How Long Do Sunburns Last?


Updated on:


How long do sunburns tend to last? Here’s a look at the stages of sunburns and how long you can expect them to take to heal.

Initial Onset

The initial onset period provides a critical early window where prompt treatment can influence severity and length of the overall sunburn. This phase begins about 3-8 hours after UV exposure and starts turning light pink or red. This initial warning period is your cue to start proper after-sun care. Don’t wait until you are lobster red and blistered before starting appropriate sunburn care. You can apply aloe vera gel and moisturizing cream and take an OTC pain reliever at first signs to reduce further inflammation. So you may feel fine initially, but signs of burns can creep up later in the day.

Peak Discomfort 

The peak discomfort period of a sunburn is often the hardest to endure due to intense pain. The skin will be inflamed and tender to the touch. Blistering can sometimes occur in more severe burns as well. The skin may also feel hot or warm to the touch. Peak discomfort usually lasts for 24-48 hours. Staying out of the sun and gently caring for the burn can help you get through this day or two of peak sensitivity as your body works to heal the damaged skin. Besides, oral anti-inflammatory meds, cooling aloe vera and lukewarm baths, can hydrate your skin.

Healing Begins  

After reaching the peak pain and discomfort level, most sunburns will then begin improving day by day. The skin starts to lose some of the intense redness and inflammation. Pain and tenderness levels also gradually get better. It starts approximately 3-8 days after the initial sun exposure and follows after the worst peak discomfort subsides. To prevent, allow skin to peel naturally rather than picking at it and continue using aloe vera and moisturizing. Cool showers or baths can also decrease your discomfort.

Complete Healing  

For mild sunburn cases with just some minor redness and pain, complete healing usually occurs within 3 to 7 days. You will see no more red, inflamed skin and your skin tone and color return to normal. No signs of swelling, blisters, heat or tenderness . Proper aftercare can help speed up the healing process though. This includes aloe vera, cool baths, moisturizing creams, over-the-counter pain medication, and avoiding any further sun exposure until healed. Full healing brings relief, but sun damage done over time remains. Use the burn as a reminder to enjoy the future sun more safely.

What Impacts the Healing Time?

How long your sunburn takes to completely heal depends on several key factors:

Severity of the burn – Mild vs moderate vs severe 

Skin type – Sensitive skin takes longer to heal 

Age and genetics – Youth helps speed healing

Aftercare measures – Using creams, hydrating properly 

Further sun exposure – Additional UV slows healing

Preventing Sunburns

Repeated sunburns increase your lifetime skin cancer risk. So you can prevent by: 

  • Using broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen 
  • Wearing UV-blocking clothing like hats and shirts
  • Avoiding midday sun when rays are strongest  
  • Seeking shade whenever possible


To conclude, mild burns heal in 3-7 days, moderate takes 7-14 days, severe up to 21 days. Proper aftercare can expedite healing. Initial redness within 3-8 hrs, peak pain/inflammation at 24-48 hrs, peeling skin indicating healing after 3-8 days. Aloe vera gel, cold compresses, moisturizers and pain relievers help ease discomfort during healing. Avoid additional sun exposure. Picking can increase irritation and infection risk. The skin reveals fresh new layers underneath. So allow 2-3 weeks for a sunburn to fully run its course through the healing spectrum. Address any lingering skin abnormalities promptly. And going forward, be vigilant with sun protection to promote skin health.


Is peeling skin part of the healing process?

Yes, peeling is a normal part of the healing response around 3-8 days after the initial burn. Let the skin peel naturally rather than picking at it. New skin is revealed underneath when healed.

How to take a bath when sunburned?

Avoid very hot showers which could further irritate the burn. Use gentle soap and don’t excessively scrub skin. 

Will aloe vera shorten the duration of a sunburn? 

Regular application of aloe vera gel will help repair damaged skin cells faster, cutting a few days off the worst discomfort period in mild to moderate sunburn cases. It’s especially soothing.

Should you put ice directly on a sunburn?

No. Putting ice directly on a sunburn can further damage skin and constrict blood vessels. A cool compress or soak in cool water is better for treatment.

Leave a Comment