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August 17, 2022

What's the difference between sun poisoning and sunburn?

Prevention Safety

Content sponsored by IBC - Native (195x33)

Purchased - Person with severe sunburn Tsikhan Kuprevich/

Is it possible to actually be poisoned by the sun? The short answer is “no,” but that doesn’t make “sun poisoning” any less dangerous or painful. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you should know the difference between a sunburn and sun poisoning, as well as what you can do to keep your skin protected.

What is sunburn?

A sunburn occurs when you spend too much time exposed to ultraviolet light, such as the sun’s rays. It causes your skin to become red, usually between six and 12 hours after overexposure — although it can sometimes take 24 hours before the full effects are visible. These symptoms are temporary, but repeatedly getting sunburned can lead to premature aging and skin cancer.

So, how is sun poisoning different?

It’s a matter of degree. Sun poisoning is the result of a particularly severe sunburn. The symptoms can include blistering, severe pain, fever and chills, dehydration, and even confusion, vomiting, and fainting. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention. Your doctor may provide you with an intravenous medicine, creams to help with healing, and pain medication while you recover.

With quick treatment, the symptoms of sun poisoning usually begin to subside within a few days. However, the recovery process can sometimes take weeks for more severe cases. If sun poisoning is left untreated, infections, dehydration, and premature aging of the skin can all occur.

Risk factors

Anyone who is out in the sun unprotected for long enough is at risk of developing a sunburn, and potentially sun poisoning. The risks are particularly significant for those with fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, who are near the equator or at high altitudes, or who take a supplement or medication (such as certain antibiotics or contraceptives) that place them more at risk.

Prevention tips

The good news? Preventing sun poisoning is easy! Any time you head outdoors, make sure you’re wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is rated SPF 30 or higher. Re-apply every few hours to maintain your protection, and use shade, a hat, and clothing to cover as much of your skin as possible. And remember: limit your time in the sun — especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.

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