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When It's More Than a Sunburn, Treating a Sun Rash

When It's More Than a Sunburn, Treating a Sun Rash

Summertime is here, and that means it’s sunburn season. Did you know that sometimes a sunburn can cause a rash?

Sunburns are typically painful, but what if you also get itchy after sun exposure? You may be experiencing a sun rash.

What is a sun rash? How is it different from a sunburn? How do you treat a sun rash? Let’s talk about it.

What Is a Sun Rash?

A sun rash is an allergic reaction to sun exposure. It can be hereditary, or it can be a symptom of sun poisoning or exposure to certain plants, like parsnip. Some medications can also cause a sun rash, including:

If you take any medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist if they may cause a sun rash.

Symptoms of a Sun Rash

A sun rash is red, itchy, and may include small bumps that resemble hives. It may be painful as well as itchy.

What Is Sun Poisoning?

Sun poisoning is a severe sunburn that includes additional symptoms. Despite the name, there is no actual poison involved.

Severe sun poisoning may cause life-threatening complications. If you’re experiencing symptoms of sun poisoning, you should seek medical attention.

Symptoms of Sun Poisoning

Symptoms of sun poisoning may include:

  • Swelling
  • Tingling
  • Pain
  • Skin redness
  • Blisters
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Dehydration
  • Fainting
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills

Risk Factors for Sun Rash or Sun Poisoning

Some people are at higher risk of developing a sun rash or sun poisoning. Risk factors include people who:

  • Have fair skin
  • Are taking antibiotics or oral contraceptives
  • Live near the equator
  • Live at a high altitude
  • Have relatives who have had skin cancer
  • Apply citrus oils to the skin before sun exposure
  • Spend time at the beach or in the snow (sand and snow reflect sunlight)
  • Use alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like chemical peels

What Is the Difference Between a Sun Rash and a Sunburn?

A typical sunburn does not itch. Sun rash itches and may be a symptom of sun poisoning, which is more dangerous than a sunburn.

What Causes a Sun Rash?

There are two different types of sun rash. One type is genetic and will affect a person any time they go outside.

The other type of sun rash is triggered by outside factors like exposure to certain plants or medications.

Treating a Sun Rash or Sun Poisoning

The treatment for a sun rash may vary depending on the severity of the symptoms. Treatment options may include things like:

  • Taking a cool shower
  • Applying lotion or aloe vera gel to the sunburn or sun rash
  • Drinking plenty of fluids
  • Steroid cream
  • Topical antibiotics
  • Intravenous (IV) fluids to treat dehydration
  • Oral steroids
  • Pain medication

Preventing Sun Rash

Luckily, there are several things you can do help prevent getting a sun rash. Some suggestions for preventing a sun rash include:

  • Avoid sun exposure from 10 am to 4 pm
  • Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours
  • Wear protective clothing, a hat, and sunglasses
  • Avoid touching lime juice, parsnips, or other triggers when you’re in the sun

READ MORE: How to Stay Healthy on Your Summer Vacation

PlushCare takes content accuracy seriously so we can be your trusted source of medical information. Most articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.D.s, NPs, or NDs. Click here to meet the healthcare professionals behind the blog.


Mayo Clinic. Sun rash: Causes and prevention. Accessed online on 8/11/19 at https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/polymorphous-light-eruption/expert-answers/sun-rash/faq-20058163
Healthline. Sun Poisoning. Accessed online on 8/11/19 at https://www.healthline.com/health/sun-poisoning
WebMD. Sun Poisoning. Accessed online on 8/11/19 at https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/sun-poisoning#1

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Jennifer Nelson

Jennifer is a freelance writer in the Midwest who writes about a variety of topics but especially enjoys educating people about their health and the health of their pets.

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