Sun Poisoning Symptoms And Treatment You Must Be Aware of!

A lot of the time, we take preventive measures for sunburn which probably explains why sun poisoning is less talked about and difficult to differentiate. Not to alarm but that itchy red skin is more serious than you think.

Written by Manal Yahya

On Mar 28, 2023 – 10 minutes read

Sun Poisoning Symptoms And Treatment You Must Be Aware Of!

Never heard of sun poisoning before? Then, you need to look out for these sun poisoning symptoms.

Sun poisoning is a real thing, as much as you would like to believe otherwise. If you spend too much time soaking under the sun while lounging outside on a sunny day, you are at several risks here.

Dehydration? Guaranteed. Heatstroke? Possibly. Sunburn? Promised. Sun poisoning? Definitely. 

Yes, sun rays are an instant mood lifter. Everyone loves a dose or two of vitamin D every day, especially if you are constantly bombarded with moody weather conditions. But you cannot ignore the persistent peril of sun poisoning.

Regardless of your skin tones, you must learn about sun poisoning symptoms, treatment, and prevention tips to save your skin from the potential hazard of sun rays. Whether you have fair skin or dusky skin, here’s everything you need to know about sun poisoning. 

Sun Poisoning: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, And Prevention Tips

Too much of anything is good for nothing. It’s the same case for sun rays, too. The other side of the coin of feeling sun rays bouncing off your skin is the damaging effects of too much sun on your skin. Even if you wear an SPF of 30+. 

sun poisoning vs sunburn

Here’s a familiar scenario: you soak under the sunlight and get sunburn resulting in tender skin. Then it’s not just the tenderness and redness anymore. It starts to itch and leaves painful rashes on the skin. What could that be? This reaction to prolonged exposure to harmful UV radiation is called sun poisoning. Keep reading to find everything you need to know about sun poisoning!

What Are the Causes Of Sun Poisoning?

Let’s start with the causes of sun poisoning. Sun poisoning occurs when UV radiation(1) inflames your skin, causing an extreme case of sunburn. Though relatively unknown and uncommon, it has a number of factors that influence a person’s likelihood to get sun poisoned while spending an extended period of time in the sun.

What Are The Causes Of Sun Poisoning

You are at an increased risk of sun poisoning if you:

  • Have fair skin —particularly redheads.
  • Apply citrus oils before sun exposure.
  • Are using alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) —chemical peels.
  • Have relatives who had skin cancer. 
  • Are living in places near the equator.
  • Reside in high altitudes. 
  • Actively engage in regular snow activities during the cold season.
  • Frequently visit the beach —extended exposure to reflected sunlight.
  • Are taking medications such as birth control pills, antibiotics, acne medications, diuretics(2), OTC anti-inflammatories, OTC antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, or using herbal supplements like St. John’s wort.
  • Work outdoors.
  • Have pre-existing conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and lupus.  
  • Have dietary deficiency or genetic predisposition.

What Are the Symptoms of Sun Poisoning?

No one can claim sun poisoning as a medical diagnosis and consider it as an actual poison. The word itself, albeit misleading, is rather used in colloquial terms due to the severity of the symptoms of sun poisoning. Not to mention, some symptoms have flu-like nature or like an allergic reaction.  

Without any form of sun protection or precautions, severe sunburn with systemic symptoms is not something to fool around with. To assume sun poisoning is not bad would be a grave mistake. This is because you only need 15 minutes of this intense sun exposure to get burnt. For many, the symptoms of sun poisoning may not even show up until later. Also, the extent to which someone may experience the symptoms vary from person to person. 

sun poisoning symptoms

There are two types of sun poisoning: acute and chronic. If your symptoms of sun poisoning are relatively mild and pass with treatment, you have acute sun poisoning. On the other hand, if the symptoms are severe and ongoing while a bit difficult to treat, you have chronic sun poisoning. 

List of Symptoms of Sun Poisoning

  • Tingling and pain
  • Redness and blistering or peeling skin
  • Rashes
  • Hyperpigmentation 
  • Headache 
  • Swelling 
  • Chills and fever
  • Dizziness and light-headedness 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting 
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Confusion 

It is also important to learn the difference between the symptoms of sun rash, mild sunburn, and sun poisoning. If you spot a sun rash —or sun allergy—, it may look like a widespread red rash with extreme itch. It can also develop small bumps like hives. But a sun rash caused by sun poisoning looks more like an isolated red patch that requires medical attention. 

In the case of mild sunburn, similar symptoms such as redness, tenderness, swelling, or pain eventually heal on their own without medical attention or complications. But symptoms of sun poisoning can lead to other risky complications. As the skin’s barrier is practically impaired, it increases susceptibility to further damage (in the future as well). It may cause scarring, contribute to heat stroke —especially when the individual is dehydrated— or worse, increase your chances of getting skin cancer (melanoma) in the future. 

Infection is also a possibility in this case. If your skin is punctured from popping blisters or scratching the burn, the chances of infection are high. Furthermore, people who experience chronic sun poisoning are at a higher risk of developing premature wrinkles and skin spots in the future. 

Recovery Time for Sun Poisoning

These local or systemic symptoms mentioned above may resolve within hours, a day or two, and you feel much better after a couple of days. But skin damage can be long-lasting. With adequate hydration, topical care, and cooling of the skin, many symptoms can resolve within two days. But if it is widespread, it may take up to 10 days to heal —for the skin to shin and replenish. If you have rashes or blisters, resist the urge to scratch yourself.

Recovery Time For Sun Poisoning

One important factor to remember is to minimize additional sun exposure while you are still recovering from sun poisoning. Because the skin’s ability to regulate temperature will be impaired. So, keep the skin moist as it is healing to minimize discoloration, scarring, and pigmentary disturbance while increasing recovery speed. 

Sun Poisoning vs Sunburn

Since sunburn and sun poisoning look similar and share a few symptoms, it may be difficult to distinguish the two. And when that happens, the symptoms of sun poisoning go unnoticed, leading to dangerous skin conditions or long-term complications. So, it is important to know the difference between the two.

how to treat sun poisoning blisters

Sunburn includes symptoms such as redness, itchy, and begins to peel after some time but these mild symptoms usually fade after a while. In some extreme cases, it accompanies fever and nausea. It can happen to anyone who is exposed to sunlight for too long. On the other hand, sun poisoning does not affect everyone. In fact, some are more susceptible than others. Its symptoms are severe, last longer, and require medical treatment.

How To Treat Sun Poisoning?

Sometimes referred to as photodermatitis or polymorphic light eruption, sun poisoning comes in different forms based on your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. But unlike sunburn, it requires medical treatment. Protocol for treating sun poisoning is different, depending on the severity of the burn.

How To Treat Sun Poisoning

If you ever find yourself with a severe case of sunburn, here’s how you should treat sun poisoning:

  • Hydrate by drinking fluids for a few days to replenish moisture lost from the skin. 
  • After being in the sun, drink electrolytes and intravenous (IV) fluids to treat dehydration.
  • If the pain persists, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like OTC pain relievers ibuprofen or acetaminophen —if you are not allergic. This will soothe redness and swelling due to inflammation.
  • Apply cold compresses for 30 to 60 minutes. You can make an equal ratio of milk and water, diluted water with apple cider vinegar, milk, and baking soda, Burow’s solution to help soothe the skin.
  • Apply a ziplock filled with ice cubes for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • If you don’t have open blisters, apply natural soothing agents such as aloe vera extracts, moisturizers (fragrance-free), gels, or coconut oil to relieve pain as well as itching.
  • Use an anti-itch cream to protect your already burnt skin from further damage. Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if your itching worsens.
  • For inflamed blisters, apply OTC hydrocortisone 1% cream for post-shower application (when the skin dry). Or an emollient petrolatum ointment or Doctor Rogers Restore with glycerin and castor bean oil for acute sun poisoning.
  • Apply clean and damp dressing on open wounds or erupted blisters to heal and reduce the risk of infection as well.
  • Use steroid creams for painful blisters. 
  • Apply lotion to your skin while still damp to retain moisture on peeling skin. 
  • Crush a baby aspirin and spread it as a paste on the skin for some local anti-inflammatory effect.
  • Shower in cool (not cold) water.
  • Use a gentle cleanser like the Dove White Beauty Bar while showering.
  • Avoid scented body lotions, oils, bath salts, and perfumes to protect your burnt skin.  
  • Cover sun poisoned areas when going out in the sun.
  • Apply topical antibiotics to prevent infection.
  • Opt for phototherapy or light therapy by exposing certain wavelengths of light on the skin to slow the growth of damaged cells. 

When to See a Doctor

When treated promptly, even sun poisoning will heal eventually. Here’s a heads up: in some severe cases, the hospital may transfer the person with sun poison to the burn unit. If you experience any of the symptoms below, seek medical attention immediately:

When to see a doctor
  • Fever and chills 
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Severe dehydration
  • Facial swelling
  • Painful blisters covering large portions of your body
  • Severe infection (has spread to your bloodstream) with oozing or red streaks 

Prevention Tips for Sun Poisoning

It is easy to get sun poisoned. But to prevent sun poisoning, you just need to follow some standard precautions and sun safety tips.

Prevention tips for sun poisoning

Here are a few of them for you to follow and keep your skin safe in coming relaxing summer days:

  • Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and mention “broad spectrum” on the label. Apply all over your exposed skin 30 minutes before leaving the home. Use a shot-glass-sized amount of sunscreen on the body and a tea-spoon amount on your face and neck. Don’t forget sneaky places like the back of the ears and scalp.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or right after swimming or sweating.
  • Wear UV protective sunglasses with protective clothing, such as hats, long sleeve clothes, gloves, and neck gaiters. Tight woven fabrics, thick, or dark clothes can further help you.
  • Avoid peak hours in the summer months. 
  • Limit your exposure from the hours between 10 AM and 2 PM. Keep in mind that water, snow, and sand can intensify the sun’s harmful UV rays.
  • Check on your medications to ensure you don’t take any medications that make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Some of them are acne medications (retinoids), antidepressants (doxepin and tricyclic), antibiotics (ofloxacin, tetracycline, doxycycline), antifungal treatments (griseofulvin), antihistamines (promethazine, diphenhydramine), diuretics, heart drugs, and birth control pills. 
  • Dietary changes with all essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients can reduce the risk of photosensitivity. 
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to intense sun rays and stay in the shade whenever possible. 
  • Avoid tanning beds.
  • Stay hydrated while in the sun.
  • Keep infants younger than 6 months out of intense and direct sunlight.

Fair Skinned or Dark Skinned

We have established that fair-skinned people are more prone to sun poisoning. Those who live in northern climates with fair skin may not be used to intense sunlight. For them, the chance of getting a skin reaction called Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE) is high.

can sun poisoning kill you

When it comes to the other side of the spectrum, people have doubts regarding dark-skinned people and sun poisoning. Can people with darker skin get sun poisoning? Of course, yes. But they are less at risk than people with light skin. Because for people with lighter skin, their protective pigment in the skin —melanin— is less than those with darker skin. 

Sunscreen is the Solid Remedy

Even if you wear thin cloth to cover your face, wearing sunscreen is necessary. There are only two golden rules to remember here: apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside and reapply it every two hours. Applying it before half an hour gives the skin enough time to soak up the sunscreen for better protection.

Sun Poisoning remedy

Some might presume that there is no need to wear sunscreen if you wear a face mask. But sunlight can easily get through paper face masks. So do not leave home without wearing an SPF of at least 15.

Final Thoughts

Now that going out itself feels like a blessing, none of us would miss the chance of taking a bath under the sun. But sun rays remain harmful to the skin even during and after lockdowns. So, follow the prevention tips of sun poisoning to avoid getting burnt and treat it in the right way to avoid any further damage. I hope this article about sun poisoning symptoms and treatment helps you with the condition no one desires, if in case! Keep your skin safe from the sun rays at all costs!

  1. American Cancer Society Inc. (2021). Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation. (Online). Available at,to%20become%20inflamed%20or%20burned.
  2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021). Diuretics. (Online). Available at
Manal Yaha

Manal Yahya

Writer by day and reader by night. With a thoughtful lens, Manal authors in-depth blog posts on all things health and beauty. She tries to cover here basically anything a woman wants to know.

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