how long do sunburns last
Healthy Living

How Long Do Sunburns Last?

Dec 27 2023

The sun’s rays may feel good on your skin, but those rays come with ultraviolet “UV” radiation that can cause damage. But how long do sunburns last?

Anyone who has ever experienced sunburn is aware of the symptoms. The swelling, redness, pain and peeling skin can make you regret spending so much time outside. The consequences can be long term, too. Whether or not you burn in the sun, UV exposure increases your risk of developing different types of skin cancers.

How long do sunburns last?

Although there are ways to achieve instant sunburn relief from symptoms, your skin will need several days of recovery until it is fully healed. However, depending on the severity of your sunburn, it might take a bit longer to heal – it could take up to two weeks to heal completely.

In the meantime, don’t allow the burn to suffer from any additional sun exposure. If possible, simply stay out of the sun. Or, if you have to be outside, be sure to cover the affected area when you leave the house in order to minimize any additional sun damage.

How to take care of a sunburn at home

Use an over-the-counter pain reliever to ease the discomfort. Products that come in the form of a gel that goes on your skin offer the best sunburn relief. You can also use a nonprescription topical 1 percent hydrocortisone cream to reduce swelling and pain on mild to moderate sunburns.

Apply a cool towel on the burn. This is an instant sunburn relief home remedy. If it’s difficult to keep a towel in place on the burn, sit in a bathtub with cool water. Add a couple of ounces of baking soda to the tub if you want to ease redness and pain. Steer clear of soap that may further dry out your skin.

Use a moisturizer to keep the affected area from becoming too dry. Gels and lotions containing aloe vera can be especially helpful.

Use an anti-itch product. An oral antihistamine can help ease discomfort as your skin begins to peel. The peeling is simply a sign that the damaged skin is coming off, making room for a new layer.

Resist the urge to pop blisters that form. If a blister does break, thoroughly clean the area with water and non-irritating soap. Add antibiotic gel and use a bandage to keep the area from further harm.

Be sure to drink plenty of water as you recover. Sunburn tends to go hand-in-hand with dehydration. This is because the body directs additional fluid to the burn.

How to avoid a sunburn in the future

Any skin damage you experience can have lasting consequences. In fact, five or more cases of sunburn doubles your risk of developing skin cancer.

With that in mind, here are some steps to avoid burning in the future.

  • Wear protective clothing, like long-sleeved shirts. If the summer heat makes such clothing uncomfortable, look for loose-fitting options that still provide coverage. A hat and sunglasses can protect your scalp, neck and face from sunburns.
  • Stick to the shade whenever possible. If you have to be in direct sunlight, try to do so in the early morning or in the evening. This is when UV rays are weakest.
  • Always apply sunscreen. Yes, even on cloudy days. Look for a broad-spectrum product that says “SPF 15” or higher to protect your skin. Remember to reapply sunscreen throughout the day and replace sunscreen that’s more than three years old.

And if you’re going to be out in the sun at high altitudes, your risk of sunburn increases, so plan to combine multiple sun protection methods to protect your skin.

When to see your primary care provider

Knowing how to treat sunburn at home is useful, as most cases of moderate and mild sunburns will heal naturally. However, more severe cases require medical treatment. Call your primary care provider if the burn covers a large area of your body or makes you feel weak. You should seek medical attention if your symptoms aren’t improving within two or three days.

Learn about the dermatology and primary care services we provide at Bon Secours.

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