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Sun Poisoning – How to Spot It Fast and How to Treat It

by kelly / August, 15 2018 01:30

Picture of a woman with sunglasses in her bathing suit on the beach with a shoulder sunburnImage © Maggie Brauer

A lot of us have been there – our skin is red and peeling and hot to the touch. We’re annoyed at ourselves for not reapplying sunscreen and staying out in the sun a bit too long. But how do you know if it’s just sunburn or worse - sun poisoning (and let’s be clear, just a sunburn isn’t good either)? Yes there’s such a thing as sun poisoning.

What’s the Difference Between Sunburn and Sun Poisoning?

Sunburn develops when skin is overexposed to UV lights from most commonly the sun or some artificial sources (i.e. tanning beds). The skin becomes red, painful and feels hot to the touch.

Sun poisoning is an allergic reaction of skin to the sun. People are less familiar with sun poisoning. According to Dr. John Zampella, a dermatologist at NYU Langone:

“If you open up the dermatology textbook, there’s no chapter on sun poisoning. When someone either gets too much sun or has a very strong reaction to the sun, triggering a flu-like response, we call it sun poisoning.”

Some would say that sun poisoning starts with symptoms of sunburn plus more…

What are Sunburn and Sun Poisoning Symptoms?

Thanks to our friends at Prevention below is a handy guide to help you.


  • Red, inflamed, and tender skin 30 minutes to 24 hours after UV exposure

Severe Sunburn

  • Blistering 24-48 hours after UV exposure

Sun Poisoning

  • All of the above sunburn symptoms, plus symptoms known as systemic reactions including: fever, chills, joint pain, muscle aches, headaches, malaise, and dehydration

What Do You Do If You Have Sun Poisoning?

I wish I could say there is a simple home remedy but with sun poisoning or severe sunburn that’s not the case. The best thing you can do is to consult your doctor and/or seek medical attention if you have either. Professional medical attention really is needed for both.

More Sunburn and Suncare Tips

We love being out the sun, we just want to be safe and smart about it. But if you do get sunburn check out our articles for some tips on treating it:

If you want to avoid sunburns at all cost (yes we love that idea!), wear sunscreen, cover up with clothing, seek the shade, stay out of midday sun when it’s the strongest, and check out our Suncare Smarts series where you can find great sun protection and sun safety tips.

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