A sunburn is reddening of the skin that occurs after you are exposed to the sun or other ultraviolet light.
The first signs of a sunburn may not appear for a few hours. The full effect to your skin may not appear for 24 hours or longer. Possible symptoms include:
Symptoms of sunburn are usually temporary. But the skin damage is often permanent and can have serious long-term effects, including skin cancer. By the time the skin starts to become painful and red, the damage has been done. Pain is worst between 6 and 48 hours after sun exposure.
Sunburn results when the amount of exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light source exceeds the ability of the melanin to protect the skin. Melanin is the skin's protective coloring (pigment). Sunburn in a very light-skinned person may occur in less than 15 minutes of midday sun exposure, while a dark-skinned person may tolerate the same exposure for hours.
Keep in mind:
Factors that make sunburn more likely:
If you do get a sunburn:
Call a health care provider right away if you have a fever with sunburn. Also call if there are signs of shock, heat exhaustion, dehydration, or other serious reactions. These signs include:
The doctor will perform a physical exam and look at your skin. You may be asked questions about your medical history and current symptoms, including:
Sunburn is better prevented than treated. Ways to prevent sunburn include:
Solar erythema: Burn from the sun
Krakowski AC, Kaplan LA. Exposure to radiation from the sun. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: 2011:chap. 14.
Lim HW, Hawk JLM. Photodermatologic disorders. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 87.
Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial Team.
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