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Signs and Symptoms of Sunburn

Many of us expose ourselves to the sun to relax, enjoy its warmth, and get a tan, only to end up looking like a red, burned lobster. There are many warnings about the damage the sun can cause, but many of us fail to take the precautions necessary to protect our skin and health.

The skin can react badly to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. It can burn, turn red, and become irritated after being exposed, especially after extended periods of time. Recent research has shown that more than one-third of all adults and nearly half of all adolescents report getting a sunburn over a one-year period (CDC, 2018).

Pain, irritation, and redness are signs that your skin has been sunburned. The sun can cause severe damage to the skin, premature aging, and even lead to skin cancers. Therefore, it is vitally important that we know and pay close attention to sunburn signs and symptoms.

Symptoms of Sunburn

Sunburn Symptoms

Sunburn Symptoms

Some individuals are at a greater risk for sunburn than others. The amount of time spent in the sun for sunburn to occur depends on the intensity of the sun, skin type, and length of exposure. Generally speaking, those with lighter skin may experience sunburn to a greater extent and far sooner than others. Location can also play a role. You are bound to experience damage from the sun at a much quicker rate in locations where the sun is more intense.

Independent of the individual, location, and intensity, acquiring sunburn is painful, irritating, and can lead to permanent skin damage. Severe sunburn can also lead to blisters and swelling. In some cases, fever, headaches, nausea, chills, and weakness can occur.

Sunburn can occur after as little as 10 minutes of being in the sun. Unfortunately, signs and symptoms often appear sometime after the skin has been damaged, and you may not be aware of the sunburn until after it has occurred. The discomfort, inflammation, and redness can show up hours later.

Generally speaking, the most common signs and symptoms of sunburn are:

  • Skin redness
  • Blistering
  • Pain and Tingling
  • Swelling
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Excessive thirst/Dehydration

Any part of your body that has been exposed to the sun for too long can be burned, including the scalp, lips, and earlobes. Even your eyes can be burned by the sun. When this happens, the eyes tend to feel dry and painful.

It’s important to remember that even if you cover a specific body area, it can still get burned. If you have clothing that has a loose weave or was not specifically designed to prevent exposure, the UV light will still pass through.

Signs and symptoms typically appear within hours after you are exposed to the sun, but it can take over 24 hours to realize burn severity. If the burn is mild to moderate, your body will often start to heal after a few days. The skin typically becomes itchy and begins peeling. This is your body’s way of getting rid of the cells the sun has damaged. When this happens, your skin will have irregular pattern and color as the new cells replace those that have peeled off. If extensive burning has occurred, it may take longer for your burned skin to heal.

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience:


  • Extensive blistering
  • Extreme pain
  • A fever
  • Headaches
  • Chills and confusion
  • Pain and inflammation that is not relieved within two days of at-home care
  • Pain and tenderness that increase
  • Increased swelling
  • Open blisters start showing pus (yellow drainage)

Sunburn is a serious matter that can lead to complicated conditions, skin damage, and disease. While many of us enjoy spending time in the sun, protecting skin from excessive sun exposure is extremely important. Leaving the home without any protection such as a hat, sunscreen, or sunglasses, especially during periods of the day when the sun is at its strongest, can lead to severe sunburn. If you do get sunburned, pay attention to your signs and symptoms and contact your doctor if you experience any signs of severe sunburn.