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Sunburn Treatment and Prevention

When you’re exposed to UV rays, you are at risk of sunburn. Learn treatment and prevention options for sunburns.

What causes sunburn?

Exposure to UV rays is the main cause of sunburn. This can come from both natural sources, like the sun’s rays, and artificial sources like tanning beds. Other factors can increase your risk of sunburn including geographical location, length of time outside, complexion and activity level.

Anyone can get a sunburn in as few as 10 minutes. Proper treatment is key to ensure your body heals well and prevention is vital to maintaining your skin’s health.

Degrees of Sunburn

Sunburns are classified into three categories: first-degree, second-degree and third-degree. The degree of sunburn you have depends on how deep the sunburn’s damage is in the layers of your skin.

First-Degree Sunburn

First-degree sunburns are damage to your skin’s outer later. It will usually heal on its own within a week. Symptoms of a first-degree sunburn include:

  • Redness on lighter skin

  • Skin feels hot or tight

  • Pain or tenderness

  • Swelling

  • Peeling skin

Second-Degree Sunburn

A sunburn is categorized as second-degree when the middle section of your skin has been damaged. This type of sunburn is often accompanied by blisters, can take several weeks to heal and may require medical treatment. Symptoms include:

  • Extremely red skin

  • Blisters

  • Swelling over a large area

  • Pain

  • Wet-looking skin

  • White discoloration

Third-Degree Sunburn

Third-degree sunburns are very rare. A third-degree burn means every layer of your skin has been damaged, most likely from chemical or fire exposure. If you have a third-degree sunburn, you should seek emergency medical treatment.

Third-degree sunburn symptoms include:

  • Numb skin

  • A leather-like burn

  • A white or dull skin color

  • Any symptoms of heat illness like heat exhaustion or heat stroke

How to Treat Sunburn

The phase of your sunburn will help determine what treatment is best for you. Sunburns often present in three phases:

  1. Pain

  2. Redness with irritation

  3. Peeling

As you heal, keep your sunburn covered to avoid more sunburn. You will also want to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and give your body the fuel it needs to heal.

For pain, you can take over-the-counter pain relievers or apply damp compresses to the burned area. You want to soothe your sunburn without agitating it too much, or you could cause complications.

Aloe vera gel and calamine lotion work well for both soothing the pain and subduing any itching that may occur as your sunburn progresses. Do not itch or pop any blisters to avoid delaying the healing process.

As your sunburn begins to peel, gently apply moisturizers. You may take an antihistamine or apply medicated creams to relieve itching.

How can I prevent sunburn?

While sunburn is treatable, your best care option is prevention. Some simple, yet effective sunburn prevention options are:

  • Wearing broad spectrum sunscreen, and reapplying every 2 hours

  • Limiting time outside to reduce exposure

  • Keeping your skin covered with long sleeves, hats, etc.

  • Avoiding tanning and tanning beds

When should I visit urgent care for sunburn treatment?

If your sunburn is uncomfortable, home treatment does not offer relief, you are concerned about possible infection or you are concerned about a severe burn, an urgent care medical provider may be able to offer alternative treatment options. If your sunburn does not seem to be healing, develops blisters or you experience chills, you should seek medical care as soon as possible.

Visit WellNow for Sunburn Treatment

At WellNow, our dedicated medical team will provide comprehensive care and treatment for your sunburn.

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WellNow Urgent Care is a series of urgent care clinics and virtual care serving the Midwest and Northeastern United States in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Information contained in this blog is for informational or educational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. The content is not meant to be complete or exhaustive or to apply to any specific individual's medical condition. Always refer to the personalized information given to you by your doctor or contact us directly.