Sun & Skin News

Ask the Expert: What Should I Do if I Get a Blistering Sunburn?

By Ali Venosa • July 11, 2023

Q: I seriously neglected my sun protection yesterday and got a bad burn. Blisters have started to form — why is this, and what should I do about them?

A sunburn is an inflammatory reaction caused by ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun. Sunburns range in severity from mildly irritating to second- or third-degree burns. While most mild burns can be managed at home with oral hydration, over-the-counter pain medications and moisturization, there are a few additional things to keep in mind if you’re recovering from a blistering sunburn.

Blisters form over severely damaged skin as your body attempts to protect that skin from infection. They can develop anywhere from a couple of hours to a day after the initial sun exposure. Intact blisters can help skin heal, so it is very important not to pop or pick at them. Aside from slowing down healing, this can cause further damage to the skin and increase the risk of scarring or infection. If a blister does pop on its own, gently wash the area with an antibacterial cleanser and cover it with a nonstick bandage.

If you’ve developed blisters over a large part of your body, you should seek medical attention. Also, call the doctor if you develop a fever, chills, nausea or see signs of an infection. Remember, the best way to avoid a blistering sunburn is to prevent sun damage in the first place. Practice sun safe behavior by applying sunscreen with SPF (sun protective factor) 30 to 50 before going outside and wearing sun-protective clothing and sunglasses to shield your eyes and delicate skin around them.

About the Expert: Carol Trakimas, DO, is a board-certified dermatologist who is president and lead dermatologist of Dermatology Solutions of North Carolina Cares, Inc., a 501c(3) charitable foundation in Raleigh, NC. She is medical director and lead dermatologist at Dermatology Solutions of North Carolina PLLC, Durham, NC, and medical director and lead dermatologist at Forefront Dermatology in Goldsboro, NC.

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