- Published on Friday, 25 October 2013 15:28
- Written by mayoclinic.com
Sunburn — red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch — usually appears within a few hours after sun exposure and may take several days or longer to fade.
Intense sun exposure that results in sunburn increases your risk of certain complications and related skin diseases. These include dry, wrinkled skin, liver spots, actinic keratoses, and skin cancer, including melanoma.
You can prevent sunburn and the related skin conditions by protecting your skin whenever you're outdoors, even on cloudy days. If you do get sunburn, several home remedies and treatments can relieve your pain and speed the healing of your skin.
Signs and symptoms of sunburn include:
- Pinkness or redness
- Skin that feels warm or hot to the touch
- Pain or tenderness
- Small fluid-filled blisters, which may break
- Headache, fever and fatigue if sunburn covers a large area
Any part of your body, including your earlobes, scalp and lips, can burn. Your eyes, which are extremely sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet light, also can burn. Sunburned eyes may feel painful or gritty.
Signs and symptoms of sunburn usually appear within a few hours after sun exposure. But it may take a day or longer to know the full extent and severity of sunburn.
Within a few days, your body starts to heal itself by "peeling" the top layer of damaged skin. After peeling, your skin may temporarily have an irregular color and pattern. Depending on the severity, it may take several days or longer for the sunburn to heal.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if the sunburn:
- Is blistering and covers a large portion of your body
- Is accompanied by a high fever, extreme pain, headache, confusion, nausea or chills
- Doesn't respond to at-home care within a few days
Also, seek medical care if you notice signs or symptoms of an infection. These include:
- Increasing pain and tenderness
- Increasing swelling
- Yellow drainage (pus) from an open blister
- Red streaks, leading away from the open blister, which may extend in a line upward along your arm or leg
Sunburns are caused by exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) light. UV radiation is a wavelength of sunlight in a range too short for the human eye to see. UV light is divided into three wavelength bands — ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet C (UVC). Only UVA and UVB rays reach the earth. Commercial tanning lamps and tanning beds also produce UV light and can cause sunburn.
When you're exposed to UV light, your skin accelerates its production of melanin. Melanin is the dark pigment in the epidermis that gives your skin its normal color. The extra melanin — produced to protect the skin's deeper layers — creates the darker color of a "tan." A suntan is actually your body's way of blocking the UV rays to prevent sunburn and other skin damage. But the protection only goes so far. The amount of melanin a person produces is determined genetically, and many people simply can't produce enough melanin to protect the skin well. Eventually, UV light causes the skin to burn, bringing pain, redness and swelling.
You can get sunburn on hazy or cloudy days. As much as 90 percent of UV rays pass through clouds. UV rays can also reflect off snow, ice, sand, water and other reflective surfaces, burning your skin as severely as direct sunlight.
People with fair skin are more likely to sunburn than are people with dark skin. That's because people with darker skin have more melanin, which offers some protection from sunburn but not from UV-induced skin damage.
Skin color is determined by the number, distribution and type of pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the skin. Dermatologists refer to the degrees of pigmentation in skin as skin types. Skin types range from very little pigment (type I) to very darkly pigmented (type VI). How easily you burn depends on your skin type and how light or dark your skin is.
|Classification of skin types|
|Skin type||Skin color||Reaction to sun exposure|
|Type I||Pale white skin||Always burns, never tans|
|Type II||White skin||Burns easily, tans minimally|
|Type III||White skin||Burns minimally, tans easily|
|Type IV||Light brown or olive skin||Burns minimally, tans easily|
|Type V||Brown skin||Rarely burns, tans easily and darkly|
|Type VI||Dark brown or black skin||Rarely burns, always tans, deeply pigmented|
Regardless of your skin type, the sun's energy penetrates deeply into the skin and damages DNA of skin cells. This damage may ultimately lead to skin cancer, including melanoma. Even people with type V or VI skin can develop skin cancer, often on the palms, fingers or other more lightly pigmented areas of their bodies.
In addition to skin type, living in a sunny or high-altitude climate increases your risk of sunburn. People who live in sunny, warm climates are exposed to more sunlight than are people who live in colder climates. In addition, living at higher elevations, where the sunlight is strongest, exposes you to more radiation and increases your chances of sunburn and skin damage.