Sunburn - Causes, Signs and Home Remedies

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

Sunburn (Skyn Stories by Dr Meenu Sethi)
Sunburn (Skyn Stories by Dr Meenu Sethi)

Sunburn is the term used for reddening, irritation and in extreme cases, burning and peeling of the skin triggered by overexposure to the UV Rays of the sun.

When your body is exposed to the sun, it kicks off defense mechanism to fight UV rays. The defense mechanism is known as melanin, which acts as a natural sunscreen. Melanin is the dark pigment in the outer layer of the skin that gives your skin its normal color. It is produced by cells in our skin called melanocytes. Your body protects itself by accelerating the production of melanin during sun exposure. However, the amount of melanin produced depends on genetic factors. Some people do not produce enough melanin, which leads to burning of skin due to UV rays, eventually giving you swelling, redness and pain.

Sunburn signs and symptoms include:

  • Small fluid-filled blisters

  • Swelling

  • Itching, tenderness or pain

  • It feels warm or hot to touch the affected part

  • Visible redness or pinkness

You can even get sunburn on cloudy, hazy and cool days. Even glass protected buildings are not fully tenable as they are not efficient to stop UVA rays, which suppress the immune system and cause brown spots and wrinkles. Sunburns can also be caused due to sunlamps and tanning beds, as they both produce UV light. Repeated and intense sun exposure enhances your risk of skin damage and serious problems like skin cancers, rough spots, dark spots, wrinkles or dry skin. Any exposed area can get affected, including your lips, scalp, eyes and earlobes.

Risk factors for sunburn include:

  • Not protecting your skin when going out

  • Having a history

  • Involved in a field job

  • Taking medication that makes you prone to burn like Benadryl (diphenhydramine), and Phenergan (promethazine)

  • Having white skin


As the rays penetrate the superficial layers of the epidermis, the skin becomes swollen, sore, hot and red. Some of the other complications are-

Skin cancer- Intense sun exposure can damage the DNA of skin cells and increases the risk of skin cancer. It can affect people of any age group and develop primarily on the areas of the body most exposed to sunlight such as legs, arms, chest, neck, ears, lips, face and scalp.

Eye Damage - Too much exposure to the sun can burn your eyes and can damage the cornea, lens or retina. Sunburn of the cornea is known as snow blindness and sunburned eyes may feel painful or gritty.

Precancerous Skin Lesions - They are also known as actinic keratosis and can be evolved into skin cancer. They may be brown, tan or pink and appear as rough, scaly patches that have been damaged by the sun.

Aging - Sun exposure boosts the skin’s aging process and make you look older than you are. It can give birth to freckles, red veins on your cheeks, dry, rough skin and deep wrinkles.

Infections - Sun exposure makes you more vulnerable to bacterial infection. Visit a dermatologist if you notice any signs of oozing blisters, swelling, redness and pain.

Home Remedies - Do’s and Don’ts

Some do’s and don’ts of sunburn care to help calm the distress and perhaps even control the potentially serious damage.


  • Wear sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, and long-sleeved shirts.

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 before you head out and make sure you apply it at least 30 minutes before so that it gets completely observed.

  • Wear loose clothes as sunburn is skin wound and contact with any cloth will cause swelling and pain.

  • Drink plenty of water. When your skin burns, sun exposure and heat can cause fluid loss through your skin.

  • Use a moisturizer that has an aloe vera as it has anti-inflammatory properties. Don’t apply it on scabs, blisters and cuts as it will cause irritation and allergy-like symptoms.

  • Apply cold compress to relieve inflammation and reduce pain. Don’t use it directly to the skin, but use a towel to wrap the cold compress.


  • Go out in the sun at the peak time i.e 10 AM to 4 PM.

  • Panic if you get sunburn as most burns can easily be treated with OTC creams, moisturizers, and cool baths.

  • Just apply sunscreen to the face, but apply it to all the exposed parts of the body, including lips, ears, and eyes.

  • Go out until you are completely healed from sunburn as it will just worsen your problem.

  • Peel blister as sunburn skin usually peels naturally and peeling them off when they are not yet ripe can give you an infection.