HomeHealth A-ZSunburn: Causes, Symptoms, Home Remedies and Treatment

Sunburn: Causes, Symptoms, Home Remedies and Treatment


Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is a part of sunlight and manmade sources like tanning beds. UV rays are known to adversely affect the skin cells by damaging their DNA, depending on the amount of radiation you are exposed to. One visible effect of extreme exposure to UV rays is sunburn.

Home remedies can usually help provide relief from sunburn. However, sunburn can cause irreversible damage to the skin and raise the risk of skin cancer. Hence, it is critical to begin prompt and effective sunburn treatment.

What is a Sunburn?

Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes sunburn, which is defined by reddish, typically irritated, and painful skin. The severity of sunburn can range from mild to acute. The type of skin and the amount of sun exposure determine the severity of the burn.

Your chances of getting sunburned increase as you get closer to the equator. This is because the strength of UV radiation passing through the atmosphere changes. So, the greater the latitude, the lower the UV ray intensity and lower the exposure to it. 

What is the mechanism behind Sunburn?

Sun damage isn’t often obvious. Apart from causing sunburn, UV rays can modify your DNA beneath the surface, causing your skin to age prematurely. DNA damage can lead to skin malignancies, including  melanoma, over time.

Melanin acts as a barrier to this damage. Melanin is a dark pigment in the outer layer of the skin that gives the skin its normal color. When exposed to the sun, the skin produces melanin to protect the lowest layers of the skin from damage. 

Some people develop a deeper hue, or tan, as a result of excess melanin. Others turn a bright red color, which is an indication of sunburn. The redness of a sunburn is caused by the body’s response to the damage.

What are the Symptoms of Sunburn?

Sunburn symptoms are usually visible within a few hours of exposure to the sun. However, determining the severity of the sunburn may take a day or more. Sunburn symptoms differ from person to person.

The symptoms of sunburn can be mild to serious, based on:

  • Skin type
  • The time, duration, and location of exposure
  • Sun-sensitizing medications taken
  • Sunscreen applied 

Minor sunburns can make your skin red and cause pain. It usually takes around 12-24 hours for the redness to be very visible. Blisters can form in more serious cases. Extreme sunburns can be excruciatingly painful and require hospitalization. 

When to See a Doctor?

A mild sunburn heals within a few days. You may notice skin peeling, which indicates healing and rebuilding of skin.

However, visit your doctor if the sunburn causes blisters, acute swelling, infection, affects a major portion of your body, or if your condition doesn’t improve in a few days. Immediately reach out for medical help if you experience symptoms of severe burns such as fever and chills, nausea or vomiting, weakness, dizziness, or low blood pressure

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What are the Home Remedies for Sunburn?

Home remedies can help reduce redness, inflammation, itching and relieve discomfort. A few home remedies you can try, include:

  • Pain Relievers. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs can relieve sunburn swelling and body pain.  
  • Cold Compress. Place a cold compress or a clean towel dampened with cold water on your skin to reduce skin temperature and ease the pain. Or, take a cool water bath or soak in a bathtub of tepid, soap-free water to soothe the affected area. Avoid directly applying ice.
  • Creams or Gels. Apply a soothing cream or gel to heal the burn. Aloe vera gel or calamine lotion has soothing properties. Cut a small piece of an aloe plant and apply the gel straight to the skin for immediate soothing relief from minor sunburn. Or, choose a cream or gel that contains natural cooling ingredients. You can also apply a lotion approved by a doctor or pharmacist. 
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause headaches and fatigue. Drink plenty of water and other fluids to prevent dehydration. Avoid caffeine and alcohol. 
  • Wear loose clothing. It is advisable to wear loose clothes that do not stick to the skin. Opt for natural fibers, such as cotton or bamboo. 
  • Apply moisturizer. Skin starts peeling after a few days to shed the damaged and dry skin. It is important to keep the affected area moisturized to prevent excessive skin peeling. You can apply a scent and dye-free moisturizer to prevent skin irritation.
  • Avoid breaking blisters. If a blister does burst, gently clean it with water and mild soap. Later apply an antibiotic ointment to the wound and preferably leave them uncovered. Covering blisters with a tight bandage/gauze can lead to infection and discomfort. 
  • Avoid stepping out. Don’t go out in the sun to prevent re-exposure to UV rays. Protect your skin, and let it heal.

What is the treatment for sunburn?

You might not have to visit a doctor for a mild sunburn. However, if you notice any severe symptoms, you should see a doctor. Your doctor will assess your symptoms as well as your medical history and perform a physical examination. A dermatologist may be consulted in case of serious burns.

For severe symptoms, your doctor may recommend oral steroid medication. Steroids may assist to lower the risk of infection if blistering has developed. If you suffer from dehydration as a result of severe sunburn, you may need IV fluids to recover.


The best approach to avoid sunburn and other skin disorders is to avoid harmful sun rays. It is advisable to apply sunscreen before stepping out. Simple home remedies can help relieve sunburn. Avoid exposing your sunburn to even more UV radiation. See a doctor if you get blisters, have a fever, or show signs of dehydration as a result of a sunburn. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Who is at a higher risk of getting a sunburn?

Some factors that can increase your risk of sunburn include: working outdoors, living in a high altitude location, having light skin and red or blond hair, swimming, photosensitizing medications, regular exposure to artificial sunlight sources such as tanning beds, and more. 

What are the immediate signs of sunburn?

Some of the immediate signs of sunburn include:

  • Your skin will become red, dry, tender and warm.
  • You may feel pain on touching the skin.
  • Dehydration due to fluid loss. 
  • Your skin may itch, swell, blister, and peel. You might also get skin rashes.

How to prevent sunburn?

The best possible way to prevent sunburn is to avoid overexposure to the sun’s radiation. A few other tips are: sit in a shaded area, wear a cap/hat, use UV-blocking sunglasses, wear breathable fabric apparel, wear clothes that cover your hands and legs, avoid stepping out during extremely sunny hours, and wear sunscreen  20 mins before going out in sun and reapply it regularly. (Usually recommendation is every 4- 5 hours]

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