No matter how well you've integrated sunscreen into your daily routine, everyone gets caught in the sun sometimes. Perhaps you used up the travel-size bottle in your purse, forgot to reapply sunscreen after swimming, or traveled someplace where the ultraviolet (UV) rays are more intense than you're used to.

No matter the reason, sunburn can creep up quickly and easily when your skin is left unprotected, resulting in sore, red patches and—in more severe cases—peeling and blisters.

So, what should you do if you develop sunburn, and how long does sunburn last? Keep reading to learn what you can expect with sunburn as well as tips to help soothe your skin and promote recovery.

How Long Does Sunburn Last?

Mayo Clinic describes sunburn as inflamed, painful skin that feels hot to the touch. Sunburn often reveals itself immediately or a few hours after being in the sun, and it typically takes a few days to fade (three to five days for moderate sunburn and around a week in more severe cases). If you have Black or brown skin, sunburn may be harder to spot initially, but your skin will feel painful and warm to the touch.

Depending on the severity of the burn, you may also experience small, fluid-filled blisters or peeling as the skin sheds dead and damaged layers during the healing process. However, if you experience large blisters, chills, or confusion, you may have sun poisoning or heat stroke. If you notice any of these symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible.

How to Treat Sunburn

You can treat sunburn and help ease symptoms at home in a few ways. First, stay hydrated from the inside out by drinking plenty of water and applying a cooling after-sun lotion to replenish lost moisture and keep the skin feeling comfortable. Look for soothing ingredients such as Aloe Vera, which can bring fast relief to sore skin.

The American Academy of Dermatology also suggests taking frequent cool baths and showers to ease any pain you may be experiencing from sunburn. If you have second-degree sunburn, allow blisters to fully heal and resist the temptation to pop or pick at them, as this can cause infection. Opting for loose-fitting clothes will also help avoid friction from the fabric rubbing against your skin as it heals.

Finally, ibuprofen and aspirin can help reduce swelling and discomfort.

Preventing Future Sun Damage

Prevention is always better than the cure, and sunburn can put your skin at greater risk of developing serious health conditions such as melanoma. That's why it's important to prevent sunburn and protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays by applying broad-spectrum sunscreen every morning.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is ideal for everyday use, as its lightweight formula is suited for sensitive skin types and those prone to acne and rosacea. Ingredients like Niacinamide, Hyaluronic Acid, and Lactic Acid also promote healthy-looking skin and help products in the EltaMD Skin Recovery System work their magic. The EltaMD Skin Recovery Night Mask, for instance, encourages your complexion's nighttime repair and renewal process by strengthening the skin barrier while visibly reducing redness and improving hydration.

Remember to Reapply Sunscreen

Reapplying sunscreen is one of the most important steps in preventing sunburn. When you're out and about, reapply every couple of hours and even more frequently if you're swimming or sweating under the hot summer sun. But remember that the skin can get burned all year round—even in the winter when there's snow on the ground. In fact, snow and ice can actually put your skin at greater risk of sunburn, as it reflects UV rays in the same way that bodies of water do.

Implementing Sun-Safe Habits for the Future

Everyone slips up every now and then, so have patience with yourself if you're currently battling a sunburn. Think of it as an opportunity to instill even better habits (and fail-safes) in the future and a lesson about how quickly UV rays can damage the skin. In addition to keeping up with sunscreen, remember to seek shade often in the height of summer or when on a beach vacation, and protect yourself with lightweight layers, a brimmed hat, and sunglasses.

Don't let the worry of sunburn ruin your fun—just prepare well and make "reapply, reapply, reapply" your skin care mantra when you're out soaking up the sun.


  • Catherine Hufton

    Catherine Hufton is a UK-based freelance journalist and writer who has worked for some of fashion's most iconic companies and written for the world's best known magazines and newspapers. Beginning her career at Net-a-Porter and Matches Fashion over 12 years ago, she has created content for L'Oréal, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, The Telegraph and more.

    View all posts