Sun blisters, small fluid-filled bumps that develop on severely burned skin, are a result of sunburn, a type of radiation burn caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There are three degrees of sunburn, which are classified based on the extent and depth of burned skin, with higher degrees indicating more severe burns.
Sun blisters fall under second-degree burns, which damage the epidermis (outer skin layer) and dermis (the layer beneath the epidermis that houses blood capillaries and nerve endings), often causing intense pain. In this article, we will explore the symptoms and treatments of sun blisters and provide guidance on when to seek medical attention.
First-, Second-, and Third-Degree Burns
First-degree burns, which are typically mild, only affect the epidermis, or outer layer of the skin. Second-degree burns affect the epidermis and dermis, which is the layer of skin below the epidermis. Third-degree burns, which are the most severe, destroy the epidermis and dermis. In some cases, they may also damage bones, muscles, and tendons.
Sun blisters indicate a second-degree burn caused by extended exposure to the sun’s UVA and UVB radiation. The degree of severity of the burn is influenced by several factors, such as skin type, duration of sun exposure, sun intensity during exposure, the use of protective measures (like sunscreen), among others. Typically, sun blisters appear a few hours following sunburn, but they may also take up to 24 hours to manifest.
When to Get Immediate Medical Care at your nearest urgent care
Sunburns classified as second-degree can be equally severe as burns caused by exposure to chemicals or fire. It’s critical to seek medical attention right away if blisters cover over 20% of your body or if the symptoms persist for more than two days.
It takes less than 15 minutes to sustain a sunburn, and the degree of symptoms you experience will vary based on the severity of the burn. If you don’t take precautions to protect yourself, your symptoms may be more severe.
The symptoms of sunburn depend on the depth of the burn.
Common symptoms of first-degree (superficial) burns include:
- Swelling of the skin
- Dry, itchy, and peeling skin
Common symptoms of second-degree (partial thickness) burns include:
- Deep redness
- Severe pain (usually painful to the touch)
- Wet and glossy skin
- Severe itch
Common symptoms of third-degree (full thickness) burns include:
- White, black, or charred skin
- No pain (due to destruction of nerve endings)
Sun poisoning is not a medical term but it is often applied to an extreme case of sunburn that requires medical attention. Symptoms can include:5
- Large blisters
- Dizziness or confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid pulse and breathing
While most cases of sun blisters can be treated at home, seek medical attention if your symptoms do not improve within a week.
Common home remedies to treat sun blisters include:3
- Keep moist. Keep the blistered area moist by lightly applying petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline or Aquaphor), aloe vera, or moisturizing cream. You can also cover it with gauze coated in petroleum jelly (don’t use dry gauze).
- Drink extra water.Blistering skin can cause water loss. Drinking extra water prevents dehydration and assists with wound repair.
- Use a cold, damp compress. Use a compress to reduce swelling and redness in the sunburned area.
- Don’t pick or pop the blisters. This significantly increases the chance of infection and can cause damage to the skin that could lead to scarring.
- Take a pain reliever. Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) can reduce swelling and discomfort. Aspirin may be used, but only by adults.
- Avoid sun exposure while healing.If you need to be outdoors, wear protective clothing to cover your skin and apply sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30.
When to See a Healthcare Provider at your nearest Walk in Clinics
If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, seek immediate medical attention at your nearest TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track Location:
- Blisters covering over 20% of your body: Your healthcare provider will evaluate the extent and severity of your burn to determine the most effective course of treatment to aid in your recovery and prevent widespread infection.
- Fever, nausea, chills, or headaches: These symptoms may indicate sun poisoning. Depending on the extent of the burn, treatments may include intravenous (IV) fluids to combat dehydration, topical antibiotics (such as Neosporin, Bacitracin, or Polysporin) to prevent infections, and oral or topical steroids (such as prednisone or hydrocortisone) to alleviate pain and inflammation.
- Your blisters become yellow or red over time: This may be a sign of an infection, which could necessitate the use of antibiotics.
It’s crucial to prevent sunburn whenever possible since it ages skin cells and heightens the likelihood of developing skin conditions such as solar lentigo (“liver spots”) and skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, which are the major types of skin cancers associated with prolonged sun exposure, particularly during the summer months.
To decrease the risk of sun damage, avoid going outdoors from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the UV index (a measure of the sun’s UV radiation intensity) is highest. If you must be outside, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (which protects against both UVA and UVB radiation) with an SPF of at least 30 that is water-resistant. Additionally, wear protective clothing such as a hat and sunglasses, and reapply sunscreen every few hours and after swimming.
Sun blisters signify second-degree burns resulting from prolonged sun exposure. They may emerge within a few hours after exposure or take up to a day to develop. Indications of second-degree sunburn involve the formation of blisters, deep redness, and intense pain. Though most cases of blisters can be treated at home, it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention if the blisters cover more than 20% of the body.
At-home remedies include drinking extra water, applying moisturizers like soy or aloe vera, using a cold, damp compress, and taking pain relievers. Sunburn accelerates skin aging and heightens the risk of skin cancer. Therefore, it’s crucial to adopt preventive measures to limit sun exposure.
A Word From TGH Urgent Care
Although it’s advisable to prepare in advance to avoid getting a sunburn, unforeseen circumstances can still lead to it. When you notice the initial signs of redness, it’s crucial to get out of the sun. Sunburns are a common occurrence, but they can also be severe, particularly if they progress to blisters. Having an understanding of what actions to take and avoid if you develop a sunburn can assist you in treating it at home and determining when it’s necessary to seek medical attention.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Is it OK to pop a sun blister?
Although tempting, do not pop a sun blister. Doing so significantly increases your chance of infection and can cause damage to the skin that could lead to scarring.
- How do I know if I have a second degree burn?
Second-degree burns are often accompanied by very painful blisters. Other common symptoms include swelling, severe itch, wet and glossy skin, and deep redness of the skin.
- What are the lasting effects of sunburn and sun blisters?
Over time, excessive sun exposure can lead to skin damage, premature skin aging, and skin cancer. If you have a history of severe sunburns, you are 2.4 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop melanoma.
References & Sources
TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles.
- Johns Hopkins University. Sunburns.
- MedlinePlus. Liver spots.
- Wu S, Cho E, Li WQ, Weinstock MA, Han J, Qureshi AA. History of severe sunburn and risk of skin cancer among women and men in 2 prospective cohort studies. Am J Epidemiol. 2016;183(9):824-33. doi:10.1093/aje/kwv282
- Northwestern Medicine. Quick dose: When should I see a doctor for sunburn?
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Sun poisoning dangers: symptoms, treatment, and prevention.
- Skin Cancer Foundation. Sunburn & your skin.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine. Burns and wounds.
- Holman DM, Ding H, Guy GP, Watson M, Hartman AM, Perna FM. Prevalence of sun protection use and sunburn and association of demographic and behavioral characteristics with sunburn among us adults. JAMA Dermatology. 2018;154(5):561-568. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2018.0028
The blogs presented by TGH Urgent Care in partnership with Fast Track are not a replacement for medical care and are exclusively intended for educational purposes. The content provided here should not be construed as medical guidance. If you are encountering any symptoms, we strongly recommend that you seek an appointment with a duly qualified medical practitioner at our nearest facility.