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Inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to the sun.


Sunburn is caused by exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. There are two types of ultraviolet rays, UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply and can cause melanoma in susceptible people. UVB rays, which don't penetrate as deeply, cause sunburn and wrinkling. Most UVB rays are absorbed by sunscreens, but only about half the UVA rays are absorbed.
Skin cancer from sun overexposure is a serious health problem in the United States, affecting almost a million Americans each year. One out of 87 will develop malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, and 7,300 of them will die each year.
Fair-skinned people are most susceptible to sunburn, because their skin produces only small amounts of the protective pigment called melanin. People trying to get a tan too quickly in strong sunlight are also more vulnerable to sunburn. While they have a lower risk, even the darkest-skinned people can get skin cancer.
Repeated sun overexposure and burning can prematurely age the skin, causing yellowish, wrinkled skin. Overexposure can increase the risk of skin cancer, especially a serious burn in childhood.

Causes and symptoms

The ultraviolet rays in sunlight destroy cells in the outer layer of the skin, damaging tiny blood vessels underneath. When the skin is burned, the blood vessels dilate and leak fluid. Cells stop making protein. Their DNA is damaged by the ultraviolet rays. Repeated DNA damage can lead to cancer.
When the sun burns the skin, it triggers immune defenses which identify the burned skin as foreign. At the same time, the sun transforms a substance on the skin which interferes with this immune response. While this substance keeps the immune system from attacking a person's own skin, it also means that any malignant cells in the skin will be able to grow freely.
Sunburn causes skin to turn red and blister. Several days later, the dead skin cells peel off. In severe cases, the burn may occur with sunstroke (vomiting, fever and collapse).


Visual inspection and a history of exposure to the sun.


Aspirin can ease pain and inflammation. Tender skin should be protected against the sun until it has healed. In addition, apply:
  • calamine lotion
  • sunburn cream or spray
  • cool tap water compress
  • colloidal oatmeal (Aveeno) baths
  • dusting powder to reduce chafing
People who are severely sunburned should see a doctor, who may prescribe corticosteroid cream to speed healing.

Alternative treatment

Over-the-counter preparations containing aloe (Aloe barbadensis) are an effective treatment for sunburn, easing pain and inflammation while also relieving dryness of the skin. A variety of topical herbal remedies applied as lotions, poltices, or compresses may also help relieve the effects of sunburn. Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is one of the most frequently recommended to reduce inflammation.


Moderately burned skin should heal within a week. While the skin will heal after a sunburn, the risk of skin cancer increases with exposure and subsequent burns. Even one bad burn in childhood carries an increased risk of skin cancer.


Everyone from age six months on should use a water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 15. Apply at least an ounce 15-30 minutes before going outside. It should be reapplied every two hours (more often after swimming). Babies should be kept completely out of the sun for the first six months of life, because their skin is thinner than older children. Sunscreens have not been approved for infants.

Key terms

Malignant melanoma — The most deadly of the three types of skin cancer.
Sunscreen — Products which block the damaging rays of the sun. Good sunscreens contain either para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) or benzophenone, or both. Sunscreen protection factors range from 2-45.
In addition, people should:
  • limit sun exposure to 15 minutes the first day, even if the weather is hazy, slowly increasing exposure daily
  • reapply sunscreen every two hours (more often if sweating or swimming)
  • reapply waterproof sunscreen after swimming more than 80 minutes, after toweling off, or after perspiring heavily
  • avoid the sun between 10 A.M. and 3 P.M.
  • use waterproof sunscreen on legs and feet, since the sun can burn even through water
  • wear an opaque shirt in water, because reflected rays are intensified
If using a sunscreen under SPF 15, simply applying more of the same SPF won't prolong allowed time in the sun. Instead, patients should use a higher SPF in order to lengthen exposure safely. A billed cap protects 70% of the face; a wide-brimmed hat is better. People at very high risk for skin cancer can wear clothing that blocks almost all UV rays, but most people can simply wear white cotton summer-weight clothing with a tight weave.



Tyler, Varro. "Aloe: Nature's Skin Soother." Prevention Magazine April 1, 1998: 94-96.


inflammation of the skin (an actual burn) caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun. Depending on how severe the burn is, the skin may simply redden or it may become blistered and sore—a second-degree burn. In extreme cases there may be fever.


Erythema with or without blistering caused by exposure to critical amounts of ultraviolet light, usually within the range of 260-320 nm in sunlight (UVB).
Synonym(s): erythema solare


/sun·burn/ (sun´bern) injury to the skin, with erythema, tenderness, and sometimes blistering, after excessive exposure to sunlight, produced by unfiltered ultraviolet rays.


Inflammation or blistering of the skin caused by overexposure to direct sunlight.
tr. & intr.v. sun·burned or sun·burnt (-bûrnt′), sun·burning, sun·burns
To affect or be affected with sunburn.


a skin injury characterized by redness, tenderness, and possible blistering that results from exposure to actinic radiation from the sun.


Erythema with or without blistering caused by exposure to critical amounts of ultraviolet light, usually within the range of 260-320 nm in sunlight (UVB).


The damaging effect of the ultraviolet component of sunlight on the skin. This varies from minor reddening to severe, disabling blistering.


painful skin inflammation, erythema and blistering induced by overexposure to ultraviolet fraction of sunlight (i.e. wavelength 2600-3200Å)


n injury to the skin caused by prolonged exposure to the sun characterized by mild tenderness to severe pain, heat, redness, and occasional blistering.
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inflammation—an actual burn—of the skin caused by exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun as it occurs in humans does not occur in animals. White pigs suffer most and may develop a chronic dermatitis along the back, some may lose the tips of the ears by sloughing. Called also primary phototoxicity. Dogs and cats, particularly those with unpigmented skin on the dorsum of the nose, eyelids, ears or groin, may develop a chronic actinic dermatitis. Fish in cultivation ponds show white patches on the top of the head and corneal cataracts. See also solar dermatitis.

sunburn cells
dyskeratotic keratinocytes, either scattered or in a continuous band in the outer stratum spinosum, are characteristic of a sunburn lesion.

Patient discussion about sunburn

Q. Itches on hands when i go out in sun When go out and when sun rays fall on my hand at the end of the day it starts itching bady and it becoms sowlen. Can any one tell reason for this and a solution.

A. i don't use any lotion or creams. It happens only on my hands and only when sun rays fall on my hands. And small rashes also comes.

Q. Can you get a serious burn injury from the sun? I went to the swimming pool today and i got burned. It looks like some one spilled boiling water all over my back.

A. Yes you can.
not only that the sun exposure is a risk factor for skin cancer, sun burn can be very painful.
to ease the pain you can rub the burned area with cold yogurt.
sounds strange but worked for me :)

Q. what does a sun block cream do? and what are a UV rays?

A. It blocks out harmful Ultra violet rays from the skin as the previous entries have related; however it can also block your ability to produce vitamin D. If you live in a northerly area or one that receives limited sunlight, its recommended to get at least 15 minutes of sun a day (this is probably best done with minimal sunblock) and according to personnal sun sensitivity. Another thing to keep in mind is that sunblock works best if applied 20 minutes before sun exposure.

More discussions about sunburn
References in classic literature ?
Little groups of sunburnt men were greeting old friends upon the platform, surrounded by piles of luggage, canvas trunks and steamer chairs.
The latter was fair, with beautiful complexion--a trifle sunburnt, blue eyes, good-humored mouth, and features excellent in their way, but a little lacking in expression.
All honour to the heartiness with which she met the sunburnt sailor-fellow, with his dark streaming hair, half-way, and never turned her rosy little mouth aside, but suffered him to kiss it, freely, and to press her to his bounding heart!
Not only did he not wear pants, and was barefooted and barelegged, but about his middle, just like any black, he wore a brilliant-coloured loin- cloth, that, like a kilt, fell nearly to his sunburnt knees.
They left their wheels by the roadside and climbed to the brown top of an open knoll where the sunburnt grass breathed a harvest breath of dry sweetness and content.
In the near distance, in contrast with the young-green of the tended grass, sunburnt hay-fields showed tan and gold; while beyond were the tawny hills and upland pastures.
A sunburnt and black-eyed Brabanter had stood near the old archers, leaning upon a large crossbow and listening to their talk, which had been carried on in that hybrid camp dialect which both nations could understand.
He was cast in the coarsest mould; a stout but sluggish body, yet gracefully carried, with a thick sunburnt neck, dark bushy hair, and dull sleepy blue eyes, which were occasionally lit up with expression.
And often rulers and their subjects may come in one another's way, whether on a pilgrimage or a march, as fellow-soldiers or fellow-sailors; aye, and they may observe the behaviour of each other in the very moment of danger--for where danger is, there is no fear that the poor will be despised by the rich-- and very likely the wiry sunburnt poor man may be placed in battle at the side of a wealthy one who has never spoilt his complexion and has plenty of superfluous flesh--when he sees such an one puffing and at his wit's end, how can he avoid drawing the conclusion that men like him are only rich because no one has the courage to despoil them?
So perhaps these were the "chinless sunburnt men" whom Helen had espied one afternoon through the window.
The slight smile passed from the lips of Hamel's sunburnt, good-natured face.
He was smallish in stature, but well set and as nimble as a goat; his face was of a good open expression, but sunburnt very dark, and heavily freckled and pitted with the small-pox; his eyes were unusually light and had a kind of dancing madness in them, that was both engaging and alarming; and when he took off his great-coat, he laid a pair of fine silver-mounted pistols on the table, and I saw that he was belted with a great sword.