How Long Does It Take for a Sunburn to Heal and How to Cure It Faster

How Long Does It Take for a Sunburn to Heal?
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Being out in the sun too long with your skin unprotected can leave you with a sunburn that can take a long time to heal. Usually a mild sunburn can take 3 to 5 days to heal, but moderate or severe sunburn can last much more time. Knowing exactly how long it takes for a sunburn to heal depends on a number of factors. For example, the length of time you were in the sun, what time of day you were sunbathing, and what type of skin type you have, all affect how long a sunburn lasts.

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It’s important to remember that the sun’s rays are very powerful and they can leave your skin with mild to severe burning. Sunburn can also dehydrate your skin, lead to premature aging, and cause skin cancer. Some of the symptoms of a sunburn are red and painful blistering skin which is tender to touch, peeling skin, and itching. In severe cases you may even suffer from sun poisoning and feel like you have the flu with chills, nausea, and headaches.

When treating any kind of skin burn, you should continue to apply the treatment even after the skin is no longer red and painful. This is to ensure that your skin heals as quickly as possible with few side effects. Natural ingredients like aloe vera, honey, witch hazel, and oatmeal can help to speed up the healing process and relieve discomfort and pain while the sunburn is healing.

You will find out in this article how long it takes for mild sunburn, moderate sunburn, and severe sunburn to heal. At the end of the article, you can try some effective home remedies to help your sunburned skin heal faster.

How Long Sunburn Lasts

Sunburn can happen very quickly and within a short space of time, you could already have mild to moderate sunburn.

According to doctors from the National Health Service (NHS), it’s easy to underestimate how quickly your skin can get burned. They say that skin redness doesn’t develop for several hours, and a cool breeze or swimming can make your skin feel cool so you don’t realize you are burning in the sun.1

The first signs of a sunburn are skin reddening that becomes hot and painful to touch. However, most cases of sunburn are mild and, according to the NHS, the painful symptoms of sunburn will usually be gone well within 7 days.

Let’s look in more detail now at the various degrees of sunburn and how long you can expect your sunburn to take to heal.

Mild sunburn

As already mentioned, mild sunburn is the most common type of sunburn and is classed as a first-degree burn. You can expect mild sunburn to last anywhere between 3 and 5 days.

According to Dr. John Cunha on MedicineNet.com, mild sunburn will turn your skin bright red and may be painful to touch. During the healing time, you may expect that your skin starts to peel to make way for new skin cells.2

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To help manage mild sunburn during the healing process, Dr. Lawrence Knott from Patient.info recommends taking cool showers or using cool compresses to deal with the sunburn pain. You should also keep your skin well moisturized to help prevent it drying out.3

Moderate sunburn

If your skin has been exposed to the sun for a longer period of time, you will probably get moderate sunburn. This is a second-degree burn and will take a few days longer to heal than a mild sunburn. According to doctors from the NHS, the symptoms of moderate sunburn should take about 7 days to heal.

Dr. Cunha says that before moderate sunburn starts to heal, your skin will probably swell and be very red. Your skin may also start to blister and develop a rash. For sunburn blisters to heal in around a week, you need to use proper care and treatment. This is to prevent any secondary infections getting into the burn site and cause even more discomfort and pain.2

Dr. Lawrence Knott says that if you have moderate sunburn, you should keep the skin well hydrated and treat blisters as you would any kind of second-degree burn.3

Severe sunburn

Severe sunburn can cause many complications that can last a long time – one of which is an increased risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Long-term exposure to the sun will cause all the same symptoms of sunburn, just to a more severe degree. So, blisters may be larger and take longer to heal and your skin will become very dehydrated and painful. Severe sunburn is also called sun poisoning. Sun poisoning doesn’t really mean you’ve been poisoned. It is often the term used for a severe case of sunburn.

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD says that along with the typical sunburn symptoms, you may also experience nausea, chills, rapid pulse, dizziness, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. Severe sunburn can turn into a medical emergency, and you should see a doctor if you have any symptoms of severe sunburn.2

The effects of severe sunburn can last for a few weeks while your sunburn blisters heal, old damaged skin peels off, and new skin forms over the burn wound. Dr. Robinson says that some rashes caused by sunburn can take weeks to heal and some skin reactions caused by severe sunburn may come and go for years.4

Factors Affecting on How Long a Sunburn Takes to Heal

Depending on various factors, your sunburn will be mild, moderate, or severe. Knowing your skin type and when the sun’s rays are at their strongest can help you avoid bad sunburn and a lengthy healing process.

Skin type

According to Cancer Research UK, people with fair skin tend to burn easily and rarely get a suntan. If you have light or fair skin, then you should make sure that you always wear high SPF sunscreen when you are in the sun.5

Even if you have darker skin and tan easily, you should always wear sunscreen to protect your skin from irreversible damage that the UV rays from the sun cause. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend using broad-spectrum 30+ SPF sunscreen to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.6

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Length of time spent in the sun

Obviously, the longer time you spend in the sun, the greater risk you have of getting a moderate or even severe sunburn that takes a long time to heal.

Time of day

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic warn that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Therefore, you should limit how much your skin is exposed during those hours.6

One way to know when the sun’s rays risk burning your skin the most is by using the “shadow rule.” If your shadow is shorter than your height, the sun’s rays are at their strongest.

Weather

The weather is another factor that can increase your risk of getting a sunburn. Cancer Research UK warns that even on cloudy days, harmful UV rays still get through clouds. You should also be aware that snow, sand, and water all reflect UV rays and can cause moderate to severe sunburn even in relatively cool weather.5

Natural Ways to Make Sunburn Heal Quicker

Unfortunately, most of us at some point get sunburn and wonder how long the sunburn is going to last. Thankfully, there are many natural home remedies that provide quick relief from sunburn pain and can help skin burns to heal quicker.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera gel is great for your skin and it’s one of the best home remedies for quick sunburn relief. Aloe vera contains many vitamins and enzymes that help naturally repair damaged skin and prevent scarring. Gel from the aloe vera plant is also anti-inflammatory and it will help to reduce redness, itchiness, swelling, and pain in burned skin.

The journal Phytomedicine reported that aloe vera is an effective remedy for first, second, and third degree burns. In clinical trials, aloe vera reduced skin inflammation and the researchers concluded that it is “effective for burn treatment.”7 Other studies have shown that aloe vera helps to increase collagen synthesis which speeds up the time it takes wounds to heal.8

How to use:

To use aloe vera to treat the symptoms of sunburn and help prevent blistering, please do the following:

  • Scoop out the gel from an aloe vera plant or use pure aloe vera gel.
  • Gently apply to sunburned skin and leave on until dry and absorbed.
  • Apply to your skin frequently throughout the day to heal your damaged red skin and keep it well hydrated.
  • Continue using the aloe vera remedy for sunburn until you no longer have any redness, itchiness, pain, or blisters.

Honey

You can use the medicinal properties of honey to help treat sunburned skin that is sore to touch. Honey is an amazing natural remedy for many skin complaints and will provide needed relief from an itchy sunburn rash. Honey also contains antibacterial properties that will boost the healing time and prevent secondary skin infections.

The anti-inflammatory effect of honey on burns was reported in the journal Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters. Researchers reported that honey accelerated wound healing and promoted the growth of new skin cells. The antioxidant activity of honey also boosted the healing process. So, burns treated with honey healed faster and more effectively than other “conventional” treatments.9

How to use:

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One of the best types of honey for treating sunburn skin is Manuka honey. However, you can use any kind of raw, organic honey to get rid of a sunburn quicker. All you have to do is apply raw honey directly to the affected skin area to reduce redness, relieve pain, and make your skin heal quickly.

If you want, you can make a great natural treatment for moderate sunburn with honey, aloe vera, and yogurt. This is what you should do:

  • Combine equal amounts of pure aloe vera gel, Manuka honey, and plain yogurt.
  • Apply the natural remedy to your sunburned skin and leave for 20 minutes.
  • Rinse off with cool water and pat your skin dry.
  • Repeat 2 times a day to get rid of your sunburn quicker.

Witch hazel

You can use witch hazel to take the sting out of mild to moderately sunburned skin and reduce inflammation and itchiness. Witch hazel contains tannins which are a natural compound with astringent properties. Witch hazel also contains antioxidants which will rid your damaged skin of free radicals which accelerate healing.

Research into witch hazel has found that it’s an effective natural ingredient to treat sunburn. The journal Dermatology reported that products containing 10% witch hazel help reduce inflammation in skin damaged by UVB rays.10  

How to use:

You can use witch hazel directly on burned skin and sunburn blisters to prevent infection and reduce itchiness. This is what you should do:

  • Dip a cotton ball in witch hazel.
  • Gently dab onto the red inflamed skin or your sunburn blisters.
  • Allow to dry.
  • Repeat 2-3 times a day until you skin is healed and you no longer have any redness.

If you have a large area of second-degree sunburn and it’s too painful to dab witch hazel on it, you can soak a piece of gauze in witch hazel and cover the affected area.

Coconut oil

Virgin coconut oil is an excellent remedy for sunburned skin because it helps to moisturize dehydrated skin and retain its elasticity. Coconut oil also contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that boost skin health.

Studies into the healing benefits of coconut oil have shown that it is also an effective natural emollient for sunburned skin. The Indian Journal of Pharmacology published a study on using coconut oil for treating burns. They found that the anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects of coconut oil helped to treat first-degree and second-degree burns. It also helped to boost the healing properties of silver sulfadiazine – a common sunburn treatment.11

How to use:

To use coconut oil to moisturize sunburned skin and reduce redness and swelling, this is what you should do:

  • Take a small amount of virgin coconut oil and gently massage into the red sunburned skin.
  • Repeat 2-3 times a day until you no longer have blisters, rash, or any other symptoms of sunburn.

You can also make a great soothing natural gel for sunburn by mixing coconut oil and aloe vera together.

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Cucumbers

Placing a few slices of cool cucumber onto your sunburned skin can help to take the heat out of a burn wound. Cucumbers have a high water content and they can help to provide soothing moisture to skin damaged by sunburn.

It’s not just the chilled cucumber that can help treat sunburn wounds. Cucumbers have real potential to treat sunburn and prevent sunburn pain. For example, the journal Fitoterapia reported that the flesh of cucumber has an anti-inflammatory effect on skin swelling and it reduces skin irritation. The researchers stated that “cucumber also has the power to relax and alleviate the sunburn’s pain.”12

How to use:

It couldn’t be easier to use a few slices of cucumber as a natural home remedy for sunburn.

  • Cut some chilled cucumber into slices. Depending on the size of the sunburned area, you can cut cucumber into long thin strips.
  • Place on the painful sunburned skin and replace when the cucumber warms.
  • Repeat the procedure morning and evening to get relief from a sunburn and help your skin heal quicker.

Cucumbers are also great for keeping your skin looking healthy and naturally reduce puffiness around your eyes.

Potatoes

The humble potato will do a great job of soothing sunburned skin that is hot and inflamed. Potatoes contain skin-healing properties like flavonoids, vitamins, tannins, and alkaloids to restore your skin to good health. In fact, you may be surprised to find out the many healing properties of potatoes.

The Journal of Medicinal Plant Studies reported on the ability of raw potato slices to treat burns and scalds. In fact, using potato for sunburn was specifically mentioned as one medicinal use of potatoes.13  

How to use:

To soothe sunburn pain at home using raw potato, please do the following:

  • Place thinly cut slices of raw potato on the sunburn.
  • Leave for 20 minutes and rinse the affected skin area with cool water.
  • Repeat 2-3 times a day to speed up the time it takes sunburn to heal.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is one of the oldest and most effective home remedies to reduce inflammation from sunburned skin and soothe painful sunburn blisters. The reason why oatmeal is such a great natural treatment for healing sunburn is that it cleans and moisturizes damaged skin and it works as an anti-inflammatory all at the same time.

The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology reported that oatmeal soothes damaged skin and leaves a protective layer on the skin. It also holds moisture in the skin which helps to speed up the healing process of mild and moderate sunburn.14

How to use:

Bathe in oatmeal if you have a large area of sunburn on your body or make an oatmeal compress to relieve sunburn. For this sunburn remedy, you need 2 cups of oatmeal and a long tube sock. This is what you should do:

  • Put the 2 cups of oatmeal in the clean sock and loosely tie under the bath faucet.
  • Draw a bath with lukewarm water and make sure that the water runs through the oatmeal sock.
  • Every so often, squeeze the sock to get more of the therapeutic liquid out.
  • Soak in the bath for 20 minutes.
  • You can use the oatmeal sock as a compress to get rid of itchy sunburned skin by holding the sock on the affected skin areas.

Alternatively, you can make a paste with 1/2 cup ground oatmeal, some raw honey, and some cold milk. Apply the paste to painful sunburned skin and leave for 20 minutes before rinsing off with cool water. Repeat twice a day until your sunburn has completely healed.

How to Prevent a Sunburn

It is much easier to prevent a sunburn than use various remedies to make the sunburn heal quicker. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic provide the following advice to prevent sunburn:

  • Wear tightly woven clothing to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
  • Wear a broad-rimed had that keeps your face and ears in the shade.
  • Avoid being in direct sunlight from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. if at all possible.
  • Be careful around water, sand, and snow because the reflection intensifies the sun’s rays.
  • Even if you have dark skin, always wear a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or more. Reapply every 2 hours.
  • Wear sunglasses that have a high UV protection.

Read my other related articles:
1. Shocking Video Reveals What The Sun Really Does To Your Skin
2. Warning Signs of Melanoma, The Most Deadly Form Of Skin Cancer
3. DIY Aloe Vera & Coconut Oil Mixture

Article Sources

  1. NHS. Sunburn.
  2. MedicineNet. Sun poisoning.
  3. PatientInfo. Sunburn.
  4. WebMD. Sun poisoning.
  5. CancerResearchUK. Am I at risk of sunburn?
  6. MayoClinic. Sun poisoning.
  7. Phytomedicine. 1996 Jan;2(3):247-51
  8. Indian J Dermatol. 2008; 53(4): 163–166.
  9. Ann Burns Fire Disasters. 2014 Mar 31; 27(1): 22–30.
  10. Dermatology. 1998;196(3):316-22.
  11. Indian J Pharmacol. 2008 Aug; 40(4): 144–146.
  12. Fitoterapia. 2013 Jan;84:227-36.
  13. J Med Plant Studies. Year:2013, Volume:1, Issue:1
  14. J Drugs Dermatol. 2007 Feb;6(2):167-70.
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