ZocdocAnswersDo sunburns cause any permanent damage?

Question

Do sunburns cause any permanent damage?

I got a really bad sunburn on my shoulders this weekend! I know it will go away, but do sunburns cause any permanent damage to my skin?

Answer

A sunburn is actually a first degree burn of the skin. It occurs when the skin absorbs enough ultraviolet radiation that the skin is damaged. This damage causes inflammation which is painful. Sunburns in general go away on their own, and their pain can be well controlled with over the counter creams and pain medication. The risk with getting sunburns is that you can develop skin cancer over time. Exposure to UV light over many years can cause damage to the DNA of your skin cells. In some cases, this can cause the skin cells to become cancerous. The places that are most at risk for developing skin cancer are the areas that are most exposed to the sun. This is why we see skin cancer develop on the face (especially the nose), the ears, the back of the neck, and the shoulders. This is an issue that you can discuss with your primary care physician. The two of you can discuss the risks of tanning or getting burned, and ways to prevent it from happening. For the most part, using sun screen with a reasonable SPF number is helpful. If you have a family history of skin cancer, then you may warrant further protection, and/or referral to a specialist.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.