How Long Does a Sunburn Last?

Sunburn is the #1 summer skin care concern. Whether you’re a sun-worshipper or you try your best to avoid the sun’s damaging rays, it’s likely that your skin will experience some sunburn this summer.

In order to best support your skin while it heals from sunburn, it’s helpful to know the severity levels of sunburn and what your skin may need you to do about it. If you’re wondering how long a sunburn lasts, refer to this guide to learn just how long your skin may be red or painful, and if you need to take extra steps to help it heal.

Remember that a sunburn takes 24-48 hours to fully present itself, so what you may feel is a mild sunburn on day one may turn into a moderate or even severe sunburn by day two or three. Pay attention to your body—swelling, color, and pain will all tell you how you need to proceed.

Mild Sunburn

Mild sunburns are characterized by pink to red skin, mild pain, and sometimes minor swelling. Mild burns last from three to five days, and may peel a small amount toward the end of the healing process.

The best thing to do for a mild sunburn is to avoid sun exposure while it heals, and be extra diligent about sunscreen application when you do venture back into the sun’s rays. You should also drink extra water and bathe only in cool to tepid water to avoid irritating the skin.

Moderate Sunburn

Moderate sunburns are characterized by redness, swelling, and physical heat. They take longer to heal than a mild burn, typically about a seven to ten days depending on your skin tone and other factors. Your skin is very likely to peel toward the end of the healing process.

Moderate sunburns require everything noted for mild sunburns, but you may also benefit from a topical soothing agent like aloe vera or ATOPALM Aqua Soothing Gel Cream. Cold packs will reduce pain and swelling, and loose-fitting clothing can further reduce the risk of irritating the skin.

Severe Sunburn

If you experience a severe sunburn, you may require a visit to your doctor. For excessively severe sunburns, you may choose to go to a hospital, especially if you are experiencing symptoms of sun stroke or heat stroke, detailed below.

A severe sunburn will appear very red, swollen, painful, and may even blister. Severe sunburns can take up to two weeks to heal, and major peeling is to be expected as the skin regenerates. Those with severe sunburns often find it difficult to bathe, wear clothing, or even move, and it may cause you to stay home to recuperate. Applying topical soothing agents like those mentioned above may bring some relief, as will over-the-counter ibuprofen taken for pain and swelling.

As with anything, healing a sunburn requires a lot of energy from your body. You may not feel extra tired or worn out with a mild sunburn, but a moderate to severe sunburn will sap your energy. In these cases, it is wise to consider yourself sick and rest accordingly.

Sun Stroke

Sun stroke, also known as heat stroke or sun poisoning, is not as common as sunburns, but it is important to know the signs, especially if you are prone to burns. Sun stroke is often, though not always, preceded by a sunburn. Signs of heat stroke include:

  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Excessive thirst
  • Quick breathing or pulse
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pale or clammy skin
  • Cramps
  • Temperature of 100.4F or above
  • Reduced to no urine output
  • Signs of infected blisters, such as pus and tenderness

If you or someone with you is experiencing any of the above after sun exposure, even if there are no obvious signs of sunburn, take them to a doctor or hospital right away.

Sunburn Side Effects

Beyond redness, pain, and swelling, there are many side effects of sunburn which may alert you to how your body needs to be treated. Some of these side effects mirror the signs of sun stroke even if your overall condition is not as dire as that of someone experiencing sun stroke. Sunburn side effects may include:

  • Blisters
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Itching
  • Rash

Other Sunburn Factors

While everyone is susceptible to sunburn, there are many factors which may make sunburn more or less likely. These factors are something to consider, but always err on the side of caution when it comes to sun exposure! You may be more at-risk of sunburn if any of these factors apply to you:

  • Fair complexion
  • Photosensitizing medications or skin care products
  • Freckles
  • Red or light hair
  • Tanning beds
  • Bring near the equator
  • Sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Ozone holes
  • High altitudes

It’s also important to remember that you can get a sunburn even when it’s not super sunny. If you live in an area that is often overcast, even during summer, you can still be burned and suffer the effects of sun exposure!

While some sun exposure is important to vitamin D production, y. Beyond that, protect yourself with clothing, hats, and sunscreen. Your body will thank you!

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