Sunburn is an acute inflammatory skin condition characterised by erythema, oedema, vesiculation, and desquamation, with associated symptoms of pain and/or pruritus.
Sunburn is a major preventable risk factor for accelerated photo-ageing and most common forms of skin cancer.
The disease typically runs a self-limited course and is treated symptomatically.
Education about future sunburn prevention via sun avoidance during peak daylight hours and the use of protective clothing/sunscreen are key interventions.
Sunburn is an acute inflammatory reaction of the skin induced by over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Skin findings include erythema and oedema, with or without vesiculation, followed by desquamation. Symptoms include pain and/or pruritus. Acute sunburn is a self-limited condition and typically requires only supportive care. However, primary prevention is critical, as cellular damage caused by UV radiation is irreversible and may with time increase the risk of skin cancer.
History and exam
Key diagnostic factors
- presence of risk factors
- sun exposure
- lack of sun protection
- skin discomfort
- skin tenderness
- sensation of warmth
Other diagnostic factors
- chronic actinic damage
- malaise, fever, chills, nausea, headache
- Fitzpatrick skin type I-III
- photo-sensitising medications
- intentional tanning
- lack of or improper use of sunscreen
- injudicious sun exposure
- age under 6 months
- history of skin cancer
Investigations to consider
- skin biopsy
Elena B. Hawryluk, MD, PhD
Department of Dermatology
Harvard Medical School
EBH is an author and reviewer for UpToDate and a consultant for Purity Brands LLC. EBH declares that her spouse receives salary and stock from Gritstone Oncology LLC.
Dr Elena B. Hawryluk would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr Aimee S. Payne and Dr Ronald M. Bernardin, previous co-contributors to this topic. ASP and RMB declare that they have no competing interests.
Chad M. Hivnor, Major, USAF, MC, FS
Outpatient & Pediatric Dermatology
59th Medical Wing/ SGOMD
Lackland Air Force Base
CMH declares that he has no competing interests.
Stephen Richardson, MD, FAAD
Clinical Assistant Professor
Florida State University College of Medicine
SR declares that he has no competing interests.
Ravi Ubriani, MD, FAAD
Assistant Professor of Clinical Dermatology
RU declares that he has no competing interests.
Peter M. Farr, MD, FRCP
Consultant Dermatologist and Professor of Clinical Photobiology
Royal Victoria Infirmary
Newcastle upon Tyne
PMF declares that he has no competing interests.
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