Sunburn is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays – a natural part of sunlight. If we spend too long in the sun without using protection, our skin becomes burnt.
We often think of sunburn as something that only happens when it's hot and sunny. However, UV levels can be high even if the day is cool, cloudy, or sunny but cold.
Who is at risk of getting sunburnt?
Sunburn is most common among lighter-skinned people, especially those with light-coloured or red hair and freckles. It's less common among people with black or brown skin. However, you should use sun protection if your skin is darker, as the UV rays can damage your skin even if you don't burn easily.
If your job means you spend lot of time outdoors, you're at a higher risk of getting sunburn.
How to prevent sunburn
Getting sunburn can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. You can reduce your risk of sunburn by:
• Covering up in loose cotton clothing and sunglasses
• Avoiding the sun between 11am and 3pm and staying in the shade
• Regularly applying sunscreen. Use one with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15, or 30 if you have fair skin and for children. If you're not sure which sunscreen is suitable, you can talk to your pharmacist for advice
What are the symptoms of sunburn?
Sunburnt skin becomes red, sore and tender. In more severe cases, you may have swelling or blistering. You may also have chills or a high temperature, and feel quite poorly. As the sunburn heals, your skin may peel and flake, before returning to normal within about a week.
What can I do to treat sunburn?
If you have sunburn, you should get out of the sun straight away. Get into the shade or go indoors.
You can soothe your skin by sponging it with cold water, or taking a cold shower or bath. You can also consider a lotion with a soothing ingredient such as aloe vera. Your pharmacist can give you further advice.
Drink plenty of water, to help your body cool down and avoid dehydration.
If your sunburn is painful, you can consider taking a pain-relieving medicine such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Make sure you cover sunburnt skin from direct sunlight, until it has completely healed.
As your sunburn heals, it can be tempting to pick at peeling skin, but doing so can damage the skin and cause infections.
When should I seek medical advice?
You should see your Doctor:
• Your skin swells or blisters
• You have chills or a high temperature
• You feel dizzy, sick or have a headache
• Your baby or young child has sunburn
• You can reduce your risk of sunburn by avoiding the sun between 11am and 3pm, covering up in loose cotton clothing and applying sunscreen regularly
• If you do get sunburnt, get out of the sun immediately. You can use a soothing lotion or cool water to soothe your skin, and can consider a pain relieving medicine