What is Sun Poisoning, and What Are The Symptoms? We Spoke to An Expert

woman in a hat applying sunscreen

We apply sunscreen and try to limit the time we spend in the sun, but still, sunburns happen. But at what point does a run-of-the-mill sunburn become sun poisoning? We checked in with Dr. Julie Karen, a New York City-based dermatologist and Banana Boat consultant, to learn more about sun poisoning—including how to avoid getting it in the first place.

First things first: What Is sun poisoning?

Very simply put, sun poisoning is a severe sunburn caused by prolonged UV exposure. While anyone can get a sunburn or sun poisoning, Dr. Karen tells us certain people are at a higher risk: “Fair skinned individuals, those prone to sunburn and those taking certain photosensitizing medications including antibiotics and blood pressure medications may be at particular risk for sun poisoning,” she notes.

What are the symptoms of sun poisoning?

Per Dr. Karen, “Sun poisoning is typically associated with extreme skin tenderness and some combination of fevers, chills, lethargy, nausea, vomiting and fainting or loss of consciousness. Symptoms last anywhere from a few hours in mild cases to days in more severe cases.”

How Do You Treat Sun Poisoning?

Most cases of sun poisoning can be treated at home, with aloe vera to soothe skin, Ibuprofen to ease discomfort and cold compresses to, well, make your skin feel colder. If symptoms escalate, it might become necessary to see a doctor, who can prescribe medication to prevent blistering skin from becoming infected or administer IV fluids to combat dehydration.

Are there ways to prevent it?

Thankfully, yes. Dr. Karen recommends limiting the time you spend outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. “If you are outdoors during this time, it’s important to seek shade when possible, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30, and wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses,” she says. It’s also—obviously—important to wear sunscreen every day (even when it’s cloudy or rainy). According to Dr. Karen, “A great option is the new Banana Boat Simply Protect Sport Sunscreen Lotion or Sunscreen Spray SPF 50+ as they provide broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection with 25 percent fewer ingredients.”

Be careful out there.

The Best Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...