What is a Sunburn?

A sunburn is a condition where your skin becomes red, inflamed and painful to touch. It is primarily caused because the skin is exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Sometimes, tanning beds with UV rays can also cause sunburns. Repeated exposure to such an environment can lead to skin cancer too. People with sensitive skin may be particularly prone to developing sunburns after spending a few hours in direct sunlight. In addition to skin-related symptoms, sunburns may also lead to fever, chills and general weakness. Check out this article for more information on sunburns and how to treat them.

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About Sunburn

When your skin is overexposed to the harmful sun rays, it can get red, swollen, and downright painful, causing sunburn. The condition can vary from mild to severe, depending on the duration it was exposed to the heat. Sunburn can pose a serious risk of skin cancer if left untreated.

The intensity of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation passing through our atmosphere tends to vary depending on the location. The higher the latitude, the lower is the intensity of these rays. Regions located near the equatorial region are at greater risk during the solar noon (when the sun is directly above you).

The more you are exposed to harmful UV radiations, the more are your chances of suffering from sunburn and various other skin infections. In this section, we have discussed in detail the sunburn causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention methods. Let us begin by understanding the sunburn symptoms.

Symptoms of Sunburn

The symptoms of sunburn can vary from individual to individual. Some people start noticing the sunburn effects on their skin after several hours. Most times, skin redness due to sunburn can take up to 12-24 hours to be visible.

When the sunburn symptoms are mild, you will observe slight redness and tenderness in the affected skin area. However, in extreme cases, there will be blisters on the skin. Extreme sunburn can be discomforting and might need immediate medical attention.


Additionally, people with severe sunburn can also experience other symptoms such as -


Sunburn can occur quickly (within 15 minutes of exposure to the sun), but the occurrence of its symptoms/harm is not that immediate. Redness and tenderness of the skin happen in less than 30 minutes, but often takes 2-6 hours of sun exposure. When the exposure is for more than 6 hours, the pain can be extreme. Sunburn can continue to harm the skin for the next 24-72 hours, followed by peeling of the skin in 3-8 days in some cases.

Causes of Sunburn

Sunburn on the skin or face is due to too much exposure to harmful UV rays. Our skin gets its normal colour from the melanin in its outer layer. When your body is exposed to the sun heat for a longer duration, the skin starts to produce melanin faster to protect itself. Production of extra melanin results in tanning. Suntan is your body’s way to protect itself from harmful UV rays. However, there’s a limit to this protection. Prolonged exposure to the sun heat causes sunburn.

Besides, other risk factors for sunburn are as follows:


  • Working outdoor during peak heat hours

  • Drinking alcohol leads to a rise in body temperature

  • Regular exposure to the UV rays without adequate protection gears

Intense and repeated exposure to the heat that leads to sunburn increases your risk of acquiring other skin infections. These include -


  • Premature ageing of the skin

  • Precancerous skin lesions

  • Skin cancer

  • Eye damage

Diagnosis of Sunburn

Mild sunburn cases do not usually require doctor visits. However, if the sunburn is severe and leads to other symptoms, it is essential to seek medical attention immediately. Your doctor will examine the affected area and ask about your travel history. In some cases, your doctor can recommend you to seek further treatment from a specialist in skin disorders or dermatologist for complete recovery.

Treatment for Sunburn

It is best to start treating sunburn as soon as it occurs. As sunburn can lead to permanent damage to the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer, it is best to start sunburn treatment immediately.

There are a few home remedies and over-the-counter pain relief treatment that you can do to relieve the pain and discomfort caused due to sunburn.


  • Pain relief: If sunburn on the skin is causing extreme pain and discomfort, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. It helps reduce the distress and redness/swelling of the skin.

  • Hydrocortisone cream: In case of sunburn on the face/skin, you can use hydrocortisone cream. It helps reduce inflammation and itchiness.

  • Rehydrate: Most cases of sunburn can lead to other summer diseases. Thus, it is best to drink plenty of water that helps the skin rehydrate.

  • Do not break small blisters: When severe sunburn cases lead to blisters on the skin, allow them to run their course. If these breaks, clean them gently with mild soap and water.

  • Skin peeling: Do not pick on the peeling skin and continue applying moisturiser.

  • Keep your body cool: Soak a cloth in cold water and apply it to the affected area. You can also take cool showers to keep the body temperature from rising. Ensure that you pat yourself dry after this.

  • Apply moisturiser: You can use aloe vera gel on the skin to soothe the pain caused due to sunburn.

  • Avoid exposure to the sun: Avoid getting out in the sun heat until you recover from the existing condition.

In the case of severe sunburn, doctors can recommend oral steroid therapy for several days. If sunburn has led to blisters, steroids may be withheld to avoid any further risk of infection. Moreover, if the patient is suffering from dehydration or heat stress, IV (intravenous) fluids will be given.

Prevention of Sunburn

Whether it is sunburn of skin or face, there are a few effective ways to minimise/avoid the suffering altogether. It includes -


  • Avoid exposure to sun heat during 11 am and 3 pm, especially during summer

  • Wear a sunblock with SPF 30 or higher, reapply after every 3-4 hours

  • Protect your eyes with sunglasses

  • Wear a hat and loose-fitted, light-coloured clothes in the hot season

You can also read about summer health tips to avoid sunburn and other summer-related health threats.


Sunburn is common during the summer season. However, leaving the condition untreated can lead to other skin diseases. This, in turn, can be very discomforting and painful to deal with. Ensure that you are taking adequate preventive measures to avoid suffering from sunburn and other summer-related diseases.


Besides, health issues can occur all around the year, in any season. Sometimes, the condition can get serious, leading to immediate hospitalisation. Having a health insurance plan during these crucial times is a boon. The policy helps cover the medical and hospitalisation expenses when and as needed.  

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