UT University Health Services

Sunburn and Sun Safety

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to the sun, tanning beds, or sunlamps. It can be mild or severe enough to cause blisters, peeling, and other more general symptoms - some of which may require medical care. Overexposure to the sun may be merely painful in the short run, but over the long run, it can cause skin cancer and premature aging. In fact, a tan is a visible sign that skin damage has occurred.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Red, swollen, or painful skin
  • In severe cases, small or large water blisters
  • Occasionally, a fever less than 100.5 degrees F (38 degrees C)
  • Tanning or peeling of the skin after the sunburn has gone away


  • Soak skin in cool water or put cool wet cloths on painful areas.
  • If the skin isn't blistered or broken, try applying aloe vera gel to soothe the burns.
  • To manage pain, take an over-the-counter pain reliever that contains ibupofen. You can also try an over-the-counter "after sun" gel, spray, or cream that contains an anesthetic like lidocaine.
  • Drink at least eight ounces of water every hour that you are awake.


  • Symptoms don't improve within 48 hours
  • Fever of 100.5 degrees F (38 degrees C) or higher that doesn't come down after taking an over-the-counter pain reliever
  • More than one episode of vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Mental confusion, dizziness, or fainting

Go Under Cover

To stay healthy and maintain your youthful skin:
  • Minimize sun exposure from 10am - 4pm.
  • Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15. If you're fair-skinned, use SPF 30 or higher. Don't forget your ears, under your chin, and your neck. Sunlight can reflect off of water or snow!
  • Reapply sunscreen as directed, but especially after swimming, exercise, or sweating heavily.
  • Use a physical barrier cream or ointment like zinc oxide on your nose, ears, and the backs of your legs and neck if you'll be in intense sunlight for long periods.
  • Wear light colored clothing, a cap or hat with a brim, and a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt.
  • Avoid sunlamps and tanning booths/beds. Try a sunless tanning product or other non-UV tanning options.
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