Symptoms of sunburn 

The symptoms of sunburn vary from person to person, and depend on your skin type and the length of time you are exposed to UV rays.

The paler your skin, the more likely you are to burn compared with someone with darker skin.

The symptoms of sunburn include:

  • red, sore skin (erythema) 
  • skin that is warm and tender to the touch
  • flaking and peeling skin after a number of days (usually four to seven days after exposure)

Dark skin can also burn and become damaged if exposed to enough UV light. However, as dark skin contains more melanin (pigment), it can tolerate sunlight without burning for longer than paler skin.

The symptoms of sunburn are not always immediately obvious. They usually begin three to five hours after exposure to the sun's rays, and are usually at their worst 12 to 24 hours after being in the sun.

Severe sunburn

Severe cases of sunburn can cause:

  • blistering
  • swelling of the skin (oedema)
  • chills
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
  • a general feeling of discomfort (malaise)

You may also have symptoms of heat exhaustion, such as:

  • dizziness
  • headache
  • nausea (feeling sick)

Read more about heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

You should contact your GP surgery if you have severe symptoms of sunburn, if you are burnt over a large area, or if a young child or baby has sunburn.

Page last reviewed: 12/03/2013

Next review due: 12/03/2015