What is sunburn?


Most Aussies have had a least one episode of sunburn in their life – some have had significantly more! Canstar Blue’s latest survey of sun safety habits found that 22% of the more than 1,900 respondents admitted that even now – with all the sun safety messages in the public sphere – they still often get sunburned. Ouch!

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Canstar Blue sunscreen survey results

What is sunburn?

Yes, we know the symptoms of sunburn, particularly when your skin goes red and feels itchy, and sometimes peels. If you’ve burnt yourself really badly, you might even blister. Sunburn is the skin’s reaction to the ultraviolet radiation (UV) in sunlight and in summer it can occur in as little as 15 minutes. That UV also causes damage – sometimes significant damage – to our skin cells.  Here is a good explanation of the damage that UV exposure does.

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Skin Cancer

What are the symptoms of sunburn?

As already mentioned, most people are aware of the overt symptoms of sunburn. Unfortunately, none of the symptoms become apparent until after you have done the damage!

Sunburnt WomanCommon symptoms of sunburn include:

  • A change in skin colour, generally to an unattractive shade of red. Your skin can continue to change colour up to three days after being burnt.
  • Skin that feels hot and painful to touch. Make sure you keep your skin well-hydrated with appropriate moisturizer, and avoid the use of soaps and harsh products until your skin is completely healed.
  • You may also develop shivering, fever and headaches. Make sure you drink plenty of fluid and use paracetamol if you need it.
  • Swelling and blistering. If you have burned yourself quite badly, your skin may react with fluid-filled blisters, which may eventually pop or break. Please ensure that you don’t expose your skin to the sun again until it’s completely healed.

How to prevent sunburn

As there’s no cure for sunburn, prevention is a much better option!

The original Cancer Council ‘slip, slop, slap’ message of the eighties has been replaced with a couple of extras “S’s”: slide and seek. Specifically, the official Sunsmart messages are:

  • Slip on some sun-protective clothing.
  • Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ (or higher) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards
  • Slap on a hat – that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
  • Seek shade.
  • Slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards.

And when you area heading outside, jump quickly online first. The Bureau of Meteorology issues a UV Index forecast every day; you can check the UV index for your location by clicking here.

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