Sunburn is skin damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight. With too much exposure to UV light, your skin overheats and becomes red and painful, and may later peel or blister.
When your skin is exposed to sunlight, it produces a pigment called melanin to help protect itself against the UV rays. This is what makes your skin go darker and is seen as a suntan.
Melanin stops you burning so easily but it doesn't prevent the other harmful effects of UV, such as premature ageing and cancer.
If a baby or small child has been sunburnt, or if blisters or fever occurs, seek medical advice from your GP or an NHS walk-in centre, or by Dialling 111
General advice for treating sunburn is as follows.
Staying out of the sun
Avoid direct sunlight by covering up and staying in the shade until the sunburn has healed.
Cool the skin by sponging it with lukewarm water or by having a cool shower or bath.
Drink plenty of fluids to replace the water lost through sweating in the sun, and to cool down. Do not drink alcohol, because it will dehydrate you further.
For mild sunburn, apply a moisturising lotion or a special aftersun cream from a pharmacy. Aftersun helps to cool the skin as well as moisturising and relieving the feeling of tightness. Calamine lotion can also be used to relieve itching and soreness.
For adults, painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help relieve pain and reduce swelling.
Treating severe sunburn
Severe burns may require special burn cream and burn dressings. Ask your pharmacist for advice. You may need to see your GP and have your burns dressed by a practice nurse.
In severe cases, you may need treatment at your local accident and emergency department.