Sunburn (Sun Poisoning)

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Is a follow-up visit with a physician necessary?

A follow-up visit with a physician is not necessary unless the sunburn was severe. Every patient who has suffered significant sunburn should report the incident to a doctor so the burn can become part of the patient's medical history. Doing so will alert the physician, during future check-ups, to look closely for symptoms of skin cancer and other problems sunburn can cause.

Who is most susceptible to sunburn?

Persons with certain pigment disorders (such as albinism) and persons with fair skin are at highest risk of suffering a burn. The American Academy of Dermatology classifies skin types into six categories (in terms of susceptibility to sunburn) for skin colors ranging from fair to black. This is called the Fitzpatrick classification. These skin types are as follows:

Types 1 and 2: High Susceptibility to Sunburn

  • Individuals with Skin Type 1 have very fair skin (pale or milky white), blond or red hair, and possibly freckles. Such persons can suffer a burn in less than one-half hour when exposed to summer sunlight at midday. People with Skin Type 1 never tan.
  • Individuals with Skin Type 2 have very light brown skin and possibly freckles. They burn in a short time in the sun, although they can achieve a very light tan.

Types 3 and 4: Moderate Susceptibility to Sunburn

  • Individuals with Skin Type 3 (called "average Caucasians" by The American Academy of Dermatology) have skin that is slightly more brown than the skin of a Type 2. They can develop a moderate sunburn and a light brown tan.
  • Individuals with Skin Type 4 have olive-colored skin. Ordinarily, they develop only a minor sunburn while acquiring moderate tan.

Types 5 and 6: Minimal or No Susceptibility to Sunburn

  • Individuals with Skin Type 5 have brown skin and can develop a dark tan while rarely burning.
  • Individuals with Skin Type 6 have black skin and never burn.

It is often difficult to accurately determine an individual's skin type simply by looking at the color of the skin. It is best to ask the person how quickly they may burn and how easily they tan. Based on the response, the skin type can be determined.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/17/2015

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