What is sunburn?

Sunburn is hot and sore skin which is caused by too much sun exposure. It can cause damage to DNA which leads to inflammation. Sunburn may flake and peel after a few days, but you can treat it yourself and it can usually get better within a week.

At Boots, we’ve got advice about sunburn & services to help you support your skin health

A model with rosacea on their face


Symptoms of sunburn usually start two to six hours after any sun exposure and peak at around 12-24 hours. It’s easy to underestimate your exposure to the sun when you’re outside, so it’s important to be aware of the risk of sunburn and look out for symptoms.

If you have sunburn, your skin might:

- Feel hot when you touch it
- Feel sore, painful or tender

- Flake or peel (normally a few days after you get sunburn)

- Blister (if your sunburn is severe)

Your skin can also change colour if you have sunburn. If you have white skin, the change might be to red or pink. If you have black or brown skin, your skin might not go red. Instead, the affected areas may go darker and appear dry and cracked.

In severe cases of sunburn, you might also become dehydrated.

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What to do if you have sunburn

There are several things you can do to treat sunburn and relieve the discomfort.

Stay out of the sun
Make sure to get out of the sun as soon as possible. It’s important to cover up any areas of skin that have sunburn and stay in the shade until your sunburn has healed. You should wear loose cotton clothing that lets your skin breathe and stay cool, rather than tight-fitting clothes. 

Keep your skin cool

Keep your skin cool by using a cool shower, bath or damp towel. If you’re doing this for a baby or child, it’s important to make sure they don’t get too cold. If you’re cooling your skin in the shower, make sure that this is a gentle flow of water rather than being on full power. If you have any blisters, you might prefer to have a bath. When you’re drying your skin, take care not to rub your skin with a towel, instead you can gently pat it dry. Make sure not to use ice or ice packs on sunburnt skin. 

Take pain relief 

Taking pain relief (if it’s suitable for you) can help to relieve the pain & reduce inflammation which is caused by sunburn. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen can help with inflammation. It’s important to take ibuprofen with a meal or a snack to make it less likely to upset your stomach. Paracetamol can help with pain but it has little or no effect on inflammation.

Stay moisturised & hydrated

After cooling your skin, it’s important to keep it moisturised with a cream or lotion. This can be done using an aftersun cream or spray. Lotions with aloe vera can have a cooling effect on the skin. Be careful with creams or lotions that are made from petroleum jelly. They can either trap heat in the skin or irritate the skin. It’s also important to drink plenty of water to keep yourself cool and prevent dehydration.

Leave blisters alone

Try not to pop any blisters on your skin, as popping blisters can lead to infections and in some cases scarring. Blisters will settle, but while you have them, it’s important to treat your skin gently. Even if you don’t have blisters, it’s important to be gentle with your skin. If your skin is peeling, don’t scratch or try to remove any of the peeling skin.

A pharmacist can help if you have sunburn. They can help with:

·       Suitable sunburn treatment  

·       Advising if you need to speak to your GP or seek other medical attention

You need to ask for an urgent GP appointment or call NHS 111 now if you’re concerned about your sunburn or have been in the sun and:

·      Your skin is swollen or blistered

·      You have a temperature or you feel hot and shivery

·      You feel very tired, sick and dizzy

·      You have a headache & any muscle cramps

You also need to speak to your GP urgently or get help from NHS 111 if your baby or young child has sunburn. Severe sunburn can cause heat exhaustion and heatstroke, both of which can be very serious. 

Sunburn can affect various skin conditions, making symptoms worse and potentially leading to flare-ups or discomfort. Preventing sunburn is key to helping to minimise the impact of sunburn on pre-existing skin conditions. 


Sunburn can sometimes damage the skin barrier and can lead to skin dryness, which can worsen eczema symptoms . If you have severe eczema, sunburn can also cause skin inflammation. Too much sun exposure can also lead to excess sweating, which can lead to an eczema flare-up.

If you’ve been diagnosed with atopic eczema by a healthcare professional, Boots Online Doctor Eczema Treatment service2 is available for support with access to treatment that can help manage it. 


The sun can have both positive and negative effects on psoriasis. While controlled exposure to sunlight (phototherapy) can be used as a treatment for psoriasis, excessive exposure and sunburn can trigger psoriasis flare-ups, causing plaques to be more inflamed, itchy and painful.

For more support with psoriasis, Boots Online Doctor Psoriasis Treatment Service2 is available to help with access to advice and treatment.


Sunburn is a common trigger for rosacea flare-ups. The heat and UV radiation from the sun can dilate the blood vessels in the skin which can lead to increased redness and inflammation.

If you have rosacea, your skin is often more sensitive, which can make you more prone to sunburn. Having sunburn can also make your symptoms (like stinging or burning) worse.

Boots Online Doctor Rosacea Treatment Service2 is available to help with access to advice and treatment. 


If you have acne and are on medication for it, you might notice that your skin is more sensitive in the sun which might make you more likely to get sunburn.

If you have mild to moderate acne, you may wish to consider accessing Boots Online Doctor Acne Treatment Service2

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Sun safety for babies & children

Babies and young children can become ill during very hot weather. To keep your child cool and protect them from the sun, you can try the following tips.

Keep them out of direct sunlight

Babies who are less than six months old should be kept out of direct sunlight. Their delicate skin doesn’t contain much melanin (the pigment that gives eyes, skin and hair their colour and provides some protection from the sun).

Older babies should also be kept out of the sun as much as possible. If in the UK, this is especially important in the summer between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is strongest. If you do have to go out when it’s hot, you can attach a parasol or sunshade to your baby’s pushchair to keep them out of the direct sunlight.

Wear suitable clothing

Make sure that your child is wearing a sunhat or a hat with a wide brim or long flap at the back to help protect their head and neck from the sun.

Apply sunscreen generously. With babies and young children, you should be using sunscreen with at least SPF50. You need to make sure that the product you use protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Many sunscreen brands have products especially made for babies and young children – they’re less likely to contain ingredients that might irritate their skin.

If your child is in and out of the sea or paddling pool, sunscreen needs to be applied generously and regularly.

When choosing sunscreen for children, it’s important to prioritise products that offer broad-spectrum protection while being gentle on their delicate skin. You can opt for water-resistant formulas to keep them protected during outdoor activities.

Soltan Kids Once 3hr Waterplay Lotion SPF50+  is specially formulated for children’s skin, providing SPF50+ protection that lasts up to three hours in water. Its gentle, non-greasy formula is suitable for sensitive skin and is designed to be easy to apply, making it ideal for active kids.


Whilst sunburn doesn’t usually last very long, it’s important to try to avoid it as it can increase your chances of getting skin cancer later in life.

Some people are more vulnerable than others to sunburn. Everyone should take care when out in the sun, but you should take extra care when out in the sun if:

·       You have pale, white or light brown skin

·       You have freckles, red hair or fair hair

·       You tend to burn rather than tan

·       You’re only exposed to intense sun occasionally

·       You’re in a hot country where the sun is particularly intense

·       You have a family history of skin cancer

You should also take extra care in the sun if you have many moles. If you’re worried about a mole or unusual mark (pigmented lesion) on your body, and you’re over the age of 18, you can have an assessment through the Mole Scanning Service*, provided by ScreenCancer at selected Boots pharmacies. They cannot provide a diagnosis of skin cancer but can analyse any moles or pigmented lesions and help identify anything that might be suspicious and need further investigation from your GP.

People who spend a lot of time outside are at an increased risk of sunburn and skin cancer if they don’t take the right precautions.

Your skin needs to be protected from strong sunlight to prevent sunburn. If in the UK, the risk of getting sunburnt is highest from March to October, especially from 11 am to 3 pm, when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Wearing suitable clothing includes:

·       A hat that covers the face, neck and ears

·       A long-sleeved top

·       Trousers or long skirts that don’t let the sunlight through

·       Sunglasses with wraparound lenses or wide arms. These should have the CE Mark and European Standard EN 1836:2005.  The CE mark shows that the sunglasses can block UV light and meet the European Standard for sun safety

Protect against sun damage

Regardless of the type of skin you have, you should be using a sunscreen with at least SPF30 and a UVA rating of at least four stars. Some sunscreens may not use a star rating, but instead will be labelled with UVA in a circle, however sunscreens labelled five-star UVA protection have the highest available UVA protection. 

When picking a sunscreen, it’s important to consider your skin type, specific needs and lifestyle to make sure you’re keeping your skin protected. Remember to apply it generously and reapply it regularly, especially after swimming, sweating or towel drying, to keep it effective throughout the day.

SPF for oily skin

For people with oily skin, look for products that are non-comedogenic which are tested to show they don’t block pores and suitable for oily skin.

Kiehl's Ultra Light Daily UV Defense Aqua Gel SPF 50 PA++++ provides SPF 50 in a lightweight oil-free gel formula. It absorbs quickly into the skin, leaving a matte finish, ideal for oily skin types. Its non-comedogenic properties can help prevent it blocking your pores, making it suitable for daily use.

SPF for sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, you’ll need sunscreen that offers effective protection without causing irritation. You can look out for hypoallergenic formulas that are free from fragrances and other common irritants.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMUNE 400 Invisible Fluid SPF50 is specifically designed for sensitive skin and provides broad-spectrum SPF50+ protection without clogging pores or causing sensitivity. Its lightweight, invisible fluid formula absorbs quickly into the skin for comfortable wear throughout the day.

SPF for face

When selecting a sunscreen for the face, choose a lightweight, non-greasy formula that won’t clog your pores or leave a white cast. You can also look out for products that offer additional skincare benefits like keeping your skin moisturised.

No7 Future Renew UV Defence Shield SPF 50 is specially formulated for the face, providing SPF50+ protection while helping to hydrate and moisturise your skin. It’s non-comedogenic formula absorbs quickly and can be worn under make-up, making it ideal for daily use.

SPF for dark skin

Although people with dark or black skin burn less easily than lighter skin tones, skin can still burn. If you have darker skin, look out for lightweight formulas that blend seamlessly into your skin without leaving a grey or white residue.

Shiseido Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+ is a glide-on sunscreen for face and body, with SynchroShield Technology™ for enhanced protection. It's invisible, non-sticky, and easy to top up on the go. Check out our guide we've put together on best sunscreens for darker skin tones.

Learn more about suncare

Suncare with Clare O'Connor

We’re joined by Clare O’Connor, Senior Research Scientist for Boots UK. Clare specialises in suncare and we’ll be talking about the difference between UVA and UVB, how to prevent sun damage and de-bunking some suncare myths.

Learn about what skin science is, what the links are between sun and your skin and sun exposure. Explore how you can protect against UVA rays and the types of UV radiation. 

Did you know you should be applying suncream everyday? How much suncream should you be wearing and how much suncream you should apply to children? Stay tuned to find out. 

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Frequently asked questions

Mild sunburn might show as red, sore, warm and tender skin which is occasionally itchy.

If you have severe sunburn, this might be sunburn over a large area, blistering or swelling of the skin. Severe sunburn also comes with other symptoms like:
- Chills

- A high temperature

- Dizziness

- Headaches

- Feeling sick

If you have severe sunburn or you’re worried about your sunburn, make sure to seek medical advice. 

Sunburns usually appear two to six hours after being exposed to the sun. It peaks within 24 hours and can fade within about 48 hours.

How long a sunburn lasts depends on how severe it is. Mild sunburns can last from three to five days, but severe sunburns can last up to two weeks.

Sudocrem is a brand and one of their products is an antiseptic healing cream that’s used to help soothe sore skin. This can be used to soothe sunburn as it contains benzyl alcohol, a weak local anaesthetic that can help ease localised pain and irritation. Benzyl alcohol also has disinfectant and antibacterial properties which can help protect against common bacteria. Always read the label before use.

It's important to know that not all Sudocrem products are indicated to be used on sunburn, so make sure to read the label. You can ask a member of the pharmacy team if you’re unsure of which product to use. 

UVA protection can be rated using a ‘star’ system. The star system is one way of showing UVA protection, but this isn’t the only way of showing UVA protection. The higher the number of stars, the greater the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVA rays relative to the UVB protection.

We're here to help with skin conditions. From dry skin to acne treatments, we've got you covered

*Eligibility criteria and charges apply. In selected pharmacies, subject to availability.  The Mole Scanning Service is operated by ScreenCancer. Therefore the fee that you pay for this service is paid to ScreenCancer. 

1Subject to availability. Eligibility criteria and charges apply. 

Access to  treatment is subject to an online consultation with a clinician to assess suitability. Subject to availability. Charges apply.

Eligibility criteria and charges apply. Available in selected pharmacies, subject to availability. A consultation fee may apply at a cost of £20, should you choose not to receive the vaccines and/or antimalarials recommended for you and your trip during your consultation.

Page last reviewed by Boots Pharmacy team on 07/05/2024