Official reprint from UpToDate®
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Antony R Young, PhD
Angela Tewari, MBBS, BSc, MRCP, PhD
Section Editors
Robert P Dellavalle, MD, PhD, MSPH
Daniel F Danzl, MD
Deputy Editor
Rosamaria Corona, MD, DSc


Sunburn is an acute, delayed, and transient inflammatory response of the skin to excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from natural sunlight or artificial sources (eg, tanning beds, phototherapy devices) (picture 1A-B). Both UVB (280 to 320 nm) and UVA (320 to 400 nm) can cause sunburn, but the wavelengths that are the most effective at inducing erythema are in the UVB range [1,2].

Sunburn is a self-limited condition. The acute manifestations usually resolve in three to seven days. However, susceptibility to sunburn is a marker of genetic susceptibility to skin cancer and is associated with an increased risk of melanoma at all ages [3,4]. It is very important that clinicians counsel patients with increased susceptibility to sunburn about sun protection.

This topic will discuss the pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and management of sunburn. Photosensitivity, photoprotection, and photosensitivity disorders are discussed separately. (See "Overview of cutaneous photosensitivity: Photobiology, patient evaluation, and photoprotection" and "Selection of sunscreen and sun-protective measures" and "Photosensitivity disorders (photodermatoses): Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment".)


Sunburn is common. In the United States, the estimated sunburn prevalence among all adults was approximately 34 percent in 2004 [5]. Prevalences ranging from 20 to 70 percent have been reported in cross-sectional studies in Europe and Australia [6-9].

Sunburn occurs more frequently among adolescents and young adults. In nation-wide surveys in the United States, approximately 70 percent of adolescents aged 11 to 18 years and 50 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 years reported at least one sunburn in the previous year [10,11].  


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: May 9, 2016.
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