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Could Your Sunburn Actually Be Sun Poisoning?
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Could Your Sunburn Actually Be Sun Poisoning?

Picture of Esme Benjamin
Wellness Editor
Updated: 28 July 2017
If you’ve done a silly thing and stayed out too long in the sunshine without adequate protection, you’ll be well equated with the painful repercussions. The scorched, blistering rawness of overly-sunned skin is a real summer buzzkill, and for an unlucky few, it might even spell sun poisoning—a rare condition that shares similar symptoms to sunburn.

Sun poisoning, or photodermatitis, is a misleading name because the condition is actually an allergic reaction to strong UV light. It feels a lot like severe, long-lasting sunburn—in fact, the two can occur simultaneously—with the charming addition of itchy, eczema-like bumps, blisters, swelling, and hyperpigmentation caused by increased melanin (the brown pigment that works to protect the skin from UV rays).

Bad news if you’re a woman of around 30 years old—although doctors aren’t sure why, this is the most common age to develop the allergy. Individuals with pale skin, light hair and blue or green eyes are also more at risk, as they’re typically more sensitive to the sun. Thankfully, though, it’s fairly easy to treat—some cool, damp dressings and time in the shade should aid the healing process and have you feeling right as rain within one to two weeks.

If you find the aesthetic allure of tanned skin too tempting to follow prevention advice (reduce sun exposure and use a high factor sunscreen when outdoors) then you’re in luck, because there’s a miraculous solution in the works.

Scientists have developed a drug that darkens the skin naturally by boosting melanin, without the need for UV exposure. It hasn’t hit store shelves just yet, but if clinical trials go well it could eliminate the need for lengthy sun-bathing sessions, thereby reducing your chances of sunburn, sun poisoning, and even skin cancer. Watch this space.