Understanding the Severity of Second-Degree Sunburn: What You Need to Know

Understanding the Severity of Second-Degree Sunburn: What You Need to Know

What is second-degree sunburn?

Sunburn is a common skin condition that occurs when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources such as tanning beds. While first-degree sunburn is relatively mild, second-degree sunburn is a more severe form of sunburn that requires immediate attention. Second-degree sunburn affects the deeper layers of the skin, causing pain, redness, and blistering.

When the skin is exposed to excessive UV radiation, it causes damage to the DNA in the skin cells. This damage triggers an inflammatory response in the body, leading to the symptoms associated with sunburn. While first-degree sunburn typically affects only the outermost layer of the skin, second-degree sunburn penetrates deeper into the dermis.

Symptoms and signs of second-degree sunburn

Second-degree sunburn presents with a range of symptoms that can vary in severity. The most common signs of second-degree sunburn include:

  1. Pain and tenderness: Second-degree sunburn is often associated with intense pain and tenderness in the affected area. The skin may feel hot to the touch, and even the slightest pressure can cause discomfort.

  2. Redness and swelling: The affected area will appear red and swollen. The redness may be more intense than with first-degree sunburn, and the skin may feel tight and stretched.

  3. Blisters: Blisters are a hallmark sign of second-degree sunburn. These fluid-filled sacs form as a protective response by the body to prevent further damage to the skin. It is important not to pop or puncture the blisters, as this can increase the risk of infection.

Causes of second-degree sunburn

Second-degree sunburn is primarily caused by excessive exposure to UV radiation. The sun emits different types of UV rays, including UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and are associated with premature aging and skin damage, while UVB rays primarily affect the outer layer of the skin and are responsible for sunburn.

Factors that can increase the risk of second-degree sunburn include:

  1. Intense sun exposure: Spending prolonged periods in direct sunlight without proper protection significantly increases the risk of second-degree sunburn.

  2. Fair skin: People with fair skin have less melanin, the pigment that provides some protection against UV radiation. As a result, they are more susceptible to sunburn.

  3. Medications: Certain medications, such as antibiotics and diuretics, can make the skin more sensitive to UV radiation, increasing the risk of sunburn.

How to help sunburn: immediate steps to take

If you find yourself with second-degree sunburn, it's important to take immediate steps to alleviate the pain and reduce further damage to the skin. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Get out of the sun: The first and most crucial step is to get out of the sun and seek shade. Continuing to expose the burnt skin to UV radiation will only worsen the condition.

  2. Cool the skin: Applying a cool compress or taking a cool bath can help soothe the burnt skin. Avoid using ice directly on the skin, as it can cause further damage.

  3. Hydrate: Sunburn draws fluid to the surface of the skin, leading to dehydration. Drink plenty of water to replenish the lost fluids and prevent further complications.

What to put on sunburn for relief and healing

Choosing the right products to apply to your sunburn can make a significant difference in the healing process. Here are some recommendations:

  1. Aloe vera gel: Aloe vera has long been known for its soothing properties. Applying aloe vera gel to the affected area can help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and promote healing.

  2. Moisturizers: Sunburned skin tends to become dry and itchy. Using a fragrance-free moisturizer can help hydrate the skin and alleviate discomfort.

  3. Hydrocortisone cream: Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help reduce inflammation and relieve itching. However, it is important to follow the instructions and consult a healthcare professional if the sunburn worsens.

Natural remedies for second-degree sunburn

In addition to conventional treatments, there are several natural remedies that can help alleviate the symptoms of second-degree sunburn. These remedies can provide relief and aid in the healing process:

  1. Cold milk compress: Soaking a clean cloth in cold milk and applying it to the sunburned area can provide a cooling effect and help reduce inflammation.

  2. Oatmeal bath: Adding colloidal oatmeal to a lukewarm bath can help soothe the skin and relieve itching. Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties that can aid in the healing process.

  3. Chamomile tea: Brewing chamomile tea and allowing it to cool before applying it to the sunburned skin can provide relief and reduce inflammation.

Tips for preventing second-degree sunburn

Prevention is key when it comes to protecting your skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Here are some tips to prevent second-degree sunburn:

  1. Apply sunscreen: Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. Apply it generously to all exposed areas of the skin, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

  2. Seek shade: Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight, especially during peak hours when the sun's rays are the strongest (usually between 10 am and 4 pm).

  3. Wear protective clothing: Cover your skin with lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats. This can provide an additional layer of protection against UV radiation.

How to heal second-degree sunburn: the recovery process

Healing from second-degree sunburn can take time, and it is important to allow your body the necessary time to recover. Here are some steps to aid in the healing process:

  1. Keep the skin moisturized: Applying a fragrance-free moisturizer to the affected area can help prevent dryness and peeling. Avoid using products with harsh chemicals that can irritate the skin.

  2. Avoid picking at blisters: It is crucial to resist the temptation to pop or pick at the blisters. This can lead to infection and delay the healing process.

  3. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. This can help promote healing and prevent further complications.

When to seek medical attention for second-degree sunburn

While most cases of second-degree sunburn can be treated at home, there are instances where medical attention is necessary. Seek medical attention if:

  1. The burn covers a large area of the body or affects sensitive areas such as the face, genitals, or eyes.

  2. You experience severe pain, fever, chills, or signs of infection such as pus or increasing redness.

  3. The blisters are extensive or become larger, burst, or ooze fluid.


Second-degree sunburn is a serious condition that requires immediate attention. Understanding the severity of second-degree sunburn and taking appropriate steps to prevent and treat it can help protect your skin and promote healing. By following the tips and recommendations outlined in this article, you can minimize the risk of second-degree sunburn and ensure the health and well-being of your skin.

Remember, prevention is always better than cure. Protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays, and if you do get sunburned, take prompt action to alleviate symptoms and aid in the healing process. Your skin will thank you for it.