When the sun comes back, we know it is time to take out the suncream, sun glasses and to pay attention to your exposition. But despite the precautions or when the desire to sunbath quickly is strong, you can get sunburns ! What do we really risk ? What are the consequences of a sunburn on your skin and your health ? 

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What is a sunburn ?

During a sunburn the skin turns red, sometimes there are blisters that appear, the intensity of a sunburn may vary. Generally, we can distinguish 3 types :

  • First degree burn : redness of the skin, no blisters, pain  and burn feeling ;
  • Superficial burn (second degree) : causes the appearance of blisters (possible fever and headaches)
  • Deep burn (second degree) : severe burn with blisters that may leave scars (probable fever and headaches)

Biological process

The term burn is not entirely exacte to explain the biological reality of a sunburn. There are 3 types of UV (UVA, UVB, and UVC), it is the UVB that are responsable of sunburns. The UVB deteriorate the microARN present in the skin cells, that then rejects them in the extracellular space. This process provokes a chain reaction and an inflammatory response. We therefore talk a lot about burns but the appropriate term is inflammation.

It is the organisme itself that provokes the inflammation but this mechanism would be necessary and lifesaving, at least on the short term, because that could sink the cells that present genetical damages and therefore, prevent them from becoming cancerous. However, it should be noted that the repeated damages (repeated sunburn) provoke alterations that cumulate and increase the risk of developing a skin cancer. 

During a sunburn, the apparition of redness or erythema happens 3 to 5h hours after sun exposure. Then the pain and burn sensation appear. This first phase generally lasts between 2 and 3 days. During the 2nd phase the redness goes away and the skin starts to desiccate and to peel.

Ceapharma – https://www.creapharma.ch/coup-de-soleil.htm

What to do in case of sunburn ?
In case of severe sunburn and children sunburn, it may be necessary to consult a doctor.

  • To relieve the pain

To ease the pain or the burn sensation, it is possible to apply cold compresses or damp cloth with cold water or to dive in a cold bath or to take a cold shower. Cold water allow the skin to cool down where it was burn and to exerce natural pain-killer and anti-inflammatory effect. 

NB : You must not use frozen water therefore no application of ice packs or ice cubes because the temperature difference is too important and may hurt the skin as well as the nerves.

In case of fever or intense pain it is possible to take anti-inflammatories.

  • To hydrate the skin

Sunburns dehydrate the skin and dries it, therefore it is advised to apply a cream that will allow the skin to rehydrate. The pharmacists will be able to advise the most adequate brand depending on the severity of the sunburn.

In “natural” remedy the use of Aloe Vera gel allows the skin to hydrate and has a healing effect.

  • To avoid dehydration

Sunburns do not dehydrate the skin, the dehydration is general. Therefore, it is important to drink a lot, at least 1,5L in case of sunburns. If a child of young age gets a sunburn, you must be very vigilant and watch carefully his hydration.

  • To avoid aggravation 

In case of blisters or crusts apparition it is important not to pierce or scratch them to avoid an infection.

cosmestics, parfums and drugs should be avoided, they can provoke allergic reactions on the skin already damaged. You must of course avoid to re exposed the skin to the sun.


What are the health risks ?

Risks for children

Children are more at risk due to their very sensitive skin. For children, sunburns aren’t harmless, its their sun capital that is at stake. To get sunburned during childhood can, at long term, can favor skin cancer development (mostly melanoma). According to studies, the people that had a lot of sunburns during their childhood are more at risk of developing melanoma compared those who did not get sunburned during childhood (between 5 and 15 years old).

For young children, we must remain vigilant, they must not be exposed to the sun before, at least, their 2 years of age. 


Pregnant women 

A sun exposure during pregnancy does not present any risks towards the foetus but the foetus may suffer from heat strokes or dehydration from the mother, therefore, sun exposure must be reasonable and to stay hydrated is important. Furthermore, sun exposure can accentuate the pregnancy mask which is an hyper pigmentation of the skin usually appearing between the 4th and 6th month and explaining itself by a high hormone level. The sun is also responsable of the drying out of the skin that can lead to the  occurence of varicose vein and stretch marks.

People with allergies 

Sun allergies are totally different from sunburns. Sun allergies can manifest themselves by itchy little pimples. Allergies can also result in photosensitization with more or less strong pruritus reactions, swelling and/or redness. Un treatment is necessary as well as a sun avoidance.



The outdoor sports activities are generally practiced in the time slots (from 11am to 6pm) where the exposition to the sun’s ray is the strongest. The sports activities that expose the most to the sun are all the water sports, outdoor sports but also jogging, cycling, hiking and mountain climbing…

The risks of a sun exposition, during the practice of a sport, are sunburns but also the increase of body temperature. The abrupt rise of body temperature may provoke stress hyperthermia and lead to heart attacks in the most extreme cases. 

Prevention stays the best solution to avoid sunburns mostly for the people who have a low skin phototype (I, II or III) that are more subject to sunburns. Prevention consists in putting suncream, sunglasses but also to expose yourself moderately to the sun.

How Meersens can help you!

Meersens application allows you to know the UV index of where you are and combined to your skin phototype, it shows if there is a risk for you in particular to get exposed to the sun and what precautions to take in order to limit the risk. 
Solution Meersens - Santé environnementale

Meersens est une entreprise à impact positif dans le domaine de la santé environnementale, mobilisée pour créer un avenir durable, permettant d’atténuer les risques environnementaux et de contribuer positivement à la santé et au bien-être des parties prenantes – en offrant une surveillance et une prévention environnementales personnalisées.

Meersens offre une vision et une surveillance multi-polluants à 360°, en temps réel, historique et prédictive, pour n’importe quel lieu, avec une grande précision, vous permettant d’atténuer les risques et de prendre de meilleures décisions.

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