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How is sunburn different than sun poisoning? 

Sun poisoning is a severe sunburn with side effects that mimic the flu or an allergic reaction. In addition to the skin discoloration, pain and skin sensitivities associated with a typical sunburn, the symptoms of sun poisoning can escalate and require medical attention.


What are the symptoms of sunburn?

Common sunburn symptoms include:

  • Skin is hot and tender when touched
  • Skin shows redness or discoloration
  • Skin swells
  • Skin is itchy

Get out of the sun immediately if you are showing symptoms of sunburn.


What are the symptoms of sun poisoning?

  • Blistering or peeling skin
  • Confusion
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Hives or rash
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath

Get out of the sun immediately if you are showing symptoms of sun poisoning.


How do I treat a sunburn?

Cool down your skin. Take a cool shower or use cool compresses to lower your skin’s temperature.


Moisturize your skin. Apply a moisturizer cream or lotion while your skin is still wet to help seal in moisture. Use aloe vera gel. If itchy, use a 1% hydrocortisone cream. Do not use ointments, petroleum jelly, creams with alcohol, benzocaine and lidocaine. 


Take a pain reliever. Medicines, such as aspirin, help to reduce inflammation. Check with your doctor first to avoid interaction with other medications you take.


Stay hydrated. Choose water or drinks that contain electrolytes. 


How do I treat sun poisoning?

Follow the same treatment for sunburn, but call your doctor if your symptoms include confusion, dizziness, fever or nausea. In severe cases of sun poisoning, your doctor may recommend IV fluid, oral steroids or applying steroid cream or topical antibiotics.

Let your skin heal. Scratching the infected area or popping blisters increases your risk of infection. 


Can I prevent sunburn and sun poisoning? 

Yes! Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Apply sunscreen. Use broad-spectrum sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply at least every two hours. Even if it is a cloudy day, you can still get sunburn and need to apply sunscreen. 

Talk to your dermatologist about the right sunscreen for you.


Wear protective clothing, including sunglasses and a broad-brim hat that covers your face and neck. Use protective outerwear like long-sleeve shirts and rash guard swimwear. Learn more about how to pack for a healthy and safe beach day.

Unprotected skin can become damaged by the sun in as little as 15 minutes.

Limit sun exposure. Stay out of the sun between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when ultraviolet rays are strongest. If you go in the water or take a walk during this time, wear sunscreen, use protective gear and minimize the time you are out. Stay under a beach umbrella or find a shaded concession stand when possible. Your risk of sunburn and sun poisoning increases the more you stay exposed to the sun. 


Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, preferably water and drinks with electrolytes. Learn more about the importance of staying hydrated.


Know your medications. Some medications make skin sensitive to sun exposure. Learn more about heat intolerance and medication.

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Find Care at Catholic Health

Sunburn and sun poisoning increase your risk for skin cancer. Talk to your dermatologist about screening for skin cancer.

Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.

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