Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD
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.
Sunburn is caused by overexposure to UV rays from the sun.
Factors that may 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:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. 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
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Last reviewed March 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
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