Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Font Size

Sun Poisoning

Sun poisoning doesn't really mean you've been poisoned. It is often the term used for a severe case of sunburn. This is usually a burn from ultraviolet (UV) radiation that inflames your skin.

Symptoms of Sun Poisoning

Within just 15 minutes of being in the sun, you can be sunburned. But you might not know it right away. The redness and discomfort might not show up a few hours.

You can become severely sunburned if you stay in the sun a long time and don't wear protection. You are more likely to sunburn if you have light skin and fair hair.

Severe sunburn or sun poisoning can cause symptoms such as the following:

  • Skin redness and blistering
  • Pain and tingling
  • Swelling
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration

Treating Sun Poisoning

 For severe sunburn, these simple remedies usually do the trick:

  • Get out of the sun.
  • Take a cool (not cold) shower or bath or apply cool compresses.
  • Drink extra fluids for a few days.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain.
  • Use aloe gel or a moisturizer.
  • Completely cover sunburned areas when going outside.

Seek immediate medical care for these symptoms:

  • A sunburn that forms blisters, covers a large area, or is very painful
  • Facial swelling
  • Fever and chills
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache, confusion, or faintness
  • Signs of dehydration

Preventing Sun Poisoning

Follow the basics of sun safety:

  • Wear a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 and says "broad-spectrum" on the label, which means that it protects against the sun's UVA and UVB rays. Put it on all over about 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply at least every two hours and after you've been in the water or sweating.
  • Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and remember that water, snow, and sand can intensify the sun's damaging rays.
  • Wear sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing.

Check on your medications. Ask your doctor if anything you take might make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. For example, some acne medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, heart drugs, and birth control pills make skin more sensitive. So can some antibacterial medications and fragrances that go on your skin.

 

Other Types of Sun Poisoning

Sun poisoning may also refer to two types of reactions to sunlight:

Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). PMLE is a reaction that does not appear to be linked to drugs or diseases. It happens in people who are at risk and who are exposed to intense sunlight that they're not used to. For example, people living in northern climates could experience this if taking a winter vacation in a tropical climate.

Symptoms are a severe skin rash, usually appearing several hours after going out in the sun. The rash may be itchy and include:

  • Small bumps over the sun-exposed areas of the body
  • Dense clumps of bumps
  • Hives, usually on the arms, lower legs, and chest

WebMD Medical Reference

Today on WebMD

chafing
Pictures and symptoms of the red, scaly rash.
woman with dyed dark hair
What it says about your health.
 
woman with cleaning products
Top causes of the itch that rashes.
atopic dermatitus
Identify and treat common skin problems.
 
itchy skin
Article
shingles rash on skin
Article
 
woman with skin tag
Quiz
Woman washing face
Video
 
woman washing her hair in sink
Video
close up of womans bare neck
Tools
 
Feet
Slideshow
woman with face cream
Quiz