You don’t need to be on the beach for sunburned eyelids to occur. Any time you’re outside for a prolonged period of time with your skin exposed, you’re at risk of sunburn.

Sunburn occurs because of overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. This results in reddish, hot skin that can blister or peel. It can occur anywhere on your body. This includes places you might forget about, like the tops of your ears or your eyelids.

Getting a sunburn on your eyelids is similar to a regular sunburn elsewhere on your body, but there are certain things you should keep in mind to make sure you don’t need medical attention.

What are the symptoms of sunburned eyelids?

Sunburn usually starts to appear a few hours after sun exposure, although it can take a day or two for the full impact of the sunburn to appear.

Typical symptoms of sunburn can include:

  • pink or red skin
  • skin that feels hot to the touch
  • tender or itchy skin
  • swelling
  • fluid-filled blisters

If your eyelids are sunburned, your eyes may also be sunburned. Symptoms of sunburned eyes, or photokeratitis, can include:

  • pain or burning
  • gritty feeling in your eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • headache
  • redness
  • blurred vision or “halos” around lights

These usually go away within a day or two. If these symptoms last more than 48 hours, call your eye doctor. 

When to see a doctor

While a sunburn typically resolves on its own, a severe sunburn might warrant medical attention, especially when it involves your eyes or surrounding areas. Call your doctor if you notice:

  • blistering
  • a high fever
  • confusion
  • nausea
  • chills
  • headache

If you experience symptoms of sunburned eyes for more than a day or two, call your eye doctor. It’s possible to have a sunburn on your cornea, retina, or lens, and your eye doctor can perform an exam to see if there’s any damage.

How to treat sunburned eyelids

Sunburn can take several days to fully develop, and then another several days after that to start healing. Some at-home remedies to help treat sunburned eyelids include:

  • Cool compresses. Wet a washcloth with cool water and place on your eyes.
  • Pain relief. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) when you first notice the sunburn.
  • Protection. If you go outside, wear sunglasses or a hat to protect your burned eyelids. Sunglasses can also help with light sensitivity, even indoors.
  • Moisturize. If your eyelids are sunburned, your eyes might feel dry. Using preservative-free artificial tears can help provide cooling relief.
  • Avoid contact lens use. Take a few days off from wearing your contact lenses until your sunburn has resolved.

Stay indoors for a few days to ensure that you’re out of UV light and to facilitate recovery. Even though your eyes might itch, try not to rub them.

What’s the outlook for sunburned eyelids?

The good news is that, much like a regular sunburn, sunburned eyelids usually resolve on their own within a couple of days and without medical treatment. If symptoms don’t begin to improve after a day or two, call your doctor to make sure there’s nothing more serious going on, and to see if you need more specialized treatment.

If your eyelids and eyes are exposed to UV rays over a long period of time or repeatedly without any protection, this can increase your risk of skin cancer, premature aging, and even affect your eyesight.

To protect your eyelids from UV light, sunglasses are your best bet. A moisturizer that contains SPF is also helpful, since your eyelids will better absorb moisturizer than sunscreen.