How Long Does Sunburn Last?

Reviewed on 1/13/2023

Sunburn Severity: Mild, Moderate, and Severe

A mother sprays her daughter with sunscreen to prevent sunburn
Redness, swelling, blisters, and peeling skin caused by sunburn can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks.

Sunburn is skin redness and inflammation that results from overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. A similar type of burn can also occur due to overexposure from a “sun” or tanning lamp.

Sunburn can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, depending on the severity of the burn. 

  • In a mild sunburn, there is some skin redness that develops about two to six hours after sun exposure
    • Redness from a mild sunburn usually lasts about two days
  • In a moderate sunburn, the skin is swollen and hot to the touch
    • Skin redness and swelling from a moderate sunburn can last up to a week before it heals completely
  • In a severe sunburn, the skin is red and feels intensely hot, and eventually develops into blisters
    • Blisters and skin peeling from a severe sunburn can last up to two weeks 

What Are Symptoms of Sunburn?

Early symptoms of sunburn occur immediately or within hours after UV exposure and may include:

  • Skin redness
  • Skin irritation
  • Skin tenderness
  • Skin feels hot
  • Pain when touching or rubbing the skin 
  • Dehydration from fluid loss from the heat

After the initial redness, symptoms of sunburn that can develop include: 

  • Skin swelling
  • Itching 
  • Blistering
  • Peeling
  • Welts or rashes

See a doctor if you have symptoms of severe sunburn. Symptoms of severe sunburn (sun poisoning) include the symptoms above and the following: 

Severe sunburn may also be associated with heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. 

What Causes Sunburn?

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. A similar type of burn can also occur due to overexposure from a “sun” or tanning lamp that also produces UV radiation. 

Certain medications (called photosensitive drugs) can increase skin sensitivity to sunlight and make a person more prone to sunburn, such as: 

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)  
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Diuretics (water pills)
  • Certain heart medications
  • Some diabetes drugs 
  • Certain psychiatric drugs
  • Acne medications

Some medical conditions can increase the risk of skin damage, including severe sunburn, from exposure to UV radiation. These conditions include: 

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Reviewed on 1/13/2023
References
Image source: iStock Images

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/sunburn?search=sunburn&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/sunexposure/sunburn.html

https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs

https://www.keysdermatology.com/2019/07/16/how-long-does-it-take-to-heal-a-sunburn/