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Written by the doctors and editors at UpToDate
What is a sunburn? — A sunburn happens when the skin gets burned from invisible light called ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light comes from the sun and can cause a sunburn when a person is in the sun for too long. People can also get a sunburn on a cloudy day, because UV light can go through clouds.
Another way people can get a sunburn is from a tanning bed. Tanning beds use UV light to give people a tan.
Why should I avoid getting a sunburn? — It’s important to avoid getting a sunburn, because people who get a lot of sunburns have a higher chance of getting certain other problems. These include:
●Skin cancer – There are different types of skin cancer. Most skin cancers can be treated easily. But sunburn increases the risk of getting a serious type of skin cancer, called “melanoma.”
●Wrinkles and other skin changes that usually happen when people get older
●Eye problems called “cataracts” that can cause trouble seeing
What can increase my chance of getting a sunburn? — Your chance of getting a burn from the sun increases if you:
●Have pale skin and light-colored hair
●Are on a mountain or in a place that is closer to the sun
●Take certain medicines that can cause the skin to burn more easily
What are the symptoms of a sunburn? — Symptoms of a sunburn happen 3 to 5 hours after being in the sun and include:
●Redness – The redness is worst 12 to 24 hours after being in the sun and usually fades over 3 days.
●Skin that feels hot when touched
In some cases, sunburns can be severe. Severe sunburns can cause:
Can I treat a sunburn on my own? — You can treat a mild sunburn on your own by:
●Taking a pain-relieving medicine
●Applying cool compresses or soaks
●Using a lotion or spray made for treating sunburns – These products usually have aloe or a numbing medicine in them.
●Staying out of the sun until the redness and pain go away
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — You should call your doctor or nurse if you have a severe sunburn. Depending on your symptoms, he or she will tell you if you can treat your sunburn at home or if you need to see a doctor.
Can sunburns be prevented? — Yes. You can prevent sunburns by:
●Staying out of the sun in the middle of the day (from 10AM to 4PM), when the sun’s light is strongest
●Staying under a sun umbrella, tree, or other shady spot
●Wearing sunscreen – Put sunscreen on all parts of the body that are not covered by clothes. Then reapply sunscreen every 2 to 3 hours, or after you sweat or swim. It’s important to choose a sunscreen that:
•Has an SPF of 30 or greater – SPF is a number that tells you how well a sunscreen protects the skin from UV light.
•Protects against 2 types of UV light, called “UVA” and “UVB.” (Sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection are sometimes called “broad spectrum.”)
•Has not expired or is not more than 3 years old
●Wearing lip balm that has an SPF of 30 or greater
●Wearing sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, or long pants
●Not using tanning beds
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 25, 2016.