Sunburned skin

Sunburned skin

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​Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can bronze or burn your skin. The risk of burning depends on your skin type and the strength of UV radiation (UV index). Sunburns are treated just as any other minor burns.

Sunlight damages skin cells, hence the body increases the production of melanin, i.e. tanning, in an attempt to protect the skin. The most typical Finnish skin type tans and burns occasionally. In Finland, the need for protection from sunlight begins in May in the southern coastal areas, when the UV index rises above 3. The need for protection should continue until August. In addition to skin damage and sunburns UV radiation ages the skin prematurely and increases the risk of skin cancer. UV radiation may also trigger some skin conditions, such as herpes outbreaks or rosacea. Calculated exposure to UV radiation is used to treat some skin conditions.

Symptoms

​Ultraviolet radiation emitted from the sun damages skin and tissues by causing a sunburn, the seriousness of which depends on the length and intensity of exposure. The first symptoms of burnt skin usually occur at the earliest 6 hours after exposure.  Sunburnt skin is red and feels hot to the touch. Redness peaks approximately 24 hours after the exposure to sunlight. 

Intensive exposure to UV radiation may cause blistering of the skin. In addition to blisters, the damaged area may be swollen and very sore. Sunburns may also result in general symptoms of headache, nausea, chills in connection to sunstroke or heat exhaustion.  

Self-care

​Protecting your skin from harmful UV radiation is important. Avoid sun exposure around mid-day (11 am to 3 pm) and always when the UV index is over 3. Wear protective clothing (loose clothing with long sleeves and legs, wide-brimmed hat) or apply sunscreen, also when in shade. Remember to protect yourself from sunlight also in spring, out boating in summer, and when spending time in snowy terrain.

Cool sunburnt skin with cold water. Drinking cold fluids may also be helpful and prevent dehydration. You can apply hydrocortisone cream from a pharmacy on your skin and take over-the-counter pain-killers for the pain and ache, if necessary. Pharmacy staff will help you select the right product, if necessary.

Do not pop any blisters. You can protect exuding or blistering skin with a burn dressing from a pharmacy. Change the dressing every couple of days and keep it dry.

A surface burn heals in a week or two, depending on the size of the injury. A basic cream may be applied to the peeling skin while the burn is healing. 

When should you seek medical advice?

​You should seek medical advice, if

  • your skin blisters and the burnt area is larger than the palm of your hand.
  • ​in addition to burnt skin, you have general symptoms, e.g. a headache and nausea, which will not be alleviated by resting in a cool place or drinking fluids
  • burnt skin has signs of an infection (increasing redness or swelling, or it feels warm to the touch)

More information

The producers of the instruction

​​​Emergency care professionals have produced the instruction in collaboration with Terveyskirjasto.​

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Updated  22.4.2021