Sunburn is the term for red, sometimes swollen and painful skin. Sunburn can vary from mild to severe. The extent depends on your skin type and the amount of exposure to the sun. Sunburn is a serious risk factor for skin cancer and for sun damage.
First Degree Burn (Superficial Burn)
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Sunburn is caused by overexposure to UV rays from the sun.
Factors that increase your chance of sunburn include:
The symptoms of sunburn vary from person to person. You may not notice redness of the skin for several hours after the burn has begun. Peak redness will take 12-24 hours.
Symptoms can include:
A mild sunburn does not often require a visit to the doctor.
See your doctor if you have a severe burn or if your burn symptoms are not improving after a few days
Call if you have:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. For more severe cases of sun damage, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.
Treatment depends on the severity of the sunburn. The first and most important step in treatment involves getting out of the sun at the first sign of redness or tingling. Stay out of the sun until the skin is fully healed. This may take several weeks.
In addition, you can do the following:
To prevent sunburn, you must shield your skin from the sun's rays.
Keep in mind that water is not a good filter. You can become sunburned while swimming or snorkeling. You can also become sunburned during the winter and on cloudy or foggy days.
American Academy of Dermatology
Skin Cancer Foundation
Canadian Dermatology Association
Faurschou A, Wulf HC. Topical corticosteroids in the treatment of acute sunburn: a randomized, double-blind clinical trial. Arch Dermatol. 2008;144(5):620-4.
Han A, Maibach HI. Management of acute sunburn. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2004;5:39-47.
Oliveria SA, Saraiya M, et al. Sun exposure and risk of melanoma. Arch Dis Child. 2006;91:131-8.
Sies H, Stahl W. Nutritional protection against skin damage from sunlight. Annu Rev Nutr. 2004:24:173-200.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreens. Accessed October 20, 2014.
Sunscreens. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at:
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Accessed July 23, 2012.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 10/20/2014