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Sunburn - Causes, Symptoms, Treatments And Home Remedies

Last Updated: Oct 04, 2019

What is Sunburn?

Skin is the largest organ in the body, exposed to the rays of the sun. The ultraviolet rays of the sun penetrate through the skin and help in the formation of melanin in skin. Melanin is the pigment that gives the dark tan to skin. The higher melanin amount in the body leads to darker skin. Exposure to the sun’s radiation also helps in the formation of vitamin D and warmth to the body.

When the body exposed to too much ultraviolet rays, it causes a condition called sunburn. Burn due to ultraviolet rays is also caused when the body gets exposed to other sources of ultraviolet rays like phototherapy lamps, arc lamps and tanning beds.

Almost people of all ages, race and sex can get them. The condition is prevalent during all seasons, even in winters when the radiation of the sun is low. People living towards the equator or at higher altitudes are at higher risk of suffering from the condition.

Lighter skinned people are at more risk than dark-skinned counterparts. Mild first-degree burns are caused due to sunburns. When the condition is serious, there may be dehydration, second-degree burns and infection. It results from exposure to the sun due to excessive outdoor activity. The ultraviolet rays can pass through the clothes and reach the skin. They can even reach the skin when the clothes are wet.

What are the signs and symptoms of a sunburn?

Sunburn is redness and pain in the skin. Usually, it appears when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays or artificial lights such as sunlamps for a longer period of time. The signs of sunburn include:

  • Pinkness or redness on the skin
  • Pain, itching, and gentleness
  • Swelling
  • Fluid blisters of small size
  • Headache, fever, nausea, and fatigue

The signs are seen after the few hours of exposure to the sun, but it takes a few days in which all the symptoms of sunburn are seen. If body parts like earlobes, lips, scalp and even the areas covered under the clothes are exposed to sun, it allows ultraviolet rays to penetrate through them, leading to skin burn.

Sunburn will increase symptoms of disease like herpes, eczema, dermatitis, and erythematosus. Severity can also cause melanoma, skin cancer, premature ageing, wrinkling of skin, dehydration, exhaustion and heatstroke.

What causes sunburn?

Ultraviolet solar radiation associated with skin ageing or photoaging related to ultraviolet B causes skinburn. If the skin is exposed too much under the sun then there are chances of sunburn.

How to diagnose a sunburn?

Physical examinations are conducted by the doctor and some of the questions are asked about if there is any medical history regarding sunburn. If a person develops it by spending too much time in the sunlight, then he/she is asked to have a photo testing.

In this test, a small patch of the patient’s skin is exposed to the limited amount of UVA and UVB light. If the skin reacts to UV rays, then the skin is considered sun-sensitive.


What is the best treatment for sunburn?

If a person is sunburned, it takes almost 2 weeks to get rid of it. The treatment only gives relief to the skin but the skin is not healed. During the treatment, relief is offered by reducing pain, swelling, and discomfort.

These are some of the best sunburn treatments:

  • Hydrocortisone cream: It helps to reduce itching.
  • Cold Showers: Taking cold baths or shower will help in relieving the pain.
  • Aloe Vera moisturiser: A moisturizer containing aloe vera can be used on the peeling skin.
  • Rehydrate: Drinking extra water also helps to reduce the impact.

The condition is not life-threatening, however, it can cause a lot of pain. First aid is given to patients who suffer from mild sunburn. When it is severe, doctors will prescribe steroidal drugs that can relieve pain and inflammation. Hospitalisation of patients is necessary when the symptoms are severe. There is also homoeopathy treatment for photodamaged skin and also Ayurveda treatment for sunburn.

Do sunburns turn into a tan?

Mild sunburn lasts for 3 days whereas moderate sunburn lasts for approx 5 days which comes along with skin peeling. If skin rashes are severe, it can last for more number of days and the person who is affected needs to go to the doctor.

When the skin is very much exposed to the sun or UV rays, the melanin gets active and protects the skin from being damaged. Due to which the skin of people becomes dark in color. Thus, if the skin is very much exposed to sunlight during sunburn, then it can even turn into a tan.

How long does it take for a sunburn to heal?

Sunburn is harmful to the skin and should be treated in the right manner so that it can be healed properly. If the conditions are serious, then there can be some risk factors involved in it. Thus, it is very important for the person to protect your skin from the UV rays.

What are the preventive measures from sunburn?

Prevention is possible by not exposing oneself to the harmful sun radiations, using sunscreens while venturing outside and wearing caps and sunglasses. All these preventive measures can help a person to avoid sunburn and also prevent further episodes if you have suffered from one in the past. These are the preventive measures for sunburn relief:

  • Avoid going out in the sun during peak hours 10 AM - 4 PM
  • Wear clothes which help to protect your skin from the UV rays or helps to block it
  • Sunglasses with UV protection must be worn
  • Apply sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher and reapply it within every 2 hours
  • Avoid going out on the hotter days

What are the home remedies for sunburn?

Some of the sunburn home remedies to get rid of sunburn are:

  • Taking pain relievers
  • Keeping the skin cool
  • Applying oil, lotion, or gel
  • Prevent dehydration
  • Do not touch small blister
  • Treat peeling skin gently
  • Coconut oil is the best for sunburn

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Written ByDr. Ganesh Avhad MD, DNB, FIDP, FILDermatology
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