Sunburn Rash Symptoms and Treatments

Table Of Contents

It’s summer and that means it’s time to explore beaches, sunbathe and mentally ignore that it will all be over too soon. Until you stay out in the sun too long and come back home to find yourself looking like a tomato and a rash on your skin.

Is this normal? Let’s find out.

Mild sunburn rash
Mild sunburn rash on the face
  1. What is sunburn

Sunburn is a common occurrence of just that, the sun burns your skin if you stay out in it too long.

“Sunburn is a form of radiation burn that affects living tissue, such as skin, that results from an overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, commonly from the sun.” Wikipedia

A regular sunburn means your skin is, hot, red, and swollen, but it peels off eventually. It may also be rather painful, depending on how fried you are and can cause fatigue and mild dizziness- both a direct cause also of too much sun exposure.


  • Blisters
  • Small, itchy, red bumps
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills

So, looking like and feeling like a hot tomato is normal, but what’s up with that rash?

Sunburn rash meaning and symptoms

If you stay out in the sun too long, you get a severe sunburn also known as sun poisoning. The rash is an allergic reaction to your skin. It is known as photodermatitis.

“Photo dermatitis, sometimes referred to as sun poisoning or photo allergy, is a form of allergic contact dermatitis in which the allergen must be activated by light to sensitize the allergic response, and to cause a rash or other systemic effect on subsequent exposure.” Wikipedia

Symptoms of photodermatitis

The symptoms vary among people but the most common is an itchy red rash. These may look like small blisters. Skin may peel around the blisters over time.

Here are some of the most common symptoms as listed in Medical Fox

  • Itchy, scaly, blisters, or raised areas
  • Lesions that appear like an eczema
  • Hyperpigmented discoloration of the skin
  • Outbreaks in areas of skin which are overexposed to UV light
  • Pain, erythema, and swelling in affected areas
  • Chills, headache, fever, and nausea may occur
  • Long-term effects comprise chronic skin thickening and scarring and an increased risk of skin cancer if the cause is hereditary in characteristics.

Factors that affect photodermatitis

Obviously, the sun. Basically, your body says no to the ultraviolet rays of the sun and reacts as if it were an allergy. Spending longer than 30 minutes in the sun is a sure-fire way of getting sunburned and possibly suffering a sunburn rash. But there are other things that can increase your chances of a severe burn, or photodermatitis.

1. Skin type

This has more to do with the amount of melanin in your skin. Darker people have more melanin while lighter people have less.

“When the defenses are overwhelmed, a toxic reaction occurs, resulting in sunburn. The defense mechanism is a pigment called melanin, which is produced by cells in our skin called melanocytes. Melanin absorbs ultraviolet light and dissipates it as heat.” Live science

Think of Melanin as a natural sunscreen, those with less of it are more susceptible to severe sunburn, but all skin types can burn.

2. Age

Yes, age plays a role as well in how severe a sunburn is.

“The skin of children younger than 6 and adults older than 60 is more sensitive to sunlight.” WebMD

Therefore, use more sunscreen for younger children or older people.

3. Location

Turns out, there is a reason people get more sunburned at the beach. Reflective surfaces all reflect the sun rays and increase the severity of the burn.

“reflective surfaces, such as water, white sand, concrete, snow, and ice” WebMD

4. Time of day

The sun’s rays are most potent between 10 am and 4 pm in the afternoon. This is something we all probably know to be true somehow or the other.

You cannot avoid staying out, nor should you want to. Just lather on more sunscreen. And don’t be fooled by the clouds, sun rays pass right through them.

5. Equator

The equator is the dividing line between the northern and southern hemispheres. Check out national geographic to understand exactly why it is so hot at the equator.

However, it is indeed hot. In fact, the nearer you are to the equator, the more sun you are exposed to. This means that the closer you are to the equator, the more sun protection you will have to wear.

6. Altitudes

At higher altitudes, there is more sun exposure. Keep this in mind if you are going climbing.

“UV exposure increases about 4% for every 1000 ft. (305 m) gain in elevation.” WebMD

7. Medication

Some medication and products can increase sensitivity to UV rays which would increase the chances of developing a rash after a severe sunburn.

“Common prescription medication that can cause a photoallergic eruption include antibiotics, diuretics for high blood pressure and heart failure, and certain oral contraceptives. Some cases of photoallergic reaction are linked to over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve, Naprosyn and others). In most cases, skin symptoms disappear after the offending chemical is identified and no longer used.” Medicine health

Treatment and relief remedies

“the rash may appear between 10 and 30 minutes of unprotected sun exposure. According to New Health Advisor, this reaction can last anywhere from a few hours to three full days, with a severe rash lasting for ten days” Health tool

To soothe or heal sunburn, you can do the following. There are some natural remedies for sunburn and some sun poisoning treatments. However, photodermatitis generally resolves itself unless it is a severe case of the same. So, don’t panic if you can’t do any of the treatments below.

1. Cool shower

A cool shower will help to lower the temperature of the body. Rinsing the affected area with cold water also works to remove the allergen that caused the photodermatitis. The coolness of the water also provides relief.

Consider also bathing in baking soda to relieve the affected areas

2. Fresh Aloe Vera

Fresh Aloe Vera works wonders for the soothing severely burned skin. If you can find an aloe plant, cut it and rub the goo on the affected areas.

This also helps reduce itching
3. Medication

Advil and Tylenol help with the pain. Topical anesthetics such as benzocaine help with the inflammation.

Some lotions also help.

4. Stay out of the sun

If possible, stay out of the sun for as long as possible after exposure and reaction to allow your body the time it needs to heal.

5. Prevention

We all know that “prevention is the best cure.”

Use sunscreen every time you go out in the sun, and be careful to check that none of the ingredients in your sunscreen, products or medications will increase your susceptibility to burning in the sun.

If there is no improvement after two weeks, see the doctor.

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