You are here

The Symptoms of Sun Poisoning and What to Do About Them


Have you ever seen someone who had red welts on their skin after being in the sun? What about hearing a friend or family member say they got sun poisoning with bumps, blisters, and peeling skin? While the warmer months bring fun outdoors, you need to be careful to protect your skin from potential harm from the sun.

Sun poisoning is a rash that comes from the sun, but it doesn't really mean the sun poisons you. It refers to a skin condition that develops as the result of a sunburn. UV light causes free radicals to damage collagen, harms your cells' DNA, and directly causes skin inflammation. Your skin may be become red, itchy, bumpy, swollen, or blistered. In some cases, you may even feel sick in general, with nausea, fever, and chills. Sun poisoning is essentially a severe sunburn that may be accompanied by systemic symptoms.

If you develop sun poisoning, you want to address the condition right away. Cool compresses or a cool shower can help calm the skin, while applying hydrating creams or ointments can help repair your damaged skin barrier. Aloe is commonly used for its skin soothing properties. For inflamed, but non-open skin, an over-the-counter 1 percent cortisone ointment can be used to reduce inflammation. An inside-out approach— taking acetaminophen or NSAIDS like naproxen or ibuprofen—can also help. Finally, stay hydrated. Especially if you have blisters or open wounds, you can lose significant amounts of water through evaporation.

If symptoms are extreme with blisters and open wounds, and you feel generally unwell with pain, fevers, chills, confusion, or a headache, it is important to get yourself checked out by a professional. Consult your doctor or visit the emergency room for immediate attention. Also, if you get a rash every time you go into the sun, make sure to speak directly to your dermatologist because there are other skin conditions that develop or get worse in the sun.

Of course the best way to treat sun poisoning is to prevent it from happening in the first place! Be sun smart, avoiding the peak hours of sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wear sun-protective hats, glasses, and clothing. And don't forget sunscreen: broad spectrum with at least SPF 30. Apply, reapply, then reapply again.

Here are some top sunscreen picks from the Consumer Reports 2016 sunscreen guide:

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk

Aveeno Protect + Hydrate SPF 30

Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protection SPF 70

Coppertone Kids Stick SPF 55