Sunburn

Definition

A sunburn is reddening of the skin that occurs after you are overexposed to the sun or other ultraviolet light.

Alternative Names

Solar erythema; Burn from the sun

Considerations

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 damage to skin cells is often permanent, which can have serious long-term effects, including skin cancer and early aging of the skin. By the time the skin starts to become painful and red, the damage has been done. Pain is worst between 6 to 48 hours after sun exposure.

Causes

Sunburn results when the amount of exposure to the sun or other ultraviolet light source exceeds the ability of 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:

Home Care

If you do get a sunburn:

Ways to prevent sunburn include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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:

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

The provider will perform a physical exam and look at your skin. You may be asked about your medical history and current symptoms, including:

References

Habif TP. Light-related diseases and disorders of pigmentation. In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 19.

Latha MS, Martis J, Shobha V, et al. Sunscreening agents: a review. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2013;6(1):16-26. PMID: 23320122 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23320122.

Lim HW, Hawk JLM. Photodermatologic disorders. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 87.



Review Date: 4/14/2017
Reviewed 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, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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