Sunburn is caused when skin is exposed to UV rays for too long. This happens from spending too much time in the sun or indoor tanning devices.
Things that may raise the risk of sunburn are:
Being in the sun
Using an indoor tanning device
Having light skin color
Taking certain medicines that increase sun sensitivity, such as antibiotics and diuretics
Living in a place that gets a lot of sun
Sunburns can vary from mild to severe. This depends on a person's skin type and how much time they were exposed. Symptoms may appear within a few hours of being exposed.
Problems may be:
Skin redness, warmth, or swelling
Tingling or painful skin
Fever or chills
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam may be done. It will focus on the skin. This is enough to make the diagnosis. Severe sunburns may need to be seen by a doctor who treats skin problems.
Treatment depends on how bad the sunburn is. The goal is to manage symptoms and heal the skin. Choices are:
Staying out of the sun while the skin heals
Supportive care, such as cool compresses
Medicines, such as:
Creams to put on the skin to ease symptoms and help with healing
To lower the risk of sunburn:
Avoid spending too much time in the sun.
Stay out of the sun during peak hours. This is between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm.
Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a hat with a broad brim.
Wear sunglasses that have 99% or 100% UV absorption.
Holman, D; Ding, H. Prevalence of sun protection use and sunburn and association of demographic and behaviorial characteristics with sunburn among US adults. JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(5):561-568.
Minor burns. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/minor-burns. Accessed January 5, 2021.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed January 5, 2021.
Last reviewed February 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/5/2021
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