What are sunburn blisters?
Sunburn blisters can appear on the skin after severe sunburns, and they can be extremely painful. These blisters will typically appear several hours to a day after the initial sun exposure. The pain usually starts to subside after 48 hours, though it will likely take at least a week for the blisters and sunburn to fade. After they heal, you may be left with darker or lighter spots on the skin that can last for 6 to 12 months.
Sunburn blisters are small, white, fluid-filled bumps that appear on severely sunburned skin. The surrounding skin may be red and slightly swollen. They are painful to the touch and can be extremely itchy. Learn about different types of burns here.
Your primary care physician or a dermatologist can diagnose and treat sunburn blisters. A doctor can typically diagnose a sunburn blister based on appearance. They’ll also ask about how long you were exposed to the sun and whether you used any sun protection.
Sunburns that are severe enough to cause blisters can also cause sun poisoning. Sun poisoning symptoms include:
If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Sunburn blisters that are popped or picked at can become infected. This can require treatment and may lead to scarring.
Severe sunburns — especially those severe enough to cause blisters — significantly increase your chance of skin cancer.
Sunburn blisters can often be treated at home. To do this, you should:
- Drink plenty of water. Sunburns will dehydrate you, which can prevent the blisters from healing.
- Place cold, damp compresses on the blisters to take some of the heat out of your skin.
- Apply moisturizer with aloe on the burn. The moisture will help the blisters heal sooner.
- Don’t pick or pop the blisters. This significantly increases the chance of infection and can cause damage to the skin that could lead to scarring.
- Take ibuprofen (Advil) to reduce swelling and significant discomfort.
- Avoid sun exposure until the blisters heal.
Should the blisters pop (don’t pop them intentionally), keep the area clean and apply a bandage using loose gauze after applying an antibiotic ointment. Keep the area covered with a bandage to speed up healing.
When cleaning the area, use cool water, don’t scrub the area, and use a mild antibacterial cleanser to remove any excess drainage, being careful not to rub too hard. Don’t use a cotton ball on the popped blister, as the small fibers may stick to the wound and increase the chance of an infection.
If your blisters are severe, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid for the swelling and itching. They may also prescribe a topical burn cream to help heal the skin faster.
The best way to prevent blisters from sunburns is to protect your skin. When you’re going to be outside, apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours while actively outside. Wear protective clothing to protect your skin, like wide-brimmed hats that shade your face.
It’s also helpful to check your medications before going out into the sun. Some medications, like antibiotics, may cause an increased likelihood of burning. Both oral and topical medications that treat acne can also cause significantly increased sensitivity to the sun.
If you suspect that you’ve gotten a sunburn, cool off as soon as possible to lessen the extent of the burn. Stay indoors or in the shade, drink plenty of water, and rinse your skin with cold water if possible.