off. In severe cases of sunburn, intense burning may result in second-degree burns, dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, secondary infection, shock, or even death.

Learn more about UV protection


The purpose of treatment is to provide relief of discomfort by the use of such things as analgesics (pain-killers), cool baths, aloe vera lotions, and moisturizers.

If you are inadvertently exposed and expect to be sunburned, you may lessen the severity of the burn with the following measures:

  • Take 2 aspirin immediately and then 2 more every 4 hours
  • Apply a topical steroid to exposed areas twice daily for 2 or 3 days
  • These measures will not prevent the damage from a sunburn, but can alleviate some of the more uncomfortable symptoms associated with burning

Prevention is better than the cure.
Sun protection is your best defense against sunburn and other damaging effects of UV radiation.

Learn about sun safety

Long-Term Penalties

It is now clear that the long-term consequences of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning devices are significant:

  • Development of skin cancer (melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma)
  • Brown spots and freckles (lentigos), also called liver spots or age spots
  • Development of premalignant lesions (solar keratoses)

Protecting Children From Sunburn

Children are very susceptible to sunburn. One blistering sunburn in childhood increases the likelihood of developing melanoma. Protecting the skin during childhood with appropriate sun protective behavior will establish a pattern for children to follow into adulthood.

  • During the summer, do not let children go outdoors without sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 30 or higher-even on cloudy days
  • Consider purchasing UV protective clothing
  • Make sure that your children stay out of the sun between 10AM and 4PM
  • Keep babies who are 6 months or younger out of the sun whenever possible

Please keep me informed.

Receive comprehensive, breaking news about melanoma, research, legislation, and events.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.