Sunburn is a reaction of the skin to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or from other sources such as tanning beds. A sunburn causes the top layers of the skin to release chemicals that cause inflammation, with swelling, pain and redness.  Without protection, the sun’s UV radiation (both UVA and UVB) will immediately start to penetrate deep into the layers of the skin, damaging the skin’s cells. Skin turns red within one to six hours of being burned. It will continue to develop for the next twenty-four to seventy-two hours. Sunburn causes long-term skin damage like wrinkles, blotchiness, and discoloration, and also contributes to skin cancer. Damaged skin cells will self destruct and eventually peel. This is the body’s way of getting rid of damaged skin cells that might develop into skin cancers.

Please know that repeated sunburn will increase your risk of skin cancer. There are several skin cancers that can occur. These include malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.  All types of sunburn, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage. Further sunburn only increases the risk of developing skin cancer.  For these reasons, intentionally exposing your skin to UV radiation is unwise.  Said another way, we do not recommend tanning beds or laying out in the sun to get a sun tan. UV Radiation is harmful and should be avoided.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is most intense 10 am–2 pm (or 11 am–3 pm during daylight savings time). In Arkansas, sunburn can occur in as little as 30 minutes in the middle of a hot day. To prevent sunburn, we recommend using sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (spf ) of at least 30. Hats and long loose clothing can also protect your child’s skin from the sun.  Sunburns typically heal themselves within a few weeks. If your child is sunburned, depending on the severity and location of the sunburn, the following may help:

  • To alleviate pain and heat caused by the sunburn, take a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin.
  • Take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (see dosing guide).
  • To rehydrate the skin and help reduce swelling, apply topical moisturizing cream, aloe, or 1 percent hydro-cortisone cream.
  • Stay in the shade until the sunburn is healed. Additional sun exposure will only increase the severity and pain of the sunburn.
  • If the sunburn is severe and blisters occur, consult us within 24 hours.
Reviewed by Dr. Byrum on 3/22/2017