Sunburn - Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Sunburn - Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

What Is Sunburn?

Tender, red skin and the irritating sensation... This is how sunburn feels and many of us have experienced it. Sunburn appears within a few hours after your body has been exposed to excessive and intense ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or artificial sources, such as sunlamps. Mild sunburns can be treated with home remedies and can take quite a few days to fade. Dry or wrinkled skin, dark spots, rough spots, and even skin cancers such as melanoma can be the consequences of repeated and serious sun exposure.

How Does Sunburn Look Like?

The look and the nature of sunburn that one suffers depend on the level of impact of the harmful UV rays on your skin. It also depends on your skin tone and skin type as they determine how easily you can get sunburned. First-degree sunburn impacts the outer layer of the skin only. It causes mild pain and redness. Acute sunburns can result in blisters, meaning that deeper layer of the skin and nerve endings may have been damaged. Long and untreated sunburn can even lead to dry, uneven, scaly lesions on the skin and the scalp.

What Causes Sunburn?

The primary reason behind sunburn is the overexposure of your skin to ultraviolet (UV) light. Exposure to both Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiations is associated with sunburn and in severe cases the development of skin cancer. What you see is the red and irritated skin but under the surface, UV light can even alter your DNA and cause premature ageing of your skin. Technically, sunburn is caused when your body cannot produce enough melanin, the dark pigment in the outer layer of skin (epidermis) responsible for your skin’s normal colour, and which is meant to protect us against the sun. Your body secretes extra melanin when you are unprotected from the sun in order to block the UV rays. This causes the sun tanning effect, which can be tackled using several homemade remedies for sun tan removal. But if sufficient melanin is not produced, the skin isn't able to defend itself well, and that causes the skin to burn.

Sunburn Signs And Symptoms

  1. The symptoms of sunburn differ from person to person and the intensity of the sun exposure. Sometimes, you may not immediately notice redness of the skin and it can take several hours to show traces of the burn on your skin.
  2. Mild sunburns simply lead to a slight redness and tenderness of the affected areas. Initially, the skin might even feel warm or hot to the touch.
  3. In case of serious sunburn, blistering can occur along with pain and an itchy sensation. The small fluid-filled blisters may break and cause severe discomfort. In another article, know more about the causes and preventions of blisters on feet.
  4. Often if the minor signs of sunburn are left untreated, it can trigger infections. There can be an increase in pain and swelling. Serious skin damage can be caused like yellow drainage (pus) from the open blister as well as red streaks leading away from the open blister.
  5. Sunburn isn’t limited to your skin. Earlobes, scalp, and lips, if exposed can suffer sunburn too. Your eyes are sensitive to UV rays too and can also be sunburned, resulting in a painful feeling.
  6. In extreme cases of sunburn, blisters might cover a large portion of the body, accompanied by a high fever, headache, pain, nausea or chills. Signs of dehydration such as dry mouth, thirst, reduced urination, dizziness, fatigue, low blood pressure, fainting are seen.
  7. The symptoms of sunburn can last for days while the skin repairs itself. The worse the burn, the longer it will take to heal. In case of milder burns, the damaged skin starts to naturally peel and fall off as the skin cures itself.

How Is Sunburn Diagnosed?

Minor sunburn can be identified by carefully observing the skin and doesn’t necessarily need a visit to the doctor. However, if the symptoms are extreme, it is essential to seek medical attention at the earliest. A physical assessment will be conducted by the doctor on the basis of the intensity of the sunburn and the patient’s medical history. If required, a person may be referred to a dermatologist as well.

How To Treat Sunburn?

Neglecting sunburn can result in skin damage and also increases the risk of skin cancer. Therefore, it is advised to follow certain measures, even in case of mild sunburn as it can help to ease the discomfort and make a great difference in the long run.

  • Dehydration can worsen the situation. So, drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.
  • In order to ease inflammation and get rid of the itching sensation, your doctor may recommend using an appropriate cream.
  • Let the blisters and dead skin fall off naturally. Do not try to pop them or peel off the skin. If a blister breaks, wash it externally with mild soap and water.
  • Keep the skin cool by taking cool water baths and steer clear of any more exposure to UV rays.
  • Use aloe vera gel as a moisturizer for skin.

Also Read :  Tips To Cure Sunburn (Infographic)

Home Remedies For Sunburn

How to get rid of sunburn? Mild sunburn can be treated at home. A sunburn treatment at home is the most convenient way to ensure damage control and get rid of the pain and itchy sensation.

1. Corn Starch/Baking Soda Paste

 Corn Starch


  • Cornstarch or baking soda
  • Cool water- as much as needed to form a paste

How To Make

  1. Add cool water to cornstarch or baking soda little by little and mix to form a paste
  2. Apply the paste gently over your burn and leave it until the heat or pain eases up.
  3. Rinse off properly with cool water.

2. Mint And Tea Bags


  • Boiling water- 4 cups
  • Green tea bags- 5
  • Fresh mint leaves- 3 cups

How To Make

  1. Add tea bags (after removing the strings) and mint leaves to a pan of boiling water.
  2. Take the pan off the flame and cover with a lid. Leave it approximately for an hour so.
  3. Strain the mixture and let it chill.
  4. Soak cotton pads or a clean soft cloth into the chilled solution and apply directly to the burned areas. You can also spray the solution or pour it over the burn as well.

3. DIY Sunburn Cream

DIY Sunburn Cream


  • Witch hazel- 1 tablespoon
  • Aloe vera gel- 1 teaspoon
  • Baking soda or cornstarch- 2 to 4 teaspoons
  • Fresh mint leaves- 1 to 2 cups or peppermint oil- 1 teaspoon
  • Water- 2 tablespoons

Also Read : Skincare Benefits Of Aloe Vera

How To Make

  1. Mix witch hazel and aloe vera gel with water and keep the mixture aside for 2 hours.
  2. Add the baking soda or cornstarch and roughly chopped fresh mint leaves to the mixture. You can use more water or more cornstarch to get the desired consistency of the cream.
  3. Store this mixture in a glass container and place the container in a cool and dark place for 24 hours to let the cream fully infuse
  4. Refrigerate the sunburn cream and apply it whenever you get any sunburn.

4. Yogurt To The Rescue


Fresh yogurt (unsweetened and unflavoured) - 1/2 cup

How To Make

  1. Using clean hands smear cool yogurt directly on the burn and let it sit for a minimum of 5 minutes.
  2. After the pain and redness subside, gently wash it off with cool or tepid water.

5. The Cool Off Trio

 The Cool Off Trio


  • Lemon juice- 1 tablespoon
  • Rose water- 1 tablespoon
  • Cucumber juice- 1 tablespoon

How To Make

  1. Blend all the ingredients together and refrigerate it for some time.
  2. Using cotton pads, apply to the chilled mixture on the affected areas.
  3. Leave it for 10 minutes and rinse off using cold water.

6. Cold Milk Compress


Chilled milk- a big bowl

How To Make

  1. Dip a clean washcloth in the chilled milk and let it saturate.
  2. Drain off the excess milk and press the cloth gently on the burn so that it stays in place.
  3. Leave it like this for some time and repeat the process.
  4. In case the milk becomes warm and nears room temperature, chill the milk before reapplying.

7. Papaya-Honey Mask

Papaya-Honey Mask


  • Papaya pulp- ½ cup
  • Honey- 1 tablespoon

How To Make

  1. Add honey to finely mashed papaya pulp and blend well.
  2. Apply the paste on your skin and leave it for 30 minutes as papaya have amazing benefits on face & skin.
  3. Wash with normal water.

How To Prevent Sunburn?

1. Watch The Timing

It would be impractical to stay indoors all the time. But try to avoid heavy sun exposure between 10AM-4PM during the day as sun's rays are strongest during these hours. If your schedule demands outdoor activities, seek shade when possible.

2. Choose The Right Clothes

Selecting the right fabric when you are outside can protect you from sunburn as sometimes indirect contact of UV rays with your skin can result in sunburn. Wear wide-brimmed hats and apparels that covers the maximum portion of your body, including your arms and legs.

3. Careful With The Tanning

Using tanning beds to attain a base tan can increase your risk of sunburn. Extended sun exposure to obtain natural tan can be detrimental to your skin as well.

Also Read : De-tanning 101: Everything Under The Indian Sun

4. Sunscreen Is A Must

Make sure you never leave your house into the sun without applying a water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 30 or greater and broad-spectrum protection formula. Use a generous amount of sunblock on the part of your body that won’t be covered by your clothes, 15 to 30 minutes prior to going outdoors.

5. Use Protective Gears When Outdoors

Make a habit of wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection as well as proper hats and scarves when exposed to the sun. Use proper UV certified sunglasses that fit close to your face and that have wraparound frames to block sunlight from all angles.

6. Check Your Medication

Certain drugs can make you more sensitive to sunlight. Discuss your medications with your doctor if you're sensitive to sunburn.

Tips To Choose Sunblock

In the market today, there is a wide range of readymade preventive formula available to protect your skin from the damaging rays of the sun. These commercial products, known as sunblock or sunscreen contain a set of ingredients formulated together in such a way that it acts as a shield on top of your skin. But, in order to select an effective sunblock, you need to keep certain factors in mind.

  • All sunblocks have a sunburn protection factor (SPF) rating that determines its ability to suppress sunburn. In simple words, the higher the SPF rating, the lower will be the impact of any direct skin damage. But remember, no sunscreen protects you completely. It is recommended to use a sunscreen that has SPF 30 or above for regular usage and SPF 50 or higher in case of extreme exposure to UV light.
  • Broad-spectrum protection: Sunscreens with this label guard against both UVA and UVB rays while others simply shield against UVB rays. UVA emissions not only cause severe sunburn but can also contribute to skin cancer and premature ageing. Make sure to get a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection as only tested and certified products can get the tag.
  • Another detail that you need to take care of is to check if your sunscreen is water resistant. Sunscreens are not waterproof or sweatproof and hence, water resistant does not mean waterproof. It simply means that the sunscreen will last for a certain amount of time while swimming or sweating. That is why it is necessary to reapply your sunscreen at least every 2 hours for extra precaution if you are swimming or in a very humid climate.
  • In order to achieve the best results while using any sunblock, always apply the product 15-30 minutes before exposure, followed by one reapplication 15-30 minutes later after the exposure begins.




Disclaimer: All the content on is solely for information. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified health care provider. The information, suggestion or remedies mentioned on this site are provided without warranty of any kind, whether express or implied.

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