Sunburn — red, painful skin that feels hot to the touch — usually appears within a few hours after too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunshine or artificial sources, such as sunlamps. Sunburn may take several days or longer to fade.

Intense, repeated sun exposure that results in sunburn increases your risk of other skin damage and certain diseases. These include dry or wrinkled skin, dark spots, rough spots, and skin cancers, such as melanoma.

You can prevent sunburn and related conditions by protecting your skin. This is especially important when you're outdoors, even on cool or cloudy days. If you are sunburned, you can try several home remedies and treatments to relieve pain and speed healing.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Sunburn signs and symptoms include:

  • Pinkness or redness
  • Skin that feels warm or hot to the touch
  • Pain, tenderness or itching
  • Swelling
  • Small fluid-filled blisters, which may break
  • Headache, fever, chills and fatigue if the sunburn is severe

Any exposed part of your body — including your earlobes, scalp and lips — can burn. Even covered areas can burn if, for example, your clothing has a loose weave that allows ultraviolet (UV) light through. Your eyes, which are extremely sensitive to the sun's UV 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 of your sunburn.

Within a few days, your body may start to heal itself by "peeling" the top layer of damaged skin. After peeling, your skin may temporarily have an irregular color and pattern. A bad sunburn may take several days or longer 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 two 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

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