Burning your skin from over-exposing it to the sun’s radiation is definitely to be avoided. The consequences are usually painful, there is absolutely no benefit to be gained from sunburn, sunburn is definitely not required in order to develop a tan – if anything sunburn will reduce the duration of any tan that does develop due to the increased shedding of your skin, and sunburn is one of the most significant factors in increasing your risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.


With sunburn, skin becomes red, tender and hot; touching or rubbing can often be very painful. The symptoms generally appear within 2–6 hours of exposure, and continue to develop for up to 3 days afterwards. In more severe cases, the skin may swell, blister, and even develop welts or a rash. Peeling of the skin often continues for several days.

Waiting for these symptoms to develop before taking action to avoid further sun exposure is a very bad idea: your skin will have already received way too much exposure and the resulting burn is likely to be severe.

The most severe cases of sunburn may also be accompanied by symptoms of severe dehydration (hypothermia) such as: fever, nausea, headaches, vomiting, chills, dizziness, a rapid pulse, rapid breathing, shock, or even loss of consciousness, and may require emergency medical treatment.


If you do develop sunburn, and the symptoms are only mild to moderate, then:

  • Consume plenty of drinks (not alcohol) to replenish lost fluids – but not too cold;
  • Apply dampened cloths or compresses to the affected areas to reduce the heat and lessen pain – but use tepid, not cold, water;
  • Take a cool shower or soak in a bath, but don’t use soap – soap can irritate the burn;
  • Gently pat the skin dry afterwards – don’t rub;
  • Apply a soothing cream or lotion – use one approved by a physician or pharmacist, because some preparations can trigger allergic reactions or retard healing by sealing off the skin from the air;
  • If blistering occurs, apply a bandage to help prevent infection;
  • If necessary, take a painkiller such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • Do not allow the affected areas of your skin to be exposed to the sun any further until fully healed.

If your symptoms are at all severe, including blistering, then you should seek medical help. While you are waiting, do not consume cold drinks – they could trigger chills – and do not use a cold compress: use only cool or tepid water instead.

The best treatment, however, is prevention: do not allow yourself to become sunburnt in the first place.

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