What Causes Sunburn

Being in direct sunlight for a prolonged period of time can result in sunburn, which is a painful burn caused by ultraviolet light on the surface of the skin. Ultraviolet light is broken down into two categories: UVA and UVB rays. Both can cause sunburn. Tanning beds have been designed to emit both of these rays and, therefore, can also cause sunburn.

The amount of time it takes to get a sunburn differs from person to person, though those with light colored or fair skin are often more susceptible to receiving burns on their skin from the suns rays. The reason for this is that their skin possesses less melanin; giving it both it’s lighter color and making it more likely to be burned after long period of sun exposure.

Avoiding & Protecting

Though sunburn is painful, completely avoiding exposing your skin to UV rays is a bad idea. In order to produce the needed quantity of Vitamin D, the human body requires sunlight. The key is not to overly-expose the skin to unnecessary amounts of UV rays.

The problem with this is that knowing how much is too much often requires experience sunburn in the first place. It will depend on the amount of melanin in an individual’s skin.

Sunburn, also know as sun poisoning, is not easily detected before the damage is already done. For the most part, the symptoms of sunburn do not begin to manifest until several hours after UV rays have burned the skin. The worst part of having sunburn will usually occur around twenty-four hours after the initial over-exposure.

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Symptoms of Sunburn

The symptoms of sunburn can vary depending on the severity of the burn. Mild sunburn, for example, is a first-degree burn, and will have less severe symptoms. A third-degree sunburn will be much more painful and will be accompanied by more symptoms.

Symptoms of minor sunburn can be as simple as irritation of the skin, manifesting in a reddish color. Though uncomfortable, sunburn of this degree is rarely overly painful.

Severe Burns

A more severe sunburn can cause blisters. These often appear as bubbled up skin filled with a water-like fluid. This is the body’s way of trying to remove the sun poising from the skin. When the blisters “pop” this fluid is removed. The skin beneath the blistered area will often be sore and irritated once exposed to the elements.

Severe sunburn can also cause the body to go into shock. The circulation of the blood to the body’s organs can be effected, causing this condition. Symptoms of this degree can cause death and should therefore be taken seriously. This severity of sunburn usually requires medical attention.

More Symptoms

Sunburn symptoms can also include; flu-like symptoms, chills, fever, nausea and vomiting. Due to the skin being exposed to massive amounts of sun, sunburn can also be accompanied by dehydration and an imbalance of electrolytes.

Due to the frequency of dehydration accompanying sunburn, many people also experience headaches when they are sunburned. If sunburn is severe enough to cause blisters; there is a risk of infection. Blisters should be cleaned with some sort of antiseptic to avoid such infections.


Losing Skin

Another symptom of sunburn is the loss of skin. Several days after being over exposed to UVA/UVB rays, skin often dries out and begins to peel. This skin will soon after come unattached from the remaining skin, exposing the under-layer of skin to the elements.

This new skin can sometimes feel tight and uncomfortable. In the worst types of sunburn this process can be painful. In lesser conditions, the process is usually little more than an annoyance. The skin peeling stage of sunburn can occur anywhere from four to eight days after the initial sun exposure.

Cures and Remedies for Sunburn

Though there are many remedies than can make sunburn heal quicker, there is no cure that will immediately do away with this condition. Most of the medicinal and natural remedies for sunburn are geared toward removing the stinging sensation from the skin and returning it to a more natural color.

One very popular remedy for sunburn is Aloe vera. Many over-the-counter products exist containing the juice of the Aloe vera plant. It can be found in a variety of gels and ointments. This plant juice helps to lubricate the skin, making the condition less painful.

Many say it also removes the pain of the burn. In addition to purchasing products made from Aloe vera, it is also possible to extract the juice from the plant its self and topically apply it to the skin. Bath products also exist containing extract from this plant. Some find that adding these to their bath water also gives the same effect.

Taking a Cool Bath

Many find that taking a cool bath can help remove much of the pain from having sunburn. Though cool water can be good for the skin in this condition, cold bath water should be avoided. In cases of extreme sunburn exposing the skin to cold water can cause the body to go into shock.

Cold temperatures restrict blood flow. If the body is already nearing shock, taking a cold-water bath can push it over the edge into a dangerous state. If you believe you are nearing such a condition, seek medical attention immediately.

While taking a cool bath, many find that adding vinegar to the water can help to remove the sting of sunburned skin. Others say that putting cooked oatmeal into the water is more soothing. Which of these works better is a matter of personal preference.

Packing the Damaged Skin

Packing the wounded skin with cooked oatmeal is another method to reduce the severity of sunburn. In order to do this properly it is important to wait until the oatmeal has cooled to add it to the skin. Putting it in the refrigerator can help to speed this process.

Once it has cooled, pack the skin and allow the oatmeal to dry in place. When you decide to remove the oatmeal poultice, take a cool shower. Once again, avoid cold water as if can cause shock.

Calamine Extract

Calamine extract is another herbal remedy for sunburn. Both lotions containing this plant and using the plant itself can remove the stinging sensation associated with sunburn. As far as herbal remedies go, one can also use the root of the plant colloquial called Touch-Me-Nots.

Potatoes can also come in handy when trying to cure sunburn. In order to do this you should first wash the potatoes well. Once they are cleaned, cut them into small pieces and blend them until they have been liquefied. After the potatoes have become fluid it is a good idea to add water if the substance is on the dry side. Pat this water and potato mixture onto the burned skin in order to decrease the pain of sunburn. Remember to wash off the residue in a cool shower after it has dried on the skin.


If sunburn is severe enough to require medical attention, a doctor may prescribe steroid medication to be taken orally. The patient will usually be told to take these pills for a time span of several days.

All individuals suffering from sunburn should pay special attention to amount of fluids they drink. Since dehydration often comes hand-in-hand with sunburn, drinking extra water can help to prevent side effects from worsening. This is especially important if the person suffering sunburn is experiencing nausea or vomiting.

When trying remedies for sunburn it is extremely important to avoid anything containing oil. Since a sunburn is an injury to the skin, the composition of the epidermis most be taken into consideration. Oils can block the pores, which can prevent air from reaching the wound. Though this may not sound like such a bad thing, trapping in the poison caused by prolonged exposure to the skin can cause infection of the injured areas.

Preventing Sunburn

Taking preventative measures to avoid sunburn is always a very good idea. Many suntan lotions exist for this reason and are relatively cheap. When looking to purchase an over-the-counter sunburn preventative it is important to find a product that blocks not only UVA but also UVB rays.

Suntan lotion exists in many levels. Each level is assigned a number. This number explains how much sun protection the product offers. Those with light skin or who are prone to receiving skin burns from the sun should consider suntan lotions with a higher level of SPF.

Exposed Skin

Before going out into the sun for a long period of time, apply suntan lotion to all areas of exposed skin. Some children find certain brands of suntan lotion of be greasy to the touch. Because of this, they often wipe the product off their skin. This should be avoided at all cost! If the suntan lotion is not allowed to sink into the skin it will not be able to protect it.

Many experts suggest that suntan lotion should be re-applied frequently if one is to remain in the sun for more than an hour. Re-applying the product once every one or two hours should greatly decrease chances of receiving sunburns.

Sunglasses and Hats

Sunglasses should be worn when in the sun. The eyes are also sensitive to sunburns and therefore should be covered from exposure. If eyes are sunburned, none of the aforementioned topical products should be used. Medical attention is necessary in these cases.

Some find that wearing a wide-brimmed hat can also help to shield the face. Due to the sensitivity of the skin around the eyes, this area is extremely important to protect. Suntan lotion, sunglasses, and a hat combined can help keep this area safe.

Signs Sunburn May Require Medical Attention

Though the average case of sunburn can be treated at home, certain symptoms should be paid special attention as they could denote the necessity of medical attention. Sunburn should be taken seriously and more severe symptoms could require that the sufferer seek emergency care. There a qualified medical professional can tell you which type of treatment will best fit the condition in question.

If the sunburn is causing severe pain, seek immediate medical attention. Some discomfort is to be expected, but if intense pain is experienced it could be a sign that third-degree burns have occurred even large blisters have yet to surface.


Severe blisters are another sign that the sunburned person may need a doctor’s care. A few small, blistered patches are usually not a reason for concern; however, if blisters larger than a dime occur, topical treatments stronger than over-the-counter products could be needed.


If the sunburn is accompanied by an extreme headache, fainting, confusion or diminished mental acuity medical attention should be sought immediately. Those suffering from prolonged nausea or prolonged vomiting will need a doctor’s care in order to avoid dehydration, which can require intravenous fluid delivery.

In instances of high-grade third-degree burns a doctor will likely transfer the patient to the burn unit where medical practitioners who are familiar with intensive damage to the skin can treat them.

Young Children

If the sunburn victim is a very young child, it is best to seek medical attention immediately. Since kids often have trouble communicating exactly how they, it is always better to err on the side of caution.

As is always the case with issues of medical concern, if an individual is unable to assess their physical condition, they should be taken the emergency room as soon as humanely possible. This can help to avoid making the situation worse and put the sufferer’s mind at ease.

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