What is sunburn?

Sunburn is a normal reaction to sunlight.

To better understand the mechanism of sunburn we need to take a look at some basic principles of the light spectrum. The UV spectrum is divided into 3 brands. Two of those brands are UVA and UVB. These two wavelengths are worth noticing because they reach the Earth can have biologic activities on cells (UVC virtually no reach the Earth’s surface because it is absorbed by the Ozone layer).

The amount of light that hits your skin is called the erythema dose, and there is a level called the Minimal Erythema Dose (MED) that your skin can take without getting burn. When you spend too much time under the sun or don’t wear sun protective clothing, the erythema dose increases and eventually will cross the MED, leading to sunburn.

How common is sunburn?

This condition is very common. You can get sunburn from not only the sun but also from tanning beds or exposure to UV light sources.  It can affect patients at any age. People can also get a sunburn on a cloudy day, because UV light can go through clouds.

It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of sunburn?

Sunburn becomes evident at around 6 hours after exposure and is worst at 12-24 hours. The more you expose your skin to sun light, the sooner the symptoms will appear. Sunburn might look red and itchy. It can also form blister, causing pain for the person. Since you are under UV lights, you might also experience symptoms of heat stroke such as:

  • Chills;
  • Fever;
  • Nausea;
  • Tachycardia (irregular heart beat);
  • Hypotension.

These symptoms are able to last for as long as one or two-week in severe cases. Flaky, scaly layer of skin peeling off is common about a week after sunburn, even in areas that have no blister.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should call your doctor or nurse if you have a severe sunburn.

You should call your doctor or nurse if you have a severe sunburn. It is clear that frequent exposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer. One blistering sunburn is said to double the likelihood of developing  skin cancer. It might also destroyer your cataracts, causing loss of vision.


What causes sunburn?

Sunburn occurs when you are under UV light for a long time. After UV exposure, skin pigment undergoes two changes that cause the skin to darken.

Although both UVA and UVB can affect the skin, they can have different penetrative levels. UVB can penetrate the skin surface (epidermis) while UVA can penetrate deeper into the middle skin layer (dermis). This cause changes in skin structure and lead to skin problems such as wrinkles, dark spots, etc. together with sunburn.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Sunburn?

There are many risk factors for sunburn, your chance of getting a burn from the sun increases if you:

  • Have pale skin and light-colored hair;
  • Are on a mountain or in a place that is closer to the sun;
  • Take certain medicines that can cause the skin to burn more easily;
  • Use tanning beds.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is sunburn diagnosed?

Sunburn is easily diagnosed by their symptoms (redness, itching, blisters) and can be treated at home.

How is sunburn treated?

You can treat a mild sunburn on your own by:

  • Taking a pain-relieving medicine, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen or naproxen,
  • Applying cold compresses to your skin.
  • Taking a cool bath.
  • Using a lotion or spray made for treating sunburns – These products usually have menthol, camphor, aloe or a numbing medicine in them.
  • Staying out of the sun until the redness and pain go away.
  • Drink a lot of water.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage sunburn?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you prevent sunburn:

  • Avoid midday sun;
  • Seek shade;
  • Wear sun-protective clothing;
  • Apply a sunscreen;
  • Not using tanning beds.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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