How long sunburn lasts and how you can treat it

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Feeling the sun on your skin is a great sensation, but too much exposure to the sun can lead to painful and uncomfortable sunburn.

Whether you’re dealing with sunburn or trying to prevent it, this article explains how it happens, how long it lasts, and how to treat sunburns to relieve symptoms.  

What is sunburn and what causes it?

The skin is red, swollen, and aches – the effects of sunburn are unpleasant and, above all, harmful to the skin. The medical term is dermatitis solaris. It is an acute damage to the skin caused by ultraviolet radiation (UV light for short).

UVA and especially UVB radiation in sunlight is responsible for the appearance of bad sunburn and painful skin damage. Such sunburn can lead to long-term damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. That's why it's important to prevent even mild burns from occurring in the first place, if possible. There are several steps you can take to prevent and treat mild, moderate, or severe sunburn. 

Common sunburn symptoms

Sunburn manifests itself through symptoms or side effects such as: 

  • the skin feels warm after spending time in the sun 
  • redness and occasional blistering 
  • pain 
  • swelling 

Symptoms appear about 3 to 5 hours after sun exposure and are most severe after 12 to 24 hours. After about two days, the damaged skin may peel.

Areas that are most affected by sunburn

Woman smiling in the sun
The face and neck are often affected by sunburn

There are some parts of the skin that are more often or more extremely affected by sunburn than others. These include 

  • the face (especially the nose), 
  • the neck, 
  • hands and forearms as well as
  • the arches of the feet (in summer).
  • In women, the décolleté is also more frequently affected by sunburn. 

Since the risk of a bad sunburn is higher in these areas, you should intensively care for them and provide them with sun protection. You can do so by applying skincare products with SPF (sun protection factor). For the face, we recommend the Eucerin Sun Fluid Sensitive Protect SPF 50+ for all skin types in the summer. It provides high protection against UVA/UVB rays and high-energy visible (HEVIS) light

Year-round, you can use a moisturising day cream that also contains a SPF, for example the Eucerin Hyaluron-Filler Day SPF 30 cream, which is suitable for all skin types. Both hydrate sensitive and ageing facial skin and protect from sunburn and sun-induced damages.

How to treat sunburn

Sunburn treatment should be applied  to the affected area of skin as soon as possible to minimise the symptoms, especially in the case of severe sunburn.

  1. Cool the sunburn by using a cold compress and taking a cool bath or cool shower. 
  2. Soothe the skin by applying a specialised after sun such as Eucerin Sensitive Relief After Sun Cream Gel, and a cooling product like the Hyaluron Mist Spray.
  3. Rehydrate the skin by drinking plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
  4. Consider taking common painkillers, such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, to ease pain and swelling.
  5. Allow the skin to heal by minimising further exposure to the sun.
  6. Do not pick skin that is peeling, and in the case of a severe sunburn, do not pop any blisters either.

The majority of sunburn treatments are centred around addressing sunburn symptoms and relieving the skin of inflammation, pain, and discomfort, which can help your skin recover faster and comfortably. As sunburn treatment does not heal the skin directly, it is vitally important to practise sunburn prevention by including SPF within your daily care routine

Three degrees of sunburn severity

Sunburn can be divided into three degrees of severity. In the following chart, we'll show you the three levels of severity and what to do when you get sunburn, to relieve pain and other symptoms: 


Sunburn severity

What helps?

1st degree or mild sunburn:

In mild sunburn, the skin is red and warm. The affected areas hurt, burn, and itch, and the skin is tight. Areas that are particularly exposed to sunlight are more at risk of getting sunburned. This applies to face, hands, neck and – for women – décolleté.

You can treat a mild sunburn yourself. Cool the affected areas of skin to relieve discomfort. Moist compresses with water or cold chamomile tea are suitable for this. Curd compresses are also a well-known home remedy for sunburn and provide relief: Apply refrigerated curd to the areas of skin burned by the sun and place a clean cotton cloth over it. Important: You should not apply curd to injured skin, as there is a risk of infection. If the face is sunburned, a cooling mask made of cucumber slices can be very pleasant.

A cool shower and applying a soothing after-sun lotion such as Eucerin After Sun Sensitive Relief Gel-Cream also help to combat the symptoms of mild sunburn. Eucerin’s Hyaluron Mist Spray cools and soothes sunburn on face and neck. It is also important to drink more than usual. Burning the skin causes the body to have an increased need for fluids.

2nd degree (moderate to severe) sunburn:

2nd degree sunburn can be both moderate and severe. In addition to redness and pain, it also causes blisters.

For a moderate sunburn without blisters, apply the treatments listed above. Pay special attention to provide the body with plenty of fluids.

If the sunburn is bad and burn blisters occur, you should see a doctor. He or she can open the blisters professionally so that the burned skin areas can heal faster. To avoid infection, you should not prick the blisters yourself.

3rd degree (severe) sunburn:

If the sunburn is severe, symptoms like pain, redness and blistering can be accompanied by more serious effects e.g., peeling of the top layer of skin in the burned areas. With 3rd degree sunburn, fever, nausea, and chills are also possible symptoms.


If you have a 3rd degree sunburn, be sure to see a doctor - complications such as infection and circulation problems can occur. The doctor will decide whether to prescribe painkillers and antibiotics to the patient. In addition, in order to stabilize the circulation, the resulting lack of fluids must be compensated for. This is done in the form of infusions. Treatment of severe sunburn can be carried out on an outpatient or inpatient basis.


Once a sunburn has subsided and the skin is peeling, a moisturising and regenerating cream can help rebuild the skin. Eucerin Sensitive Relief After Sun Cream Gel helps restore the skin’s natural protective barrier and soothes irritated and sensitive skin. If you experience dry skin after a sunburn, try the Eucerin UreaRepair PLUS product range for an intensive moisturising effect. Learn more about peeling sunburn.

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How long does sunburn last?

Generally, a sunburn can take around 7 days to completely heal. However, due to the various individual factors of your skin, this time will be reduced or increased depending on the severity of the sunburn:

  • Mild sunburn will subside after 3 days but it might take 5 days for the skin to heal.
  • Moderate sunburn can last from 5 to 7 days, but it will usually be followed by a period of peeling and flaky skin.
  • Severe sunburn can last up to 14 days, and it is advised that a medical professional is contacted due to the various complications that can arise from this sunburn.

Thankfully, you can help ease this healing process by actively treating your sunburn, which can shorten the time that the sunburn will last.

Does sunburn turn into a tan?

Sunburns can turn into tans, however this depends on your skin type. The most prevailing factor that indicates whether you will tan or not is your skin tone. In general, those with lighter skin and eyes are less likely to tan, because the skin is more affected by UV exposure and produces less melanin

However, tanning, just like sunburn, is a type of UV damage which can put your health at risk. It is a common misconception that people with tanned skin are less likely to experience health concerns, when actually, tanning can increase your risk of skin cancer. For these reasons, it is best to protect your skin by avoiding tanning altogether and ensuring you actively protect your skin by using sunscreen everyday. To learn more about whether a sunburn can turn into a tan click here.

Overexposing the skin to the sun can also cause uneven skin tone.

How long does it take to get a sunburn?

Everyone has a different tolerance level to solar radiation. The extent to which skin can prevent a sunburn due to UVA and UVB radiation, is highly individual. The interval, how long it takes before you get sunburned, is called self-protection time of the skin from sun rays. 

First and foremost, this has to do with skin type: people with lighter skin produce less melanin and are more at risk for mild and moderate sunburns even after a few minutes. The darker the skin, the longer lasting the skin’s own sun protection.

How to prevent sunburn on face and body

Woman with sun hat
A sun hat can provide extra protection for the face.

The best way to prevent sunburn is to use appropriate sunscreens with a high sun protection factor. Eucerin sunscreen products combine broad-spectrum and photostable UVA/UVB filters to provide reliable protection. This way, you not only reduce the risk of skin cancer, which is one of the long-term risks of sunburn, but also avoid premature ageing of the skin due to sun exposure (so-called photoageing). 

It is also recommended to avoid the midday sun (approximately from 11 am to 3 pm), as UV radiation is highest during this time. In addition, you can protect your body from the sun by wearing long clothes, and your face by wearing a sun hat and putting on sunglasses with UV filters. Especially people with fair skin type or photosensitivity due to medication should protect themselves from sunlight to avoid sunburns. 

Who is most at risk of sunburn?

Children and adolescents with fair skin types (I-II) are particularly frequently affected by sunburns. About 75% of all sunburns are observed in those under 20 years of age. Parents should take care to use sunscreens suitable for children. Learn more about sun protection for babies and children and why it is so important.

Incidence of sunburns by age:

Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 71% get sunburned once a year.

Among those over 60, 16% get sunburned once a year.

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