Sunburn – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Sunlight is known to emit ultraviolet radiation (UV). Depending on the amount of radiation an individual is exposed to, UV rays negatively harm skin cells by destroying their DNA. Sunburn is one visible result of long-term UV radiation exposure.

Sunburn relief is mostly available from natural solutions. Sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer and can permanently harm the skin. The importance of starting fast and efficient sunburn treatment is essential.

What is sunburn? 

Sunburn is an inflammatory response to UV radiation damage to the top layers of skin. Melanin, the pigment that gives the skin colour and protects it from the sun’s rays, is the primary cause. 

Those with less melanin may have sunburn, commonly known as red, puffy and painful skin cells, from prolonged contact with the sun without protection. Sunburns can range in severity from minor to severe.

An excessive amount of ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause sunburn as the skin’s reaction. While UV radiation is invisible to the human eye, sunlight and heat are both observable. Even on cold, cloudy days, sunlight can harm the skin.

During sunburn, radiation damages the skin. In just 11 minutes after getting a sunburn, symptoms might start to show, and 2 to 6 hours after getting a sunburn, the skin can turn red. 

The effects of sunburn will continue to worsen for the next 24 to 72 hours, and depending on the severity, it can take days or weeks to subside.

Sunburn symptoms may aggravate with additional UV exposure. Home remedies for minor sunburns are available, but immediate medical assistance is needed for severe and blistering sunburns.

Sunburn mechanism 

Sun damage is not always visible. UV radiation can result in sunburn and alter the DNA on the skin’s surface, accelerating the skin’s ageing process. DNA damage has the potential to eventually cause skin cancers like melanoma.

This damage is resisted by melanin. The outermost layer of the skin contains a black pigment called melanin that gives the skin its natural colour. The skin makes melanin to shield the innermost layers of skin against damage when exposed to the sun.

An excess of melanin can cause some people to tan or have a darker skin tone. Some people have sunburn, as seen by their turning bright red. The redness is a result of the body’s reaction to the injury.

Sunburn risk factors 

  • The length of sun exposure.
  • Sun’s altitude (greatest exposure at midday, in midsummer and at the equator).
  • Risk increases when there is a lack of protective clothing or sunscreen. There’s a chance that light garments will burn through.
  • The risk increases with moist skin.
  • Type of ultraviolet radiation (UV)—UVB is stronger, but it is less common in sunrays than UVA.
  • The skin on the limbs is more resistant than the skin on the face, neck and torso. 
  • Environmental reflection, such as a rippling sea or white sand. When the temperature is below zero, snow and ice can cause sunburn.
  • Vitiligo and alopecia-affected areas are both flammable. Sunburn can hurt those who have albinism severely.
  • Congenital or acquired lighter skin pigmentation both play a role. Protection comes from having a suntan. The danger of burning is used to assess skin types from I through VI.
  • The atmosphere’s filtration impact has a bearing. While air pollution lowers it, the thinning ozone layer raises the risk.
  • Porphyria, systemic lupus erythematosus, and many other diseases and medications can cause photosensitivity. Due to faulty DNA repair, Xeroderma pigmentosum and other hereditary disorders can lead to sunburn even with little sun exposure.

Symptoms of a sunburn 

The most common signs of sunburn include the ones listed below. Each person may experience symptoms differently. Possible signs include,

  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Blisters
  • Skin swelling
  • Weakness or dizziness.
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Dry, itchy and peeling skin several days after the burn.

A person with severe sunburn may experience shock and dehydration. Fainting, low blood pressure and extreme weakness are the symptoms of this. If this transpires, immediate medical care is required. 

When redness and pain first occur, the damage has already been done. Pain is usually at its worst six to 48 hours following a burn. Although a sunburn’s symptoms may disappear quickly, the skin damage is irreversible. Some skin disorders may appear similar to sunburn symptoms. Talking to a medical professional is important.

Effect of sunburn 

Melanin is a pigment made by skin cells in the epidermis, the top layer of skin. More melanin production results from skin exposure to UV light, which tans the skin. The presence of a suntan indicates that UV radiation has harmed the skin. 

Tanning without burning can still harm the skin and lead to skin cancer and premature skin ageing. The genes in skin cells may suffer irreparable harm from UV exposure. A person can put themselves at greater risk of getting skin cancer by exposing the skin to UV rays regularly.

Sunburn treatment 

Sunburns usually recover on their own within two weeks. However, the following is advisable based on the extent and area of the sunburn.

  • Take a cool bath or gently use cool compresses against the skin to reduce the pain and heat that sunburn causes.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or aspirin (aspirin should never be given to children or teenagers due to the risk of Reye syndrome).
  • Use topical moisturising cream, aloe vera gel, or 1% hydrocortisone cream on the skin to assist in rehydration and help with swelling reduction.
  • Keep out of the sun until the sunburn has recovered. Sunburns will only get worse and hurt more with more exposure to the sun.
  • Consult a doctor as soon as possible if the sunburn is severe and blisters appear.
  • With sunburn, there isn’t a quick remedy. It requires time to heal, just like any burn. 
  • Using soap on burned skin should be avoided as it causes irritation. A doctor’s recommendation is required if anaesthetic sprays or creams are to be used.
  • The sunburn victim may need to be admitted to a burn unit at the hospital in severe cases with blistering and significant second-degree burns.
  • Similar treatments, such as steroid administration and hydration replenishment, are given to other burn victims.
  • The greatest recommendation for sunburn is to avoid sunlight completely.

Sunburn protection 

Use a combination of sun protection measures at the recommended times each day to avoid skin damage and sunburn.

To reduce the risk of skin damage and sunburn, combine five different sun protection methods.

  • Slip – Slip on sun-friendly clothing (make sure it covers as much skin as possible).
  • Slop – Spread broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen over the skin with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply 20 minutes before stepping out in the skin, then reapply every two hours.
  • Slap – Put on a hat that covers the ears, neck, face and head.
  • Seek – Find shade.
  • Slide – Put on the sunglasses.

Home remedies 

Natural remedies can treat redness, inflammation, itching, and discomfort at home. 

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs – Anti-inflammatory medicines sold over the counter can reduce the swelling and pain associated with sunburns.
  • Stay hydrated – Headaches and weariness are two effects of dehydration. To avoid dehydration, drink a lot of water and other liquids. Do not consume alcohol or caffeine.
  • Refrain from breaking blisters – Gently wash them with water and mild soap if a blister does break. After that, cover the wound with an antibiotic ointment, if possible.
  • Cold compress – Reduce body temperature and reduce discomfort by applying a cold compress or a clean towel wet with cold water. One can also numb the affected area by taking a cold-water bath or soaking in a tub of lukewarm, soap-free water. Keep ice away from the skin.
  • Creams and gels – Apply a soothing balm or gel to treat the burn. Soothing ingredients include calamine lotion and aloe vera gel. 
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes – It is best to dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothing. Use organic materials like cotton.
  • Use moisturiser – In a few days, the skin begins to peel off to get rid of the dry and damaged skin. Keep the affected region moisturised to avoid extensive skin peeling. To prevent skin irritation, use a moisturiser that is fragrance-free.


Sunburn is a type of radiation damage on the skin from the sun. Between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., stay out of the sun entirely (one can tell the sun’s rays are most intense when their shadow is shorter than the person’s).

While going out in the sun, wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, especially one that shields against UVA and UVB rays. Reapply at least every two hours and more frequently. Keep the skin protected to prevent sunburn and its effects.


How long does sunburn last? 

A mild sunburn will last for around three days. A moderate sunburn lasts for around five days and is frequently followed by skin peeling. An individual with severe sunburn may need to seek medical attention as it can continue for more than a week.

Does sunscreen prevent sunburn? 

By absorbing or reflecting UV radiation, sunscreen reduces suntan and protects against sunburn. The choice of quality sunscreen is important for skin protection. Choose a broad-spectrum sunblock with SPF 30 or more.

When should I go to the doctor for a sunburn? 

If there is a severe sunburn, see a doctor for treatment. High temperature, headache, extreme pain, damage, nausea, or chills may also be present in addition to sunburn.

What happens if you leave a sunburn untreated? 

Both short- and long-term consequences can result from untreated sunburns. Until the sunburn heals, a person will have discomfort, irritation, scorching, burning, and blistering in that area. Regarding the long-term effects, skin cancer, actinic keratosis, and melanoma are a few of the more severe disorders that sun exposure may lead to.


The Information including but not limited to text, graphics, images and other material contained on this blog are intended for education and awareness only. No material on this blog is intended to be a substitute for professional medical help including diagnosis or treatment. It is always advisable to consult medical professional before relying on the content. Neither the Author nor Star Health and Allied Insurance Co. Ltd accepts any responsibility for any potential risk to any visitor/reader.

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