Sunburn is the result of not using proper skin protection while sunbathing or during routine sun exposure. The skin becomes red, tender and swollen. You may have a stinging sensation and blistering may occur. Some people even get a low grade fever. The skin will eventually shed or peel, once the skin underneath has repaired itself.

Everyone, even dark-skinned persons, are at risk for developing a sunburn. Sunburn and fever can occur within 15 minutes of sun exposure. Sun damage is not limited to sunny days. It can also occur during cloudy weather because clouds don’t block the sun’s UVA or UVB rays.

Redness, pain, swelling, and even blistering can occur from this over exposure. Peeling of the skin usually follows several days later. The pain of sunburn is usually greatest between 6 and 48 hours after exposure.

It is important to protect your skin from developing a sunburn. Repeated sunburns increases your risk of skin damage, skin cancer, wrinkled skin, dry skin, and rough spots. Sunburn may take several days or longer to heal.

Tips to avoid sunburns while swimming

  • Swim either early in the morning or late in the evening.
    • The sun causes the most damage to your skin between the hours of 10am and 4pm
  • Wear UV Sun safe protected swimwear. Our favorite brands are
  • Wear sunscreen on your entire body.
  • Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before sun exposure.
    • When you apply sunscreen, squeeze it out on the back of your hand.
    • To make sure you apply sunscreen to your entire body, start with the face and neck and then move your way to your feed.
    • Make sure you rub the back of your hands together. The hands are an often forgotten sunscreen spot and are among the first parts of the body to show damage from the sun.
  • Reapply water resistant sunscreens every 80 minutes or so, after being in the water.
    • This is especially important if you get out of the water and towel dry. Sunscreen can rub off when you towel dry so apply more even if you haven’t been in the water too long.
  • Protect your scalp.
    • Wear a swim cap to protect your scalp from the sun.

Choosing a sunscreen

Sunscreens are categorized and labeled with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor). SPF refers to the time it takes for skin to burn under laboratory conditions with the sunscreen versus without wearing it. Try to always wear a minimum SPF 30. This blocks 97% of the sun’s most damaging UVB rays.

When choosing a sunscreen, always look for one that will block both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB rays are categorized as “broad spectrum protection”. UVA refers to ‘aging rays’ while UVB refers to ‘the burning rays’. Whichever sunscreen you choose, remember it will only last between 1 and 4 hours, so make sure to reapply frequently.

Water resistant sunscreens

“Water resistant” is not exactly waterproof or sweatproof. Brands are not allowed to used the words waterproof or sweatproof on their products. If a product’s label says it is water resistant, it must specify exactly how long the water resistance lasts.

Sunburns and fever

One of the most common symptoms of a sunburn is fever. The fever is very common in children who are naturally prone to frequent fevers. Fevers develop because of the skin inflammation. Fever with a sunburn is also a sign that the skin is infected.  If you or your child develops a fever with a sunburn, consult with your doctor. If you are unable to visit a doctor right away, contact a service like Heal that can can send a doctor or nurse to you.

Sunburn and over-the-counter medications

If you develop a sunburn while swimming, the following medications will relieve pain and help you heal:

  • Aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help combat pain.
  • Anesthetic creams or sprays containing benzocain and lidocain provide temporary relief.
  • Antibacterial and antimicrobial soaps and antiseptics help prevent infection.
  • Aloe-based products soothe and cool overheated skin.
  • Moisturizers and body cream can help keep your skin from drying out and tightening up.