Carefree M.D. Blog

How Long Does Sunburn Last? [Estimate Your Healing Time]

Carefree MD

June 26, 2021 | Blog

A lovely day outside can quickly turn sour when you notice that you got sunburn. The pain, the redness, and the peeling can all be really uncomfortable. Discover how long sunburn lasts, and what you can do to make it heal faster.

What Is a Sunburn Exactly?

A sunburn is your skin’s reaction to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB.

UVA has longer wavelengths, and it penetrates deeper skin tissue. This causes wrinkles and increased signs of aging.

UVB on the other hand has shorter wavelengths. This is the type of UV ray that causes sunburn. 

When you come in contact with these invisible rays without protection, they damage your skin, sometimes to the point of DNA damage. The sunburn you feel is the subsequent inflammation of the skin.

The Symptoms of a Sunburn

The symptoms of sunburn vary in severity based on your skin tone, how much time you spent in the sun, and what protection you wore against it. 

Don’t be surprised if you get sunburnt on a cloudy day. The clouds only diffuse the UV rays, but they don’t stop them from damaging your skin.

Common sunburn symptoms are:

  • Pinkness or redness in skin tone
  • Skin feels warm or hot to the touch
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Small fluid-filled blisters
  • In severe cases: headache, fever, nausea, and fatigue
  • Eyes that feel painful or gritty

Usually, you’ll start to experience the symptoms of a sunburn 4 hours after you were exposed. How long it takes to heal from a sunburn varies after that.

How Long Does a Sunburn Last Based on Severity

How long a sunburn lasts depends on the severity of the burn and your symptoms. Those with fairer skin may be more likely to experience severe sunburn symptoms.

Mild Sunburn

Mild sunburn can last 3-5 days. As you heal, your skin may begin to peel.

Moderate Sunburn

If your skin’s red, hot to the touch, and painful, you have a moderate sunburn. This can take up to a week to heal. Once it does, your skin may peel for several days afterward. 

Severe Sunburn

If you’re outside in the sun without protection for a long period of time, you risk getting severe sunburn. The symptoms of this can be swelling, rash, or blisters. 

In very severe cases, you may also experience sun poisoning. This can come as a headache, nausea, and fever.

Severe sunburns often require medical attention. The healing time for severe sunburns can last 2 weeks, with several days of skin repair and peeling afterward.

How Long Do Sunburn Symptoms Last Individually?

If you’re interested in how long the individual symptoms of sunburn usually last, you can learn more about them here.

How Long Does a Sunburn Redness Last?

In most cases, the redness of sunburn will usually show up 2-6 hours after exposure. It will peak after 24 hours, and heal within the next couple of days. However, the more severe your sunburn is, the longer it will take for the redness to disappear.

How Long Does a Sunburn Pain Last?

Pain is a common symptom of sunburn. Usually, you’ll start to feel a stinging pain 6 hours after exposure. Just like redness, the pain also peaks 24 hours after. It will gradually disappear within two days.

Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or aspirin can help with this symptom. Applying a cool compress is also useful.

How Long Does a Sunburn Swelling Last?

Swelling from a sunburn lasts 2 days usually. It can last longer in severe cases.

Ibuprofen or corticosteroid cream can help reduce the swelling. Aloe vera gel has anti-inflammatory properties as well.

How Long Does a Sunburn Peeling Last?

Peeling skin means that your sunburn’s healing. However, it’s only fully healed once the skin naturally sheds. If you notice flaking or peeling, it’s important to refrain from pulling or exfoliating it. Let the peeling happen naturally.

Usually, the peeling stage of sunburn will only last 2-3 days for mild and moderate cases. In severe cases, it can take up to a week.

Taking a warm bath can encourage the peeling to heal faster. Using a gentle moisturizer can also help.

How Long Does a Sunburn Blister Last?

Generally, the blisters of a moderate to severe sunburn appear 6-24 hours after exposure. Although, in some cases, it can also take days. 

Once these fluid-filled blisters appear, it may take about a week for them to heal.

It’s important to not pop or bother the blisters of sunburn, as this can cause further infection. Dressing the blisters to let them heal naturally is useful.

And be sure to keep them out of the sunlight until they’re gone.

How Long Does a Sunburn Rash Last?

Sometimes, your skin reacts with a rash when you get sunburnt. This usually appears 6 hours after exposure. And it can take 3 days to heal, depending on sunburn severity.

Applying a cool compress or aloe vera gel can help promote healing a sunburn rash.

How Long Does a Sunburn Poisoning Last?

Sun poisoning is a serious symptom. Despite its name, it’s not poisonous. It’s your immune system’s reaction to severe sunburn and dehydration.

If you’re experiencing sun poisoning, turn to a doctor. It can take 10-14 days for you to completely heal from sun poisoning.

How to Treat a Sunburn to Heal Faster

Although a sunburn usually disappears after a couple of days, sun-smart choices after sunburn can help your skin heal faster.

  • Stay away from the sun: More sun on your sunburn isn’t a good combination. Use sunscreen, stay in the shade, and wear protective clothing on the sunburnt area.
  • Apply aftersun creams: Corticosteroid cream and other aftersun care creams can help promote faster skin healing.
  • Try a cold compress: A cold compress can reduce the swelling and the pain of sunburn.
  • Use aloe vera gel: The anti-inflammatory properties of aloe vera can soothe your skin and promote healing.
  • Take pain medication: Taking ibuprofen or aspirin can lower the pain of sunburn. 
  • Moisturize: Sunburnt skin often becomes dehydrated. Using a gentle moisturizer can help it heal faster and peel less.
  • Drink plenty of water: When you’re outside in the sun, it’s easy to get dehydrated. Drinking more water when your sunburnt rehydrates your body and your skin.

The Dangers of Sunburn

Sunburn isn’t just painful. It also carries unexpected risks.

For one, sun exposure without protection leads to wrinkles, increased signs of aging, skin sagging, uneven skin tones, and age spots. 

More importantly, every sunburn increases your risk of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. 

Having five or more sunburns doubles your risk of developing skin cancer.

This is why it’s crucial to know how to prevent sunburns.

How to Prevent and Avoid a Sunburn (3 Steps)

Sunburns are very easy to prevent. Making sun-smart choices before you go outside can help lower your risk of sunburns and skin cancer.

  1. Wear sunscreen every day: Wearing sunscreen is the best way to prevent sunburns. Any sunscreen above SPF 15 will be useful in blocking the sun’s UV rays. Wear sunscreen even on cloudy days. You’ll develop wrinkles at a slower rate.
  2. Wear protective clothing: Covering your skin can also block UV rays. Having a hat, sunglasses, or scarves on you when you go out is very useful.
  3. Stay in the shade: You can enjoy the warmth and atmosphere of a sunny day from the shade as well. If you can, this is a good strategy alongside wearing sunscreen.

Talk to a Doctor About Sunburn Symptoms

Sunburns are annoying and potentially dangerous. If symptoms are severe, like developing a fever, nausea, blisters, or a rash, you should seek medical attention from your physician. Or, you can save time and money with a service like Carefree MD. This telehealth solution provides you with 24/7 access to board-certified doctors.

For only $17.95/month, Carefree MD doctors can diagnose your illness, create a treatment plan, and even prescribe medications when medically necessary and have them sent to your local pharmacy.

Sign up today for a Carefree MD card, and talk to a doctor from the comfort of your home! 



The Carefree MD blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed doctor or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

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