Why Do I Get Sunburned

Sunburn is a common skin condition caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. sun's UV (ultraviolet) radiation damages the DNA in your skin cells. This can result in inflammation and redness, as well as other symptoms like pain, itching, and blistering. Sunburn is a type of radiation burn that is most commonly caused by UVB radiation, one of the two major types of UV radiation (the other is UVA). UVB radiation is stronger than UVA radiation and is therefore more likely to cause sunburn. In this article, we will look at the causes of sunburn and how to avoid and treat it.

What is sunburn?

Sunburn is an inflammatory response to UV radiation damage to the skin's outermost layers. Melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its colour and protects it from the sun's rays, is at the heart of it all. Melanin works by darkening sun-exposed skin that is not protected. Genetics determines how much melanin you produce, which is why some people burn while others tan. Both are symptoms of skin cellular damage. Prolonged unprotected sun exposure can cause skin cells to become red, swollen, and painful, also known as sunburn, in people with less melanin. Sunburns can range from minor to severe.

Your skin may begin to peel as a result of sunburn. This is an indication that your body is attempting to eliminate damaged cells. Never peel the skin yourself; instead, let it fall off naturally. Learn more about sunburn treatment in the sections below.1

Causes of sunburn

Sunburn and skin cancer are primarily caused by UVB rays. As we already mentioned there are two types of ultraviolet lights, UV-A and UV-B. UVB rays have a shorter wavelength than UVA rays and can penetrate deeper into the skin. They are also in charge of vitamin D production in the skin. Excessive UVB exposure, on the other hand, can cause skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer.

People should limit their UV exposure by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying sunscreen, according to the American Cancer Society. Sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 should be applied to all exposed skin. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.2

What should you know about sunburn?

  • Some people are more prone to sunburn than others: Your susceptibility is determined by your skin type; people with fair skin are most vulnerable. However, anyone can be burned.
  • Sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer even if there is no burn. Even if you are tanned or have dark skin that does not redden, the sun can cause cellular damage that can lead to cancer.
  • The UV index is a consideration: The intensity of the sun varies depending on the season, time of day, and geographic location. Unprotected skin will burn faster or more severely if the UV index is high. Be cautious, especially when the sun is at its brightest. However, even when the index is low, the risk persists. Every day of the year, protect yourself.
  • On a cloudy day, you can burn: Even when the sun isn't shining, be cautious. Clouds can allow up to 80% of UV rays to pass through.
  • Light pink is still undesirable: Every burn, no matter how minor, is a sign of skin damage that can lead to premature ageing and skin cancer.1

How to prevent sunburn

There are several methods for avoiding sunburn and protecting your skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation:

  1. Wear protective clothing: Wearing clothing that covers the skin, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat, can help to protect the skin from UV radiation.
  2. Use sunscreen: Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to all exposed skin, and reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.
  3. Seek shade: Try to avoid being in the sun during the peak UV radiation hours, which are typically between 10 am and 4 pm. Seek shade under trees, umbrellas, or other structures.
  4. Wear UV-blocking sunglasses: Wear sunglasses that block 99% of UV radiation to protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes.
  5. Check the UV index for your area before going outside and plan accordingly. The more intense the UV radiation, the higher the UV index.
  6. Avoid tanning beds: UV radiation from tanning beds can damage your skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.

You can effectively protect your skin from sunburn and lower your risk of developing skin cancer by following these steps.3

Signs and symptoms of sunburn

and how to tell if you've been sunburned, its signs and symptoms can vary in severity, but typically include erythema, oedema, and pain.

Erythema is a medical term for skin redness caused by increased blood flow to the affected area. This is a classic sunburn symptom that can range from light pink to deep red.

Oedema is the medical term for swelling, and it occurs when fluid accumulates in the tissues of the skin. Sunburn causes swelling, which can be accompanied by pain and tenderness to the touch.

Depending on the severity of the sunburn, pain can range from a mild burning sensation to severe pain.

Other sunburn symptoms include itching, blistering, and skin peeling. In severe cases, sunburn can cause fever, chills, nausea, and even dehydration.

Sunburn can also increase the risk of developing skin cancer. As a result, it is critical to protect your skin from the sun and seek medical attention if you have severe sunburn symptoms.4

Management and treatment for sunburn

The primary goals of sunburn management and treatment are to relieve symptoms and prevent further skin damage. Some common methods for managing and treating sunburn include:

  1. Applying a cool compress to the skin or taking a cool shower can help to reduce inflammation and pain.
  2. Topical medications: OTC creams and gels containing aloe vera, hydrocortisone, or ibuprofen can help soothe sunburned skin and reduce pain and inflammation.
  3. Oral medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used to treat sunburn pain.
  4. Hydration: Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help replace fluids lost due to sunburn and keep you hydrated.
  5. Avoid additional sun exposure: It is critical to avoid additional sun exposure until the sunburn has healed. This includes staying out of the sun, wearing protective clothing, and applying sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
  6. Moisturizing: Using a moisturiser on sunburned skin can help keep it hydrated and prevent peeling.

It should be noted that severe sunburn necessitates immediate medical attention. Seek medical attention right away if you have symptoms such as a fever, chills, nausea, or dehydration.5


Sunburn reminds many people of summer days spent at the beach, but it also serves as a painful reminder of the importance of protecting our skin from the sun. The sensation of tight, itchy skin, combined with discomfort and pain, can be overwhelming and frustrating. It can also make daily tasks difficult, such as sleeping or dressing.

It's critical to remember that sunburn is more than just a minor inconvenience; it's a serious condition with long-term consequences. Sunburn damage can accumulate over time, increasing the risk of skin cancer and other skin conditions.

Sunburn prevention is critical not only for our physical health but also for our emotional well-being.


  1. Sunburn [Internet]. The Skin Cancer Foundation. [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from: https://www.skincancer.org/risk-factors/sunburn/
  2. Guerra KC, Crane JS. Sunburn. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK534837/
  3. Uptodate [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/sunburn-prevention-beyond-the-basics
  4. Sunburn - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2023 Jan 26]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sunburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20355922
  5.  How to treat sunburn [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jan 27]. Available from: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/treat-sunburn
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Mariam Nikolaishvili

Bachelor of medicine, Tbilisi State University, Georgia

I am Mariam Nikolaishvili, a sixth-year medical student. I decided to become a doctor when I was 5 years old, and I haven’t changed my mind since. Being a dermatologist and helping people with various skin conditions is my primary objective. I chose to participate in the Klarity internship because I have always loved to write and wanted to learn more about writing for the medical field.

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