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Sunburn

Definition

Sunburn is red and painful skin. It is due to being in exposed to too much sunlight or indoor tanning devices. Over time, it can raise the risk of skin damage and skin cancer.

First Degree Burn
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Causes

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.

Risk Factors

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

Symptoms

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
  • Blisters
  • Fever or chills
  • Weakness

Diagnosis

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

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:
    • Pain relievers
    • Creams to put on the skin to ease symptoms and help with healing

Prevention

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.
  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Use a protective lip balm.
  • Do not use indoor tanning devices.
RESOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology
https://www.aad.org

Skin Cancer Foundation
https://www.skincancer.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Dermatology Association
https://dermatology.ca

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

REFERENCES:

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