Icon WebMD Expert Blogs

This blog has been retired.


The opinions expressed in WebMD User-generated content areas like communities, review, ratings, or blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have... Expand

The opinions expressed in WebMD User-generated content areas like communities, reviews, ratings, or blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. User-generated content areas are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD User-generated content as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.


Monday, July 19, 2010

How Serious Is Your Sunburn?


IT Stock/Polka Dot

One of the common drawbacks of too much sun exposure is the risk of sunburn. Frequently, my patients will ask after their long vacation in the sweltering sun: “Is my burn a first-, second- or third-degree burn, and what should I do to take care it?”

I usually begin by educating my patients briefly on the different types of burns and what to look out for.

Sunburns typically characterized as first-degree burns are limited to the most superficial layer of the skin. These burns may present with redness on the skin, slight tenderness to the touch and, on occasion, light peeling of the skin within 24 to 48 hours after injury.

Despite your best efforts to protect your skin, you’ve got a sunburn. What should you do to soothe the burn?

  • The first step is to get out of the sun!
  • Immediately apply a cool compress to the area. This will help contain the inflammation.
  • Do not place ice directly on the skin. Ice may cause further damage.
  • If there is flaking or raw areas, apply Neosporin or Bacitracin lightly to the area. Cover with a clean gauze bandage.
  • Cleanse the area daily with soap and water, monitor the burn daily and look for signs of progression.
  • Finally, to help the damaged skin regenerate, moisturize the sun-damaged skin with vitamin E cream or aloe vera after the  initial injury has resolved.

David De Lossy/Photodisc

Most sunburns (first-degree burns) will resolve or show significant signs of improvement within the first 2-5 days. If your burn does not improve within this time frame, you may have a deeper burn or second-degree burn.

On occasion, sunbathers may present with a second-degree burn, especially if they have fallen asleep in the direct sun (while unprotected) for prolonged periods. Second-degree burns are characterized by more extensive thermal damage. Your injury has penetrated beyond the upper layer of the skin (such as from a scald or flame burn). These burns may present with a fluid-filled blister, redness and extreme pain. Your initial treatment is similar to first-degree burn. However, it is wise to seek medical attention.

Sunburns are rarely third-degree burns. These are characterized by full thickness thermal injury, damage to the top layer and deeper layers of the skin. If you suspect a third-degree burn, seek medical attention immediately. The source is usually scald, flame, chemical or electrical. Rarely is the sun the culprit.

Enjoy the sun, play safe and stay protected!

Are you susceptible to sunburns? How do you treat them? Share your tips with the Skin and Beauty Community.

Posted by: Susan Evans, MD at 5:38 pm

Subscribe & Stay Informed

Skin & Beauty

Start receiving the Skin & Beauty newsletter and get the latest diet, exercise and health tips to keep your skin glowing and beautiful!


WebMD Health News