How Long Does a Sunburn Last?

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How Long Does a Sunburn Last? 

What’s the fastest way to turn your tropical dream vacation into a nightmare? Plan a full schedule of outdoor activities on Day One without using adequate sun protection. The result, as many of us have learned the hard way, is a whole lot of pain, a little embarrassment, Rudolph-red skin and an aversion to the sun until it all just goes away. But how long does sunburn last and what can you do for relief? This guide should help get you out of that dark hotel room and back into the sunlight… at least before it’s time to fly home.

Long-Term Effects From Sunburn 

A sunburn is the result of your skin cells’ overexposure to UV radiation. As this occurs, your skin’s blood vessels dilate, resulting in redness and swelling. Damage to skin cells is often permanent, which can have serious long-term effects. Keep in mind that the more times you’re sunburned, the greater your risk of developing skin cancer. Five or more severe sunburns in a lifetime makes you at least twice as likely to develop some form of skin cancer.

In addition to the risk of cancer, repeated burning over time just isn’t a good look. Say goodbye to soft and smooth and hello to wrinkles, spots and other tell-tale signs of too much time in the tanning booth. 

Sunburn Risk Factors 

No matter your skin tone, everyone is at risk of developing sunburn. Some are more susceptible than others, of course. Here are few variables that could increase your risk of seeing red: 

  • Inadequate application of sunscreen 
  • Failure to reapply sunscreen every two hours 
  • Fair or freckled skin 
  • Activities in high altitudes (snowboarding and skiing) 
  • Outdoor activities
  • Exposure to the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. 

How Long Does Sunburn Redness Last? 

Unfortunately, if you’re starting to feel the effects of sunburn, it’s already too late. Sunburn can occur within minutes even if you don't feel or see any symptoms. Skin can start to turn red shortly after but reaches peak skin reddening and inflammation between 12 to 24 hours after exposure. Only after two days will it start to subside—and it can take much longer in more severe cases. Moderate sunburns (including peeling) take about week to fully heal while severe sunburns (blisters, nausea, etc.) may take as much as two weeks and require a visit to the doctor.  

How Long Does Sunburn Blisters Last? 

Blisters from a moderate to severe sunburn start to show anywhere from 6 hours to a full day after UV exposure, however blistering can occur sooner based on a person’s skin condition and environment. As tempting as it is, don’t pop or break your blisters—it will only slow the healing process and increase the risk of infection. Instead, think of them as your sun souvenir and a painful reminder to wear sun protection next time. Once blisters develop, expect them to subside after about a week.  

How Long Does Sunburn Swelling Last? 

Swelling (a result of the dilation of your skin’s blood vessels) can last up to two days. In the meantime, taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin can help, or the use of topical remedies like aloe vera and hydrocortisone can help relieve some of more acute symptoms. 

How Long Does Sunburn Peeling Last? 

To be clear: shedding is natural for reptiles — not humans. So, there’s nothing regenerative or healthy about peeling skin—it’s a sign that your body is trying to rid itself of damaged cells didn’t take the necessary precautions. We are not snakes! Once a moderate or severe sunburn occurs, expect to see the first signs of flaking and peeling after about three days. This can last for up to two weeks, depending on the severity of the burn. As your skin heals, resist the urge to “pull or pick” at the damaged goods. Your skin will fall off on its own when it’s ready. Hot tip: drink lots of water during the healing process. 

How to Heal a Sunburn 

Once you’ve burned your skin, there’s no magic wand to reverse the effects. So, you’re mostly going to have to rely on the body’s miraculous ability to heal itself. That said, there are some measures you can take to make it (slightly) less painful: 

  • Take a cool bath or shower or apply a cool, wet cloth to the sunburn. This will help absorb some of the radiant heat out of the skin.   
  • Drinking extra water can help restore some of the fluids lost during your day out in the sun.  
  • Moisturizers without alcohol can help soothe the burn. Avoid petroleum or oil-based ointments, which may trap the heat and make the burn worse. Look for products like after sun lotion that contain aloe vera.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin and hydrocortisone can help reduce some of the swelling.  


Since sunburnt skin is dehydrated skin, water should be your best friend. It's a huge plus to keep damaged skin hydrated to make it easier to heal after a sunburn. 

Topical Treatments 

While there is no treatment that will erase a sunburn, there are some remedies that help reduce symptoms. Topical solutions are the most common — be sure they contain some kind of anti-inflammatory properties.  

Peeling and Swelling Remedies 

The swelling and pain you feel is the result of your body at work, pumping out Histamines (signals to your immune system) assist this healing process, providing a bit more comfort for you. These include hydrocortisone creams, moisturizers and over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen.  

FAQs About How Long Sunburns Last

How Can I Get Rid of My Sunburn Fast? 

There is no shortcut to healing a sunburn. However, there are a few treatments that help reduce some of the symptoms. Drink lots of fluids, take frequent cool showers, consider a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin  

Do Sunburns Turn into a Tan?

UV radiation from the sun damages our skin’s cells, causing our body to produce more melanin to repel any additional damage. This additional melanin tends to darken the skin over time but in no way should be seen as healthy. As dermatologists say, tans are simply the result of damaged skin protecting itself from more damage. There is no such thing as a “healthy tan.”

Can a Sunburn Go Away in Two Days?

Once you’re burned from the sun, you’re at the mercy of your body’s own healing process timeline—generally anywhere from three to five days. For mild sunburns, however, you may experience relief after 48 hours if you take all the necessary steps to mitigate symptoms, including: cold showers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)s, topical solutions like aloe vera and, of course, getting out of the sun while you recover.