While spending time outdoors is a great way to spend your days, it also puts you at risk of sunburn. You can even get a sunburn in the shade. No matter how you get one, it’s never a pleasant experience to deal with afterward.
But how long does a sunburn last?
When you get a sunburn, you might not see any redness for the first two to six hours, and your sunburn might not fully develop until up to a day later. In most cases, the redness will fade over a few days.
Most sunburns start to fade within a few days. But really, it depends on how bad your sunburn is. Mild sunburns might last for a few days, while the most severe sunburns can take weeks or months to heal.
Having fun in the sun should be something you look forward to, not a painful experience. Keep reading to learn more about sunburns, how long you can expect them to last, and how to prevent them.
- How Long Do Sunburns Last?
- Healing Based on Sunburn Levels
- Sunburn Risk Factors
- How to Prevent a Sunburn
- How Do You Heal a Sunburn?
How Long Do Sunburns Last?
The answer to “how long does a sunburn last?” isn’t as straightforward as a single answer. Generally speaking, a mild sunburn lasts about three to five days.
However, for some people, it’ll be less, and for others, it will be longer. There are a variety of factors that can contribute to how long your sunburn lasts.
Healing Based on Sunburn Levels
How long does it take a sunburn to heal? It depends.
There are three general categories of sunburn levels. Mild sunburns or first-degree burns are the least harmful, while second-degree or moderate sunburns require more attention. Severe or third-degree burns require immediate medical care and have long-term impacts.
Below we’ll go into a bit more detail about the severity levels of sunburns and what you can expect.
You can develop a mild sunburn after just a few minutes to an hour in the sun. Although you may have some discomfort, redness, and warmth in the area, it should fade within a week as your skin heals.
Moderate sunburns cause blisters and swelling. They are also more painful and take longer to heal than mild sunburns.
It could take up to two weeks for your skin to heal, and you may need to see your doctor to treat your skin or alleviate your discomfort.
How can you tell if you have a moderate sunburn? Your sunburned skin will likely feel painful when you touch it. Also, depending on your skin tone, you may notice that your skin is red, not pink.
Severe sunburns require immediate medical care. Symptoms include blisters, skin discoloration, shedding, blisters, and fever. Severe sunburns can take months to recover from.
Sunburn Risk Factors
While anyone can get sunburned, there are certain risk factors that can make some individuals more susceptible than others, including:
Do you have a lighter or darker skin tone? If you have fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blonde hair, you are more likely to sunburn more quickly than those with darker skin. This has to do with the amount of melanin in your skin.
Melanin is a pigment that helps protect your skin from UV radiation. Unfortunately, people with fair skin have less natural protection. Therefore, it’s important to take extra precautions, such as avoiding too much time in the sun and wearing sunscreen with a high SPF.
Other factors impacting your risk of sunburn include the following:
- Personal history of skin cancer
- Family history of skin cancer
- Irregular moles or large moles
- Burn first before tanning
Climate also affects whether you’re likely to get a sunburn. You may wonder which climate has the highest rates of sunburn. High altitudes and regions near the equator have higher levels of UV exposure. Therefore, you are more likely to get sunburned if you visit these locations.
Reflective surfaces that increase your likelihood of a sunburn include water and snow. Therefore, you can get a sunburn while skiing in Colorado as easily as if you go scuba diving in the tropics.
Medical Conditions & Medications
Some medical conditions put you at a greater risk of sunburn. You might want to talk to your parents and other family members about whether you have a family history of skin cancer. If you have had skin cancer in the past, a sunburn may put your health in jeopardy.
If you take medication regularly, ask your doctor if it makes you more sensitive to UV radiation. Medications may increase your risk of getting sunburned, including antifungals and antibiotics.
If you take those medications, you should avoid spending too much time in the sun and protect your skin against sunburn.
How to Prevent a Sunburn
While there are remedies for sunburns, prevention is the best strategy to avoid complications.
Not wearing sunscreen? It's just a bad idea. Sunscreen can protect your skin and help prevent sun damage.
You should wear sunscreen every day—even when it’s cloudy.
While light, flowy clothing looks great and keeps you comfortable in warm environments; it won't do much to protect you from UV radiation as well as other options. In fact, dark colors will protect your skin more effectively than light colors.
For example, a long sleeve denim shirt provides more protection than a white T-shirt.
You also want to cover as much of your skin as possible. Consider wearing a hat wide enough to shield your neck, ears, face, and head. And don't forget about your eyes. Choose sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays.
Avoid the Sun
You may want to spend the whole day at the beach, but if you want to protect your skin, avoid the strongest UV rays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The closer you get to sundown, the weaker the sun's rays become.
However, you can still get a sunburn when the sun is low in the sky. So, protect yourself no matter what time you step out during the day.
If you still happen to get a sunburn despite trying to adhere to these tips, there are ways to help your skin heal faster and feel better sooner. Ask your doctor before using any over-the-counter oral and topical sunburn medication.
How Do You Heal a Sunburn?
The best sunburn remedy depends on the severity of the burn. If you have a severe burn, seek medical attention and avoid putting anything on your skin prior to talking to your doctor. For mild to moderate sunburns, you can stay hydrated and apply topical treatments to soothe a healing sunburn.
You might be eager to figure out how to get rid of a sunburn in five minutes. However, most remedies take a bit longer.
Peeling and Swelling Remedies
If your sunburn results in red, itchy, and swollen skin, you're likely to want relief fast. As the burn heals, your skin may begin to peel. Here are a few home remedies that can alleviate you're discomfort:
- Apply cool compresses to your sunburned skin.
- Use products with aloe vera designed to cool the skin. Note that aloe vera may also help decrease swelling since it has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Avoid sunlight to prevent further damage.
Drink up! Sunburnt skin is dehydrated. Drink as much water as you can to help your skin recover. It's especially important to keep aging skin hydrated to make it easier to heal after a sunburn.
There are many examples of topical treatments that help your sunburn heal more quickly. These include hydrocortisone cream, moisturizing creams, and pain relievers you can get over the counter.
Hydrating creams soothe dry skin associated with sunburns, while hydrocortisone cream can decrease itchiness and swelling.
In some cases, you may want to ask your doctor about what pain relievers you can take to reduce your discomfort.
Protect Your Skin from Sunburn
Prevention is always the best cure when it comes to sunburns. Protect your skin by wearing protective clothing, such as hats and long-sleeved shirts, and by using sunscreen with at least SPF 30. Try Colorescience mineral sunscreen, which provides broad-spectrum protection while also nourishing your skin.
"Most sunburns will lose their associated pain and red tone in three to five days. But if you have a more severe, blistering burn, this could last up to 10 days," Dr. Klein said. Pain from a sunburn usually starts within two to six hours of sun overexposure and peaks at about 24 hours.How can I get rid of my sunburn fast? ›
- Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. ...
- Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. ...
- Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.
- Drink extra water.
Mild sunburns are a light red, not noticeably swollen, and not particularly uncomfortable or sore. They can heal within three days or less, and they often will turn into a tan, especially if you follow the advice a little lower down.Can a sunburn go away in 2 days? ›
How Long Do Sunburns Take to Fade? If you have a mild sunburn, you'll notice redness about two to six hours after sun exposure. The redness will fade in about two days. The more severe your sunburn, the longer it will take to for the redness to subside.When is sunburn the worst? ›
It is typically at its worst at 24 to 36 hours after sun exposure and resolves in 3 to 5 days. Ultraviolet rays can also initially cause invisible damage to the skin. Excessive and/or multiple sunburns cause premature aging of the skin and lead to skin cancer.How long does sunburn sting for? ›
Sunburn pain in general lasts anywhere from one to three days, but more severe burns can sting for longer. Over-the-counter pain relievers and proper sunburn care can help you reduce this pain. Also, be sure not to pick at your skin. You might be tempted to touch blisters or peeling skin.What are the stages of sunburn? ›
- Stage One: The Burn. You knew you were going to spend the day outside, or maybe you didn't. ...
- Stage Two: Inflammation. After the actually burn occurs, the epidermis reacts to the damage by swelling. ...
- Stage Three: Blister and Peel. ...
- Stage Four: Never Again.
Apply distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar to your skin with a cotton ball, or put some in a spray bottle and spray it on your body every few hours. For a severe, full-body sunburn, oatmeal is a lifesaver.What does mild sunburn look like? ›
Mild sunburns usually come with redness and some pain, which can last anywhere from three to five days. Your skin may also peel a bit toward the last couple of days as your skin regenerates.What does a bad sunburn look like? ›
Blistering and swelling over a larger area. Wet-looking skin. Pain. White discoloration within the burn.
This causes the skin's blood vessels to leak into the spaces between cells and other skin structures. It's this extra fluid and the swelling it causes that lead to the red skin, hot sensation and painful sensitivity of freshly sunburnt skin.What should you not put on sunburn? ›
- do not use petroleum jelly on sunburnt skin.
- do not put ice or ice packs on sunburnt skin.
- do not pop any blisters.
- do not scratch or try to remove peeling skin.
- do not wear tight-fitting clothes over sunburnt skin.
Severity of Sunburn
Most sunburn is a first-degree burn that turns the skin pink or red. Prolonged sun exposure can cause blistering and a second-degree burn. Rarely, severe sunburn can cause a third-degree burn or scarring.
“Aloe vera can help cool and soothe the skin to make it feel better symptomatically, but it does not cure the burn itself.” If you want to use an aloe vera product for symptomatic relief, it is best to use a moisturizing lotion that contains aloe vera, Dr. Tsai adds. Moisturizing the skin overall can help with healing.Can I put sunscreen on a sunburn? ›
Yes, sunscreen will help protect sunburned or burned skin from UV rays.When should you go to the ER for sunburn? ›
If your severe sunburn is accompanied by headache, fainting, vomiting, or a very high fever, you should visit the ER. These symptoms may indicate a more serious condition, such as heatstroke or sun poisoning, which can be extremely dangerous.Does sunburn get better overnight? ›
Keep in mind that you won't be able to get rid of sunburn overnight even if your burn is mild. Most instances of first-degree sunburn should still take at least a week to heal, even when properly treated, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. More severe sunburn may take weeks or even months to heal.How do you sleep with a sunburn? ›
Rather than damage skin even more with something that's too cold, stick to a cool bath or shower or a cool compress to help reduce pain before bed. Wear loose, breathable clothing. It's a good idea to avoid constricting clothing on sunburned areas.What does 3rd degree sunburn look like? ›
Third-degree (full thickness) burns
Third-degree burns destroy the epidermis and dermis. Third-degree burns may also damage the underlying bones, muscles, and tendons. The burn site appears white or charred. There is no sensation in the area since the nerve endings are destroyed.
Avoid putting ice on a sunburn, as this can make matters worse by causing intense vasoconstriction, where blood vessels narrow sharply and cut off local blood supply to already damaged skin. Moisturising lotions can also help soothe by keeping moisture in, but avoid skin-numbing creams unless prescribed by your doctor.
When you're sunburned, you need to keep your skin as moisturized as possible to aid its recovery. Be sure to reapply as often as needed. You can also chill the moisturizer in the fridge before applying for added relief.Does a hot shower help with a sunburn? ›
Does a hot shower help a sunburn? No, it is a myth that taking a hot shower can ease the pain of a sunburn. In fact, taking a hot shower will make sunburn hurt even worse. On the other hand, cold showers can help to soothe a sunburn.Is a sunburn a big deal? ›
You may ask "what harm can one sunburn do?" Answer: A lot. Even a single sunburn can increase your risk for developing skin cancer. It's not the burn itself that affects your risk; it's the amount of sun exposure that's associated with that burn. After a sunburn, it's common to find your burnt skin peels off.What aggravates sunburn? ›
Don't take a hot bath or shower—this includes hot tubs, saunas and heated pools. Hot water can aggravate your inflamed skin and possibly cause more damage.What should you eat when you have sunburn? ›
- Cantaloupe. Cantaloupe may protect your skin from the sun. ...
- Kiwi. Kiwi may be a good food for your sunburn as it's an excellent source of vitamin C. ...
- Pumpkin Seeds. ...
- Aloe Vera. ...
- Tea Leaves.
By causing blood vessels to contract, the thick gel-like juice of the aloe vera plant can take the sting and redness out of a sunburn. Apply aloe vera to the sunburned area five or six times a day for several days. This can not only help ease the pain but can help to keep skin moisturized and minimize peeling.Do cold showers help sunburn? ›
"But if you've already been sunburned, taking a cool shower or bath can be a helpful start." Dr. Kermott says the cool water from a shower, bath or cold compress works to tame the inflammation that occurs around a sunburn. Taking an anti-inflammatory medicine can help too.What is Stage 1 sunburn? ›
First degree sunburn damages the skin's outer layer and will heal by itself, usually within a few days. A person with first degree sunburn may notice the following skin symptoms, usually about 4 hours after exposure to sunlight: redness, which is more apparent on light skin. a warm or tight feeling.Is sunburn worse the second day? ›
It will continue to develop for the next 24 to 72 hours and, depending on the severity, can take days or weeks to heal. Sunburn will become worse with more exposure to UV rays.What does a 1 degree sunburn look like? ›
A first-degree burn, also called a superficial burn, only affects the epidermis, or outer layer of skin. The burn site appears red, painful, dry, and absent of blisters. Scarring is rare or minimal. The most common type of first-degree burn is mild sunburn.
While sunburn is dangerous, regular tanning also greatly increases your chance of both premature aging and cancer, additional to wearing sunscreen on a daily basis, it is always best to avoid midday sun, seek shades when possible, and wear protective clothing.Why do you chill with a sunburn? ›
A common reaction is shivering, which is the body trying to generate heat in an effort to compensate for the heat that is being lost. So, even while your skin feels hot to the touch, you shiver and feel chilled as your body tries to make up for the extra heat loss.Should I touch my sunburn? ›
Don't touch blisters
Even though you might be tempted to, don't touch those sunburn blisters. You'll cause more harm than good. “To prevent infection and scarring, let blisters heal on their own,” advises Dr.
Big skin-care news: A study has found that UV damage to the skin continues for hours after you've left the sun and that melanin—the pigment that gives skin its color—may be contributing to this damage.Why does a shower bring out a sunburn? ›
Some people believe that taking a hot shower takes some of the pain out of a sunburn. However, this can actually exacerbate the problem! Jumping into a hot shower will increase the diameter of your blood vessels, encouraging more blood to flow toward the surface of your skin.What colors not to wear with a sunburn? ›
The right clothes help.
You should avoid wearing red as well though, but also avoid blue and green. Stick to darker colors, notice how they play down a burn while lighter ones highlight it. Also avoid anything too tight, scratchy, or form-fitting, it'll make uncomfortable skin feel worse.
The Cancer Council in Australia suggests that darker colors absorb UV rays, which helps block them from your skin. That's why dark blue, black, and dark red are the best colors for sun protection compared to white or pastel colors of the same fabric.What is the rule of nines in sunburn? ›
The size of a burn can be quickly estimated by using the "rule of nines." This method divides the body's surface area into percentages. The front and back of the head and neck equal 9% of the body's surface area. The front and back of each arm and hand equal 9% of the body's surface area.How do you know if you're too sunburnt? ›
- Inflamed skin, which looks pink or red on white skin and may be harder to see on brown or Black skin.
- Skin that feels warm or hot to the touch.
- Pain, tenderness and itching.
- Small, fluid-filled blisters, which may break.
- Headache, fever, nausea and fatigue, if the sunburn is severe.
Stick to cool showers on the lowest pressure possible, or even a soak in a cool tub, until your skin has healed. Running cool baths allows you to submerge the burn as much as you want without worrying about strong pressure from the shower head. Try adding a few tablespoons of baking soda to your bath.
While you can place the juice directly onto the sunburn, it may sting a little since aloe vera juice is an astringent. Try mixing the aloe vera juice with a little moisturizing Vitamin E and dab it onto the sunburn.Does shaving cream help sunburn? ›
Does shaving cream reduce sunburn? There is no scientific evidence that using shaving cream can reduce the symptoms of sunburn. However, some shaving creams contain hydrating and moisturizing ingredients, such as aloe vera and vitamin E. These ingredients may help soothe irritation caused by sunburn.How do you get rid of sunburn redness on your face overnight? ›
- Take a cool bath or shower. ...
- Apply aloe. ...
- Use an ice pack or compress. ...
- Drink lots of water. ...
- Don't pop any blisters. ...
- Protect against further damage. ...
- Try over-the-counter medications. ...
- Skip heat-trapping products.
If you don't want to wear a waterproof bandage, you should avoid swimming until the burn is fully healed and no blistered or broken skin remains, says Dana Ellis, a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Newport Beach, Calif., who represented Canada in the pole vault at the 2004 Olympic Games.What to avoid in lotion for sunburn? ›
- Ingredients ending in “-caine”: The AAD reports that these ingredients, such as benzocaine, may irritate sunburned skin or cause an allergic reaction.
- Oils and petroleum: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, oil- or petroleum-based creams may worsen sunburn by trapping heat in the skin.
- Make a cold compress. Soak a clean washcloth with cool water and apply to the burn five times daily for 5-10 minutes to cool off your skin, Jaber recommended.
- Take a cold shower. ...
- Slather on some aloe. ...
- Take aspirin or ibuprofen. ...
- Bathe in oatmeal. ...
- Slather on some dairy. ...
- Hydrate like crazy.
Your doctor might suggest a corticosteroid cream for your sunburn, or a short course of prednisone for severe cases involving large areas of your body. Antibiotics are most often not required unless you develop an infection.What to do before a sunburn gets bad? ›
Apply a moisturizer, lotion or gel.
An aloe vera lotion or gel or calamine lotion can be soothing. Try cooling the product in the refrigerator before applying. Avoid products made with alcohol.
Does a hot shower help a sunburn? No, it is a myth that taking a hot shower can ease the pain of a sunburn. In fact, taking a hot shower will make sunburn hurt even worse. On the other hand, cold showers can help to soothe a sunburn.Is vaseline good for sunburn? ›
If your skin is not blistering, moisturizing cream may be applied to relieve discomfort. DO NOT use butter, petroleum jelly (Vaseline), or other oil-based products. These can block pores so that heat and sweat cannot escape, which can lead to infection.
Sunburn will become worse with more exposure to UV rays. Mild sunburn can be treated at home, but severe and blistered sunburn requires prompt medical attention.What can I put on a sunburn other than aloe? ›
- Aloe. Juice straight from an aloe plant is the best form to use on your sunburn. ...
- Coconut Oil. The fats found in coconut oil can help protect and soften burned skin. ...
- Oatmeal. ...
- Witch Hazel or Tea. ...
- Baking Soda or Cornstarch. ...
Antihistamines: Oral or topical antihistamines, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine), can reduce itching associated with sunburn. Oral antihistamines also have a sedating effect that may help when pain prevents restful sleep.Does aloe vera clear sunburn? ›
Aloe vera is an excellent treatment for sunburn because it reduces inflammation, stimulates collagen production, and moisturizes skin. The best way to apply it is to use aloe from the plant itself and rub it into the sunburnt areas. You can reapply it several times a day, as needed.What is the best medicine for sunburn? ›
Hydrocortisone creams help calm itching and irritation. Farber said over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment, like Cortizone 10 cream, is a good place to start, but prescription steroids may be necessary for more severe burns — you should consult your doctor about those.Does Neosporin help sunburns heal faster? ›
Antibiotic ointments such as Neosporin or Bacitracin can help prevent infection and speed up the healing process. After applying it Neosporin on a burn, make sure you cover the area with a clean cloth or cling film.Does ibuprofen help with sunburn? ›
Over-the-counter pain medications can help relieve the discomfort of sunburn. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen, and ibuprofen all relieve pain. Ibuprofen and naproxen have the added benefit of an anti-inflammatory effect, which may help reduce skin inflammation.