Sunburn is caused by overexposure to sunlight, which contains ultraviolet radiation (UV rays). Sunburn can also be caused by exposure to other sources of UV light, such as tanning beds and phototherapy lamps.

The symptoms of sunburn are not always immediately obvious. Symptoms usually begin three to five hours after exposure to the sun's rays. They usually peak between 12 and 24 hours after being in the sun.


  • If you notice any signs of sunburn such as hot, red and painful skin, move into the shade or preferably inside.
  • Take a cool bath or shower to cool down the burnt area of skin.
  • Apply after-sun lotion to the affected area to moisturise, cool and soothe it. Do not use greasy or oily products.
  • If you experience any pain, paracetamol or ibuprofen should help to relieve it. Always read the manufacturer's instructions and ask your pharmacy for advice.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, add rehydration sachet such as Dioralyte.
  • Watch out for signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, when the temperature inside your body rises to 37-40°C (98.6-104°F) or above. These include dizziness, a rapid pulse or vomiting. 

When to seek medical advice for sunburn 

  • If blisters or a fever develop.
  • If you develop signs of heatstroke – high temperature, flushed skin, muscle cramps, breathing fast with a fast heart rate.  Heavy sweating that suddenly stops is a sign of heat stroke with dehydration.  Cool down in a cold place or with cool (not very cold) water, drink water if you can and seek urgent medical assistance.  

To prevent getting sunburn, 

  • Avoid strong sunlight whenever possible, particularly if you are fair skinned, and cover up with loose clothing and a hat.
  • Apply a generous amount of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 25 before you go out in the sun. Apply it about half an hour before going out so that it has time to absorb into your skin and dry. As sunscreen is available in a number of different formats, including lotions, sprays and gels, you should check the instructions on the packaging for advice about how to apply it.

More information

Managing sunburn