“Sunburn causes 95% of melanomas, the most deadly form of skin cancer. In Australia, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend”*

Sunburn is your body’s reaction to excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The top layers of your skin release chemicals that cause your blood vessels to expand and leak fluids, causing inflammation, pain, and redness. Without protection, UV radiation (both UVA and UVB) will immediately start to penetrate deep into the layers of your skin and damage the skin’s cells. Skin turns red within two to six hours of being burnt and will continue to develop for the next 24 to 72 hours.Sunburned skin may also start to peel as it heals. Peeling occurs when damaged skin cells self-destruct and peel off in tatty sheets. This is the body’s way of getting rid of damaged skin cells that have the potential to develop into cancers.

Repeated sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma. All types of sunburn, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage and further sunburn only increases your risk of skin cancer.

If you are severely sunburned or you are experiencing blistering, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or severe pain, you should seek immediate hospital treatment.

How to treat sunburn

These suggestions may help to manage the symptoms of sunburn:

  • Avoid further sun exposure until the redness, peeling and pain have disappeared.
  • Drink plenty of water to replenish your fluid levels.
  • Take cool showers, and apply cool compresses.
  • Add a cup of white vinegar to a cool bath and soak.
  • As soon as it becomes comfortable to do so, apply a moisturising cream to the burnt area to keep it moist and supple. Even though it will not prevent peeling, moisturising will help prevent the new skin below from drying out. (Chemists stock a range of sunburn treatments that can be rubbed or sprayed onto the skin.)