How to Differentiate Between Sunburn and Sun Poisoning? A Detailed Guide

sun poisoning vs sun burning

If you are out in the mornings for prolonged periods, sunburn or even sun poisoning are common occurrences. However, these are more than just unwanted tans on your skin. 

According to recent studies, the dangers of UV rays from the sun increase the risks of contracting skin cancer. Moreover, flaky skin, dry patches, and rashes can leave long-term scars on your body. 

Now, more often we tend to confuse sunburns with critical sun-poisoning that requires emergency medical attention. 

So today, let us clear your doubts on the matter once and for all!

What is Sunburn?

sun poisoning


Sunburns are sensitive tans which your skin has after you are out in the sun for too long, especially without any sunscreen. 

These are reddish patches over your skin, which are damaging and can be painful to various degrees. 

These are due to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays having prolonged exposure on your skin. You shall start noticing the effects within 3-4 hours. 

And the side- effects can be swollen, reddish, and painful to the touch. Moreover, these can be of 3 different types:

Mild Burn

A mild sunburn shall have your skin get reddish patches that can be dry and painful. While these take about 3-5 days to heal completely, your damaged skin shall start to peel off for new skin regeneration. 

Moderate Burn

Moderate burns are a bit more painful. These are swollen areas on the skin, which are deep red and can be excruciatingly painful to touch.

These can stay around for a week and heal slowly. The affected areas shall also have skin peeling off even after those spots heal completely. 

Severe Burn

If you have severe tanned burns from the sun, make sure to visit a doctor immediately. Severe ones occur if you have been out in the sun throughout the day without any protective covers. 

The effects of prolonged exposure can cause painful blisters and dry patchy skin that can hurt on touch. Moreover, such skin damages can become long-term issues if you fail to take timely precautions to soothe your skin. 

According to experts, it can take you around a full week to heal from the severity of such sunburns

What is Sun Poisoning

sun poisoning


It is similar to the severe stage of sunburns, with quicker medical requirements. 

Of course, it is not ‘poisonous’ as the name states. Rather, you can say that it is a severe allergic reaction to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. 

If your skin breaks out for being out for too long under the harsh rays, it can form blisters, rashes, and painful patches. 

Moreover, sun poisoning heightens your risks of contracting skin cancer in the long run. 

Not to forget, there are certain risks which can increase your chances of facing these issues from the UV-rays, such as:

  • If you have fair, or pale skin. 
  • There are prescribed antibiotics for your daily intake. 
  • You frequently use herbal supplements for your skin. 
  • Your place of domestic stay is very close to the equator. 
  • You take regular oral contraceptives for medication. 
  • Your vacation spot in summers is an area with very high-altitude, such as the mountains. 
  • You live near the beach or take frequent visits there during the sunny hours (10 AM to 3 PM). 
  • Your skincare routine includes using chemical peels that contain alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs).

The symptoms of sun poisonings are more than skin issues. And they are:

  • Dizziness and headaches. Your head might start feeling light. 
  • Heavy nausea, following acute levels of dehydration. 
  • High fever and chills throughout the body. 
  • Painful blisters all over your skin. 

If you are feeling these after being out in the sun for too long, make sure to contact your dermatologist. 

How Long Does Sunburn Last?

sun poisoning


You might wonder, “how long do sunburns last?” The answer would vary. 

And all these depend upon multiple factors, such as:

  • Your skin tones.
  • The existence of freckles on the skin. 
  • Your place of stay (if near the equator or the hills)
  • The depth of the Ozone hole where you live. 
  • Frequency of using tanning beds for cosmetic changes in your skin. 
  • Your prescribed medications, as some chemicals can make your skin more prone to sunburns. 

Moreover, the effects of sunburns have various disadvantages. You shall have blisters, redness, swelling, rashes, and more. 

The pain from the burns can last for about 6 hours. It recedes slowly and by day two you shall feel no aches. 

The swelling, on the other hand, takes two days to flatten out completely. You can use cold-compress and also prescribed medicines. 

The existence of blisters during the healing process can be helpful. These are like protective layers that help the skin heal. 

These can only occur after moderate to severe burns and last for six days. It is advisable to let them break naturally. And clean the area with mild soap water afterward. 

Moreover, make sure to stay away from the sun till your skin completely heals. 

Therefore, for the question of “how long does sunburns last?” the answer is a week. And this is a different side effect of the burn that takes different healing times than the other. 

You can, of course, enhance the process by applying aloe vera and even prescribed medicated products to the affected area. 

How Long Does Sun Poisoning Last?

sun poisoning


Unlike burns from the sun, sun poisoning has more detrimental effects that can last a lifetime. Meaning, while the former can have dangers after long-term exposure for years, the risks of the latter are far more alarming. 

Now, sun poisoning which is also known as polymorphic light eruption can last for about ten days or even a few weeks before your skin starts healing. 

Moreover, sun poisoning can be of various types, each with its own time to heal:

Polymorphous Light Eruption (PMLE): If you are living in the northern climate, with intense sunlight, then you can catch PMLE. 

Moreover, the symptoms are similar to that of a sunburn, such as rashes, swells, and redness. Not to forget, in more serious cases, there can also be small bumps on your skin. 

PMLE takes about 2-3 weeks to completely heal, of course, with the right medication and precautions. 

As per medical suggestions, keep your eyes peeled for severe symptoms such as:

  • Fevers
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, etc. 

Solar Urticaria: The effects of Solar urticaria are more long-term in comparison to PMLE. While PMLE takes about a few hours to affect your skin under the sun, Solar Urticaria needs just a few minutes. 

The symptoms are similar to that of flu or even sunburns, such as:

  • wheezing
  • fever
  • rashes
  • dizziness
  • Painful swellings over affected areas. 

Unfortunately, after the symptoms lessen within some hours or even two days, they might re-occur for more years to come. Meaning, this is a type of sun poisoning that shall require thorough medical attention. 

Also Read: Perfect Summer Skin Care Routine In A Step By Step Order

How to Differentiate Between Sunburn and Sun Poisoning?

sun poisoning


It can be challenging to differentiate between the symptoms of sunburn and sun poisoning, especially as most of them are common grounds between the two. 

And while both can be adequately uncomfortable, the medical needs, precautions, and various other factors can tell the two apart. 

And these would be:

Symptoms that Stand Apart

Sunburns occur due to your spending prolonged hours under the UV rays, especially without any sunscreen or umbrellas. Now, the common symptoms would be rashes, swelling, redness, and so on. 

However, for more severe cases, your symptoms will be more like that of sun poisoning. 

Sun poisoning is not due to mere exposure, but an allergic reaction to the UV rays. And its symptoms are the same as sunburns, with added risks, such as:

  • High fever
  • dizziness
  • dehydration
  • nausea, and more. 

Meaning, the symptoms of both vary only by their severity. And sun poisoning is a more dangerous form of sunburn, with allergic reactions and other medical conditions. 

Recognizing the Affected Areas

The affected areas of the sun’s burn and the poisonings can vary to an extent. And by understanding the differences, you can seek proper medical treatment!

If it is a smooth reddish patch on the skin, it is a sunburn. However, if it is a bumpy, swollen red area, it is most definitely sun poisoning.

A burn will take around one week, within which it shall start reducing with proper treatment and care. A sun poisoning affected area shall take a bit more time, around two weeks if not more. 

And finally, if you are feeling slightly feverish after staying under the sun, alongside the itchy skin symptoms, it is a tanned burn. However, if you are running a high fever, with dizziness and light-headedness, these are allergic sun poisoning symptoms. 

And while their discomforts are in varying degrees, none of them are pleasant or beneficial to your skin or overall health. 


There are various home-made and medical remedies for both. Aloe vera extracts, prescribed medicines, and even cold compress. Most importantly, by detecting the differences between both, you can take prompt medical care. 

However, it is more crucial to take proper precautions when going under the sun, such as:

  • Carrying an umbrella
  • Applying sunscreen with the right SPF
  • Wearing protective clothing to reduce exposure to the sun.
  • Avoiding excessive tanning bed schedules, and so on. 

Additionally, sun poisoning requires quick medical attention, as unlike sunburns, this is a more allergic reaction whose after-effects can last a lifetime. 

With the appropriate precautions, you can always be one-step-ahead of contracting these skin-related ailments. 

For more information, visit Healthclubfinder.