Sunburn and Sun Poisoning (cont.)

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Why does the skin tan after exposure to UV rays?

The skin contains a pigment called melanin. It colors the skin, imparting the variety of skin tones we all recognize.

Melanin blocks at least some of the UV rays from penetrating the skin. After repeated or prolonged exposure to UV rays, the skin produces more melanin. Consequently, the skin darkens, or tans, which in turn protects the skin to a certain degree.

What are the symptoms of sunburn?

Some of the immediate symptoms of sunburn after exposure include:

  • The skin becomes red, tender, and hot.
  • Touching or rubbing the skin causes pain.
  • Because heat triggers fluid loss, a sunburn victim can also become dehydrated.
  • For several days after exposure, the skin may swell, blister, and peel. Some sufferers develop welts or rashes.
  • Skin peeling can occur several days later after a sun rash develops and is a sign of healing and rebuilding of skin.

More subtle exposures to the sun may not have any obvious immediate symptoms such as the ones listed above. Most sunburns are mild causing only skin redness, pain, and irritation due to involvement of the outer layer of skin (first degree burn). This type of burn may be painful to touch.

A more moderate sunburn (second degree burn) may cause the skin to become swollen, and very red, with painful blisters. This type of sun rash may take longer to heal.

People who have chronic (long standing) exposure to sun can increase their changes of developing chronic skin damage from sun exposure (wrinkles, aging, age spots, freckles, skin cancer, scarring, etc.).

The symptoms of sunburn can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending mainly on the following:

  1. The skin type of the person affected. (more detail to follow in this article)
  2. The time, duration, location, and altitude of exposure.
  3. Medications the person has been taking (sun-sensitizing drugs may increase a person's susceptibility to sunburn).
  4. Skin preparations (sunscreen) the person has been using.

What are the symptoms of severe sunburn (sun poisoning)?

In addition to the usual symptoms of sunburn, in severe cases of sunburn (sun poisoning), the individual may experience:

  • fever,
  • nausea,
  • chills,
  • dizziness,
  • rapid pulse,
  • rapid breathing,
  • dehydration,
  • shock with loss of consciousness, and/or
  • severe blisters or soreness.

Cases of severe sunburn may also be associated with heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which is a medical emergency. Severe cases of sunburn require emergency medical treatment.

Sunburn pictures

Following are pictures of various degrees of sunburn.

Picture of peeling skin from sunburn
Picture of peeling skin from sunburn

Picture of blisters from second degree sunburn
Picture of blisters from second degree sunburn

Picture of acute sunburn
Picture of acute sunburn

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/2/2014

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Sunburn - Experience Question: Have you ever experienced a really bad sunburn? What was it like?
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Sunburn (Sun Poisoning) - Applying Sunscreen Question: Share tips for applying sunscreen, including how to remember to apply it after swimming.

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