Skin Care

Sunburn: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

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Sunburn is a scientific process of skin turning red or burning due to extreme exposure to sunlight or any kind of harsh lighting. Sunburn mostly occurs due to exposure to sunlight for a long amount of time without any kind of protection.

People with higher skin melanin pigment usually do not get a sunburn, instead, they get suntanned. People in India with more melanin pigmentation are less likely to get sunburned. Sunburn is generally caused by Ultra Violet Rays of the sun which burns the epidermal and dermal layer of the skin.

Also Read: Ingredients To Never Apply on Sunburn

Ultra violet Rays of the Sun

UV rays can be categorized into UVA, UVB, and UVC Rays.  UVC is stopped by Earth’s atmospheric layer before it even can touch your skin.

UVA Rays: These rays can travel deep into the thickest layers of the skin (also known as the dermis layer), and can cause wrinkles and aging.

UVB Rays: These rays have shorter wavelengths, so they only affect the surface of your skin, causing burn like symptoms leading to sunburns and are one of the biggest causes for skin cancer.

Symptoms of a severe sunburn

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Itchiness
  • Blisters
  • Tender skin
  • Peeling of skin
  • Dry, flaky skin

Ways to prevent sunburn


The best way to prevent sunburn is to use sunscreen while you go out. Sunscreen coats your skin layer and prevents UV rays from entering your dermis layer.

Sunscreens can be categorized into two types-

  1. Chemical Sunscreens
  2. Physical Sunscreens

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens are nothing but a mixture of many chemicals made into existence to fight off UVA and UVB rays. These ingredients deactivate the sunlight that falls onto the skin and creates a chemical reaction that can transform UV rays into a form of heat, which gets released by the skin.


Avobenzone Sunscreen– Avobenzone is a chemical used in sunscreens that protect from both UVA and UVB rays. Although it is nontoxic in nature its effect lasts for about 30 minutes and does not protect from UVA rays completely.

Oxybenzone Sunscreen– Oxybenzone is one of the most common chemicals used in make-up products. Despite its reputation of staying in a person’s body by absorption through the skin, oxybenzone is used in 80% of chemical sunscreens, nail polish, hair sprays, etc. It primarily functions by absorbing UV light.

Physical Sunscreens

These are made of natural ingredients that are usually effective on the surface layer of skin. They deflect and absorb UV rays that try to reach the surface of the skin. The most common types of physical sunscreens contain Zinc Oxide and or Titanium Dioxide.


Zinc Oxide Sunscreens:-  The mineral zinc oxide is used in sunscreens for its reflective mirror like properties. It is oil free and does not clog your pores in any way. It is also antimicrobial, which in turn helps heal wounds quickly. Zinc oxide blocks almost all short and long UVA and UVB rays and can be considered as one of the most effective sunscreen ingredients. Sunscreens with Zinc oxide are also made waterproof so they do not wash away during swimming or activity involving water.

Titanium di-oxide Sunscreens:-  This ingredient is often found in sunscreens as well. Like Zinc oxide, it is also non-comedogenic (does not clog pores). Although unlike Zinc oxide, this does not leave an opaque layer on the skin, making it a better choice for people with a darker skin tone. It is extremely effective against blocking short UVA and UVB rays but lacks to protect skin from long UVA rays.

Both Zinc Oxide and Titanium dioxide are better for acne prone skin, fights against the harmful rays to ward off sun damage and wrinkles, and can be helpful towards excessive redness of the skin.

Cover up

You might be wearing sunscreen, but that does not mean your skin is absolutely protected from Sunburn. While you go out into the sun, you should definitely wear a long sleeved shirt and ditch those shorts for a long pair of pants that can cover your legs from the harmful sun rays. Try to avoid the color black if you have work outside in the sun, black acts as an insulator and heat up your body quicker making you more dehydrated.

 Use an Umbrella

Try to use an umbrella if you have to go out into the sun.

 Wear a scarf

Your body might be protected from the sun rays due to sunscreen and your long sleeved shirt, but your hair is likely to get damaged due to harsh sunlight and without proper protection. Wearing a scarf can help prevent your hair from heating up and getting damaged.

Sun Exposure

Sun shines the brightest from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M. So it would be better to avoid direct exposure to sunlight during that time cycle. Sunscreen and Umbrellas can help with sun exposure if you have to stay out during a longer period of time.

Stay Hydrated

If you are out in the sun for too long, don’t forget to hydrate your skin and drink lots of water. Carry a bottle of water with you and try to drink glucose water to avoid heatstroke.


Never let your skin dry out, always moisturize and hydrate your skin to prevent any kind of skin complication.

Medications for Sunburn

In case of severe sunburn consult with a Dermatologist immediately and seek professional help as sunburn can also lead to skin cancer if not detected and prevented at an earlier stage.

For a minor case of sunburn, you can use over the counter pain relief medicines and medicinal creams containing Hydrocortisone.

15 Things NOT to Do After Getting a Sunburn

There are many ways to take care of your sunburn and many people have many different remedies to treat harsh sunburn, but some might not know the things to avoid while you have a sunburn. Here is a list of things to avoid if you are already experiencing sunburn.

  • Too much sunbathing– Too much sunbathing can cause more harm than good. It might be a known fact that sunbathing can provide with Vitamin D your body desperately needs, but along with Vitamin D, your body also absorbs the UV rays it gets from the sun and that can cause harsh sunburns and even result in skin cancer symptoms among some people.
  • Tight Clothing– While you are suffering from sunburn, you should avoid being in tight clothes and tight jeans. Tight clothes can restrict airflow into your body and your skin can remain inflamed longer due to the lack of air. Also the friction with the clothes can make your already sunburned skin more irritated and red.
  • Makeup– If you are experiencing a sunburned face, you might want to avoid applying makeup onto your face. Your exposed and inflamed face might react to chemicals present in makeup in a harsh way and your face might be subjected to bad reactions. You should also avoid any face mask or face scrub that can cause skin irritation or is not suitable for sunburned skin.
  • Dry Skin– People often think that the sunburnt skin will go away eventually if left alone, but that is certainly not the case. You need to constantly moisturize and hydrate your skin so that it can heal properly. But always be cautious as to what ingredients you are applying on to your body as harsh chemicals and irritants present in some moisturizing creams can heavily affect and deteriorate your skin’s health.
  • Itching– Itching or picking on dead skin or peeling your dry skin off can affect your skin’s health adversely. Peeling dead skin can cause open wounds and bacterial growth and also healing skin can stop it natural healing process if it is picked at.
  • Warm Showers- When you get sunburned you should avoid hot water baths for a while. You scorched and irritated skin can react negatively to the warm water and make it even more sensitive. Hot water can caused blisters on inflamed skin and cause redness and patches.
  • Gym– If you are thinking of going to the gym for a quick workout session you should probably cancel your plans as sweating and exhaustion can make your sunburned and inflamed skin even more worse and delay the healing process.
  • Swimming– Avoid swimming for a while if you are experiencing sunburnt skin. Swimming directly under the sun can not only harm the already burned skin but also chemicals in the swimming pool can cause irritation and swelling in the sunburnt regions.
  • Coffee– Although coffee is a tempting beverage to avoid, but if you have sunburned skin or experiencing sunburn avoid caffeine as much as possible. Caffeine is a pretty good dehydrator and dehydrates your skin so you can opt for a cup of tea instead as the content of caffeine is way less than that in a cup of coffee.
  • Sodium Intake– If you like salty food then you might want to skip eating them until your sunburned skin is fully healed. Salt is also a good dehydrator and your skin could stop healing properly if it does not get the proper moisture it needs.
  • Coconut Oil– Although coconut oil can be a good healing agent for dry skin, it should be avoided during the healing of sunburned skin as coconut oil can clog your skin’s pores and trapped heat due to clogged pores can cause more inflammation and swelling. You can try coconut oil after your skin has completely healed and feel it moisturizing effect.
  • Exfoliation– Exfoliation of sunburned skin can lead to much more damage. The already inflamed skin can form blisters and more redness and itchiness and even break and bleed due to excessive exfoliation and friction. Leave the sunburned skin alone and let it heal naturally and only apply natural moisturizer.
  • Water Intake– Do not forget to drink lots of water if you get sunburn. As your skin is drier than normal during healing of sunburn, you should always remember to stay hydrated so that your skin can heal up faster. Dehydration can lead to various kinds of skin problems.
  • Perfumes– Perfumes might be a good addition in defining who you are but try to avoid perfumes or scented deodorants when you have bad sunburn. Chemical filled deodorants and perfumes might make your skin more sensitive and slow down the healing process.
  • Covering with makeup– The sunburned skin might look bad and red but do not cover the redness up with makeup. Makeup can clog pores of your skin and make it irritable. The chemicals in your makeup might not be the best for your sensitive skin. Also do not try to pop or puncture any pimple or blisters that may form on your sunburned skin as popping them might be really painful and the skin surrounding that area might become infected or even more red and inflamed.

If you think that the sunburn is more severe and the skin is not healing, you should immediately consult with a skin doctor and get it checked out. Sunburn on the skin can sometimes lead to skin cancer, so a thorough check-up might be the savior for your skin troubles.

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