Sunburn blisters result from a second-degree sunburn, which causes damage deeper in the skin. Blisters from the sun usually heal naturally in about one week but may leave scars.

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A second degree sunburn causes blisters. They usually appear a few hours after sunburn occurs, but sometimes, they can take up to 24 hours to develop.

When a person does not have blisters, only redness, tenderness, and light peeling of the skin, this is likely a first degree burn.

Sunburn blisters can be very painful and take around 1 week to heal. This type of burn also increases the risk of skin cancer and melanoma. After the blisters heal, blister scars that appear as dark or light spots on the surface of the skin can remain visible for 6–12 months.

This article looks at what causes sunburn blisters to form, how to look after them, and what a person can do to protect their skin from the sun.

Fast facts on sunburn blisters:

  • Sunburn blisters are similar in appearance to regular blisters.
  • They tend to heal naturally after around 1 week.
  • Sunburn blisters may co-occur with more severe symptoms that require medical attention.
  • People can avoid sunburn blisters by following sun protection guidelines.

Sunburn blisters form as small bumps on the skin. They are usually white or transparent in appearance and filled with fluid, which can contain lymph, serum, plasma, blood, or pus.

Most people who get sunburned will find the blisters very painful, particularly if they touch them or if an item of clothing rubs against them. The blisters may also become very itchy.

However, both pain and itchiness will lessen as the blisters start to heal.

Usually, sunburn blisters only ever occur when a person has experienced severe sunburn. Several complications can arise in people who develop blisters due to sun overexposure, including:

Sunburn blisters alone have few complications. However, an infection could require medical treatment and will likely lead to scarring.

Anyone who experiences these symptoms after being in the sun should seek advice from a healthcare professional, regardless of whether sunburn blisters appear or not.

Because sunburn blisters usually only occur in people with a bad sunburn, a person is also more at risk of developing skin cancer.

Second degree sunburns may heal naturally and will disappear by themselves within about 3 weeks.

However, if a person is uncertain whether the lumps on their skin are sunburn blisters, they should contact a doctor, such as a dermatologist.

The doctor will examine the person and make a diagnosis based on the appearance of the lumps. They can then offer possible treatment options and advice.

Individuals with sunburn blisters should also seek immediate medical attention if they experience any of the following:

The doctor will ask questions such as how long a person was in the sun and whether they used any sun protection. They will then be able to advise the person on the best course of action.

Sunburn that is severe and causes blistering may require medical treatment.

A doctor may prescribe special burn cream to soothe the skin and help with the healing process. They may also apply a dressing to protect the affected area.

If a person displays any of the associated sun poisoning symptoms, they may need to stay in the hospital to enable doctors to monitor them more closely.

Treating milder cases of sunburn at home is possible. It is essential to get indoors and out of the sun as soon as sunburn occurs.

Other home care options include:

  • cooling the skin by having a cold bath or shower
  • using a cold, damp sponge or flannel to help soothe the skin and relieve pain and itching
  • applying lotions designed to relieve sunburn, such as those containing aloe vera, to help soothe the skin and keep it moisturized
  • drinking plenty of hydrating fluids, such as water, to cool the body and prevent dehydration
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • remaining in a cool, shaded room, away from direct sunlight
  • covering up all affected areas and ensuring they are not exposed to the sun until the skin has fully healed

The easiest way to avoid sunburn blisters is to stay out of the sun. However, this is not always practical or possible.

The most common ways to prevent sunburn blisters include the following:

  • avoiding going outside during the times when the sun is at its strongest
  • protecting the skin from the sun even on cloudier days
  • using a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or above and applying it 30 minutes before sun exposure and again every 90 minutes
  • wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hats
  • applying sunscreen generously, making sure to cover every part of the body
  • using sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation and has a minimum four-star rating for UVA protection
  • reapplying sunscreen after entering the water or sweating excessively, even if the label says the product is water-resistant

A person should also be aware of their skin’s sensitivity to the sun. This sensitivity varies from person to person, but typically, people with light skin tones are likely to get sunburned more quickly.

Some medicines can increase a person’s sensitivity to the sun and therefore their likelihood of experiencing sunburn. People should read the labels of any medications before being in the sun for long periods and seek advice from a healthcare professional if unsure.

Sunburn blisters can also occur in cooler, cloudier conditions. Light reflected off snow can increase the risk of sunburn as well.

Exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun can result in more serious, long-term effects, many of which will not become apparent until decades later.

These long-term effects can include the following:

  • Precancerous spots health experts call solar keratosis can appear on the skin and can range in appearance. They may be white, pink, yellow, or dark, as well as rough and scaly.
  • Premature skin aging can occur on the skin exposed to lots of sun, along with dark sun spots.
  • Skin cancer is another risk, particularly for those who experience sunburn severe enough that sunburn blisters develop.

For many people with sunburn blisters, however, home care treatment options are enough to ensure that they recover well.

As long as sunburn blisters heal, are not picked at or popped, and do not become infected, they should go away and fade with time.

Below, we answer some commonly asked questions about sunburn blisters.

What do I do if a sunburn blister has popped?

If a blister pops or breaks, dermatologists recommend a person do not pick or peel the skin. They should gently clean the area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover the wound with a nonstick gauze bandage.

Doctors may prescribe topical antibiotics. In some cases, however, an OTC antibiotic will suffice to prevent an infection.

A person can treat pain with OTC pain relief medication, such as ibuprofen.

How do I treat a sunburn blister on the face?

The American Burn Association recommends that a person who develops burn blisters anywhere on their face consult a doctor as soon as possible.

What are other symptoms of a second degree sunburn?

In addition to blisters, a second degree sunburn will likely cause redness that may be more visible in individuals with light skin tones. The burn area may appear shiny or wet, and there may be some white discoloration.