Health Guide


What is it?

Sunburn is when your skin is injured by ultraviolet (UV) light and causes a burn. The sun and tanning beds are sources of UV light. If your skin is light or fair in color you can get sunburn easier. Even people with darker colored skin can get sunburned. Depending on how bad your sunburn is, it usually takes from 3 days to 3 weeks to get better. Being in the sun too much can cause early aging of the skin (wrinkles and brown spots). Getting sunburned over and over again can increase your risk of getting skin cancer.


Sunburn is caused by being in the sun or under a sun lamp too long. Midday sun is the most damaging. You can even get sunburned on cloudy days. You can also get sunburned from sunlight that shines off snow, water, sand, or bright clothing. Some medicines can cause you to sunburn faster or to get sick from too much sun.

Signs and Symptoms:

Sunburn may make your skin reddened and hot to the touch. Badly sunburned skin may swell or blister. You may also have chills, fever, headache, and feel dizzy. If you have a bad sunburn, you may get an upset stomach, vomit (throw up) and be dehydrated (very thirsty). If your eyes were not protected with sunglasses that block UV light, they may be itchy and hurt.

Wellness Recommendations:

To keep from getting sunburned, use sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more. Put it on your skin 30 minutes before you go outside. Put more on every two hours when you are out in the sun. If you are swimming, put more on each time you get out of the water. If you burn easily, wear loose thin shirts with long sleeves, pants, a hat, and shoes. Try to stay out of the sun between noon and 3 pm.

Medical Care:

Get out of the sun or go inside right away. Gently put cool wet towels on the burn or take a cool water bath. Gently put cold cream or baby lotion on the skin. When you are sunburned, you can lose a lot of water from your body. To help this loss of water, drink 6 to 8 (soda-pop can size) glasses of fluid, like water or fruit juice each day. You may need medicine to lessen the pain, swelling, or fever caused by the burn. You can buy acetaminophen or ibuprofen over-the-counter at drug or grocery stores.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.



      Do's and Don'ts

      Do the following to keep from getting sunburned:

      • Stay in the sun for only short periods of time until you build up a tan. Start with 15 or 20 minutes a day and increase by 5 minutes a day. You can get sunburned even on cloudy days.
      • Wear a hat and clothing that covers your skin. Wear sunglasses with ultraviolet (UV) protection. Try not to wear bright colored clothing on sunny days. These reflect light onto your face.
      • Put sunscreen on 30 to 60 minutes before going outside. Reapply it 3 to 4 hours after swimming or sweating. Suntan lotions and oils do not protect against sunburn unless the label has a SPF number of 15 or higher.
      • Do not use tanning machines. Over time, these may increase your risk of skin cancer. If you use them, cover your eyes. Closing your eyes or wearing regular sunglasses or cotton eye patches will not keep the sun lamps from injuring your eyes.
      • Some medicines can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight and burn easily. Ask your caregiver about the effects of any medications you are taking regularly.
      • For children with short hair, put sunscreen on the tips of their ears. Do not forget to put it on the back of the neck, end of the nose, back of the knees, over the shin, and ankles and feet.

      Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

      Talk to your caregiver if:

      • You would like medicine to treat sunburn.
      • Your pain lasts more than 48 hours.
      • You start vomiting (throwing up) or have diarrhea.
      • There are signs of infection from the burn (pus coming from it or red streaks on the skin).
      • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
      • You have questions about what you have read in this document.


      • You have eye pain or light bothers your eyes.
      • You feel confused, dizzy, or are very weak.

      Care Agreement:

      You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


      1. Eberlein-Konig B, Placzek M & Przybilla B: Protective effect against sunburn of combined systemic ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and d-alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E). J Am Acad Dermatol 1998; 38(1):45-48.

      2 . Hughes-Formella BJ, Bohnsack K, Rippke F et al: Anti-inflammatory effect of Hamamelis lotion in a UVB erythema test. Dermatology 1998; 196:316-322.

      3. Mathews-Roth MM, Pathak UA & Fitzpatrick TB et al: B-carotene as an oral photoprotective agent in erythropoietic protoporphyria. JAMA 1974; 228:1004-1008.

      Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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