Sunburn: How long does it heal?

A sunburn is skin damage due to exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun. The indications of sunburn arise in a couple of hours after being exposed to the sun. Nevertheless, the full effects of skin damage might take full 24 hours to develop. Lasting damage especially increased risk for skin cancer might take years to arise.

How long does it last?

Take note that how long a sunburn lasts are based on its severity.

  • Mild – characterized by redness and some degree of pain that can last for 3-5 days. The skin starts to peel slightly for a couple of days as the skin regenerates
  • Moderate – the skin is reddened, swollen and warm to the touch. It might take a week to fully heal and the skin continues to peel for a few more days.
  • Severe – requires an assessment by a doctor or in a hospital. There is painful blistering and deeply reddened skin.
    sunburn

    The pain can be reduced using over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

Factors that affect the length of a sunburn

Various factors might affect the length of the sunburn symptoms. Remember that not all react in the same way to sun exposure. Generally, the following puts one at higher risk to severe sunburns that take a longer time to heal:

  • Having light or fair skin
  • High altitudes
  • Freckles
  • Red or fair hair
  • Tanning beds
  • Spending time outdoors between 10 AM and 3 PM
  • Ozone holes
  • Residing or visiting areas close to the equator
  • Using certain drugs that increases susceptibility to burns

Redness

The redness from sunburn usually arises around 2-6 hours after sun exposure. The redness is at its peak after around 24 hours and settles over the next 1-2 days. For severe cases, the redness might last longer.

Pain or discomfort

The pain generally starts within 6 hours and peaks around 24 hours. The pain eventually settles after 48 hours. The pain can be reduced using over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Applying a cool compress on the skin can provide some relief.

Swelling

Swelling might last for up to 2 days or longer for severe cases. Anti-inflammatory drugs or a corticosteroid cream can be used to alleviate the swelling.

Blisters

The blisters from moderate to severe sunburn arise between 6-24 hours after sun exposure, but might take several days to arise on the skin. As an indication of a moderate to severe burn, the blisters might last up to a week.

Peeling

Once the skin is burned, the skin normally flakes and peels after 3 days. When peeling starts, it can last for several days. Generally, the peeling stops once the skin is completely healed.

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on sunburn is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to care for this type of burn, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Victoria, Surrey, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

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