Sunburn is a severe cutaneal burning or inflammatory reaction of living tissue such as skin as a result of skin's overexposure to a harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) of sun and other light sources such as tanning bed, photography lamp and arc lamp.

Each one of us has suffered sunburn or will suffer at some point of time. Sunburn may be considered as a superficial or first-degree burn. Those visiting a beach, going for fishing, working in the yard or are simply out in the sun are most likely to get sunburn. The condition can be a disabling and a bit discomforting even as it is not life-threatening.

Skin's exposure to a little amount of UV often results in suntan. Mild symptom may be apparent in form of redness of skin. The red area turns hot to touch and causes general fatigue and little bit of dizziness. The overexposure to UV-radiation may prove to be fatal as it increases the risk of skin cancer.

Though the use of sunscreen can help prevent sunburn, its effectiveness in prevention of malignant melanoma is yet to be established. Rather some scientists believe it to be counterproductive in this regard.

The first and foremost requirement to prevent harmful effects of UV exposure is to cover your skin with clothing (and hats). A little bit of sun tanning (not burning) can be helpful in prevention of sunburn because it enhances skin's melanin that naturally resists the reaction caused by overexposure.

Sunburn Causes

Sunburn is literally an inflammation of skin in response to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Injury may begin within half an hour after exposure.

UVA and UVB are two different wavelengths in the spectrum of light. UVB cause more damage to the skin, resulting in skin cancer.

UVA and UVB rays may not just result in sunburn but also lead to photoaging (untimely aging of skin and development of wrinkles).

A visit to the southern United States, regions near equator and areas of high altitudes may give rise to the chances of sunburn injury.

Individuals with light colored skin and fair hair are prone to sunburn.

Those who were recently exposed to sun's ray or had previously received skin injury are more likely to receive sunburn injury even while moderately being exposed to the sun. However, moderate exposure to ultraviolate radiation may be helpful for the body as it produces vitamin D in the skin.

Sunburn Symptoms

Mild cases of sunburn usually cause little bit of redness and irritation in the skin.

Untreated sunburn or extreme exposure to sun may adversely affect circulation to vital organs of body and may lead to death. Too much of exposure can also be painful.

Skin's color initially turns red, causing irritation, about 2 to 6 hours after exposure. The effects reach at their peak when exposed to UV at 12-24 hours.

Edema, itching, peeling of skin, chills, fever, nausea or vomiting, skin's rash and flu like feeling are the other symptoms of sunburn. You may also experience skin loss about a week after exposure.

When to seek medical advice?

See a doctor if you feel that your sunburn is severe. In order to evaluate severity of your condition your doctor may ask you about other significant health problems, if any. Accordingly the doctor can go ahead with treatment.

You must call your doctor of go to hospital's emergency department in case of following:

Severe pain

Severe blistering



Nausea or vomiting


Worsening of condition with another medical problem

Exams and Tests

After obtaining a medical history your doctor may conduct physical examination to assess severity of your condition. For people with several other medical problems, the doctor may feel the need of conducting certain laboratory tests to determine the severity of sunburn injury.

Sunburn Relief

Immediate self-care measures are aimed at preventing the harmful the UV radiation. Following are some self-care tips:

Avoid exposure to sun as much as possible.

Cover area of skin, which are likely to come under direct exposure. This is one of the useful method to get rid of sunburn.

Keep yourself away from the tanning bed.

Immediate medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen can be beneficial.

In case you have mild sunburn, you can apply cool compresses of equal amount of milk and water.

Take cool (not ice bath) baths. Don't use bath salts, oils, and perfumes considering their sensitivity reactions. This is one of the effective home remedies for sunburn.

Don't scrub or shave the skin. Gently dry your skin with the use of soft towels without running the skin surface.

Apply a light skin scent-free moisturizer.

Avoid application of lotions containing topical anesthetic medications considering possible allergic reactions.

Sunburn Treatment

Apply Silver Sulfadiazine (1% cream, Thermazene) to the affected area of skin.In case you have mild sunburn, your doctor may simply advice you to take plenty of fluids. Your doctor may also prescribe aspirin, or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).

You may also be advised topical measures like cool compresses, soaks with Burow solution. Your doctor may also advice you to apply a high quality moisturizing creams and lotions.

If you have severe sunburn, your doctor may prescribe oral steroid therapy (cortisonelike medications). This treatment may continue for several days.

In some severe cases some high potency painkillers may be prescribed.

In case sun exposure caused development of blistering, your doctor may advice towithhold steroids so as to avoid chance of infection.

If exposure to sun leads to dehydration or heat stress,

you may be given IV fluids will be given.

People with severe sunburn injury may be transferred to the hospital's burn unit.