Can a Sunburn Cause Scarring?

Can a Sunburn Cause Scarring?

The dangers of sunburns are well known, especially the increased risk of skin cancer. However, one little known effect of sunburns is scarring. Scars form any time there is injury or trauma to the skin, and sunburns can harm the skin enough to injure it and form scar tissue. However, you can prevent and treat sunburns to avoid scarring.

What Kind of Sunburns Cause Scars?

Not every sunburn will cause a scar, but a bad enough sunburn will lead to scarring. The biggest risk factors for scars caused by sunburns are peeling and blisters. Peeling is part of the natural healing process the skin goes through after having been damaged by the sun’s UV rays. Once your skin begins peeling, it is tempting to pull off the peeling skin; however, this increases the risk of scarring. Severe sunburns also lead to blisters, and blisters that do not heal properly can cause scarring.

Read: How Does the Sun Affects Scars

How to Prevent Scarring from Sunburns

The best way to prevent scarring from sunburns is to avoid getting one. You should wear a high SPF sunscreen anytime you go out into the sun, especially if you plan to sunbathe. You should wear sunscreen and protective clothing even on cloudy days, as cloudy days actually increase the risk of sunburn. You can also prevent scarring by correctly treating your sunburn.

The Best Way to Treat Sunburns

If you do get a sunburn, then take care of the burn to support the natural healing process. One of the best treatments for sunburns is aloe vera, especially for the first few days. This soothes the burn, while also helping the skin to heal. After a few days, you will notice that your skin begins to peel. Do not force the skin to come off. Instead, let the skin fall off naturally. If you do want to help the process, soak in a lukewarm bath. Then, gently wipe your peeling skin with a soft washcloth. This avoids harming the layer of healthy skin underneath. While your skin is peeling, never rub it with anything harsh, including a towel. This can irritate the skin and increase the risk of scarring.

Treat blisters with care to ensure they heal properly. If they are unbroken, then simply protect it with a loose bandage. If the blister is very large and painful, then you might want to carefully break it with a sterilized needle. When the blister is opened, be sure to keep the area clean and treat it with antibiotic cream and cover it with a bandage.

What to Do if Your Sunburn Does Scar

If you notice that your sunburn does begin to scar, then you can treat it with scar cream to reduce the appearance of the scar and enhance the continued healing process. When you search for a scar cream, be sure to find one with the best ingredients, including vitamin C, aloe vera, silicone and licorice root extract.

You can prevent and treat the scars caused by sunburns. The best treatment, other than prevention, is just allowing your body the time to heal itself. You can enhance the body’s natural healing process with scar cream, but it will still take time to fully heal and minimize the appearance of scars.

Have a question about your scar or dark spot? Leave a comment and we’ll be happy to answer!

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Comments

  1. The information on this site is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please speak to your doctor to treat any medical condition. Information on this site is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-physician relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
  2. I have several scars from surgery 8 months ago, although the odd ones in question are the two small (2 or 3 cm each, horizontal) ones on my chest a little below the collarbone. They itch sometimes, although the most curious part is that one of my scars is healing in such a way that the entire line of the scar is raised and quite pink. None of my other scars have healed in this way; they’re disappearing back into my skin quite nicely, with the deepest scars slightly indented. Both chest scars were closed with wound glue. I just wondered why one would do this and not the other.

    • Hi KC, It’s difficult to say. Perhaps it is related to the way the tissue edges were lined up at the time the wounds were closed. Sometimes people just heal differently over different parts of their body.

  3. Hi KC, you should look up KELOIDS — a kind of scar (often on the chest) that is raised and pink as you described… but these scars “grow”, so if that’s what they are, it’s best that you seek a dermatologist sooner than later. I had a pimple on my chest that scarred as a keloid; what started as a tiny dot has turned into a penny-sized raised, red scar (over the course of 8 years). I recently started seeing a dermatologist who injects it with some kind of a steroid to stop it from continuing to grow and to flatten it out a bit.

  4. Recently I got extremely bad sunburn all over my chest and back, which then turned to tiny little water like blisters, a lot on my back and then some also on party’s of my chest which all eventually went. But now I have noticed on part of my chest I have been left with a patch that has tons of tiny white dots all over, I don’t know if these are scarring or whether I have destroyed the pigmentation of my skin? the rest of my skin is tanned but these dots are bright white. I’ve been using bio oil but it doesn’t seem to be making a difference. If they are scars or if i have ruined the pigments of my skin in the area, is there anything I can do?

    • Hi Han, unfortunately this is called hypopigmentation, which means that as the sunburn was healing, your body didn’t produce enough melanin. There’s nothing that can be done for white scars, which is why the product you are using doesn’t seem to be working.

  5. I always go to the beach and get badly burnt but yesterday I found out that I had a scare from sunburn but, it always gets tight and I feel like I can’t breath and its really painful is this suppose to be happening?

    • Hi Isabella, we can’t stress enough the importance of sunscreen. Only a handful of sunburns in your lifetime can increase your chances of skin cancer. Sunburns do tighten the skin, and depending on the severity of the sunburn, it may be incredibly painful.

  6. Hello, I just did a terrible mistake of peeling my nose as the skin really really bothered me. Do you think there is a high chance of it scarring? It’s really red now and I regret it.

    • It may be just irritated.

    • Tristan says:

      What was the outcome of This? I recently did the same thing and it hurt for a long while. Now my nose is mostly scabbed over and I’m worried I’ll have a scar across my whole nose.

    • Bernice Key says:

      Hey Jessica, I also made the same mistake and now I’m here searching what to do. Since, your comment is quite old, can you tell me if it healed or not or did it leave a scar.

  7. Cameron says:

    2 days ago I got pretty badly sunburned on my forehead and face. Now there’s little tiny blisters. I’ve been treating it with aloe gel. Is there a high chance of scarring?

  8. I regrettably did not use sunscreen whole being on the river for 4 hours. With my fair complexion I got badly burnt. My legs have healed well, as well as my shoulders, however my chest area seems to be scarring badly. There are two large patches of really rough skin on each side of my chest. I used aloe the first few days and I have begun using coconut oil and vitamin E lotion. I am worried about the long term effects. Will the scarring go away or will it be there forever?

    • Hi Erin, Aloe is great for soothing the inflammation and keeping it moisturized. Coconut oil will help with hydration as well. But you need Vitamin C to fade the discoloration. How your scar heals, which can take 1-2 years to completey heal, depends on a variety of factors like a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition and exercise, keeping the burn protected from the sun with sunscreen and a good scar treatment.

  9. I got badly burnt on the top of my legs the other day. It was so bad I couldn’t even walk. Yesterday I began to peel and it was tempting so I peeled it. Now it kinda looks like my leg is scarring and is red in some spots and white in others. Will this go away as it continues to heel ? I have been putting aloe on it.

    • You’re doing the right thing with the aloe, Sarah – and by not peeling the skin. Scarring takes a while to heal, so going forward make sure to wear sunscreen SPF 30 every time you are in the sun.

  10. Krystine says:

    I’m really scared right now and could use advice. I’m unable to see a doctor as I am currently visiting the USA and I’m from Canada. I got badly burnt somehow even though I used sunscreen (I guess not enough) on my back below my neck and its completely covered in blisters, some of them the size of a quarter. It is so painful I can’t even move my neck or arms without pulling on the blisters, and too painful to apply anything on top of it.. I’ve been putting cold clothes on it to help the pain but I have to go home tonight so I’m going to be travelling on planes all day and then I have to work tomorrow morning!!! I’ve never burnt like this and it’s scaring the hell out of me! Someone help!

    • Hi Krystine, we apologize that we missed your comment. Cold clothes are good. Try aloe as well. Make an appt with your dr as well to make sure you don’t need something more. Above all, don’t pop the blisters yourself and don’t peel your skin.

  11. I got really bad blisters and they became dry skin but very tight itchy red and irritated. Something possessed me to pick it off and now it’s red and oozing. Will I scar?

  12. Genevieve says:

    about 2 months ago, I was outside playing soccer and it was the first time I really got tan since last summer. I was outside the whole weekend and of course I forgot to wear sunscreen. I had bad sunburn on my face and it went away but didn’t really peel at all. when the sunburn went away and turned into fan, I was left with this blotchy white scar on my face and it’s very noticeable. it’s paler then the rest of my skin and I’m getting very concerned on what it could possibly be. I’m overthinking it I think and I would really like a response. thank you

  13. A few days ago I was a lifeguard at a family party, and with about 20 children to watch, I didn’t get an opportunity to reapply sunscreen after the initial application. Having used Retin-A the day before, I got a sunburn on my face and shoulders. Now, the skin around my mouth is becoming tight and somewhat dark, and I’m worried that it may be scarring. I’m keeping Neosporin around my mouth, and alternating aloe vera and coconut oil also. Will this regimen prevent scarring?

    • Hi Damon, the skin in that area was most likely depleted of moisture from the sunburn. Aloe will definitely help with the inflammation and in keeping is moisturized, as will the coconut oil.

  14. I got really sunburnt and made the mistake of peeling my nose. It was pink and tender at first but now it’s tight and rough skin. It doesn’t really hurt but I’m worried it may scar???

    • Hi Ashlyn, keep it hydrated. Sunburn depletes the skin of moisture, which is why it was tight and rough.

    • I had the same problem a year ago, I didn’t help that I’m a swimmer. May I suggest covering it in caster oil (found at your local Walmart or in a health store) after a week you will start to see your nose drastically improving- caster oil is good for scars and thickening hair, I personally have used it to save my skin, it’s about 5$ for a small bottle, give it a try.

      • Hi Jessica, Any topical therapy that adds moisture is usually better for scars than doing nothing. That’s why many people swear by vitamin E even though it has never been shown to have scar healing properties. I’m not aware of castor oil having scar healing properties either but if you think it helps… why not? It shouldn’t cause any harm topically.

  15. Stephanie says:

    I had sunburn on my nose a couple days ago and it hasn’t started to peel but it was really dry. So I picked off the dead sick and its red in this spot and it burns.

  16. Aisling says:

    Hi, I’m currently using TRECLINAC acne gel (chin area only). I got badly burnt as I wasn’t wearing sun cream. It’s just my chin area that is burnt. Day 1 my chin was covered in clear water blisters. Day 2 the blisters turned yellow in colour. Day 3 the blisters were crusty, flakey and dry. Day 4 the peeling began but now my chin is so so red. It’s a big raw red patch!! It’s very irritated. Im using aloe at the moment. Will this scar?? Thanks for your help

    • It’s difficult to say how your body will heal and if it will result in a noticeable scar. You are doing the right thing with aloe; also make sure to apply sunscreen to protect it from burning.

  17. Joel Custodio says:

    I am bald and caught sunburn on the top of my head , skin is peeling all over, what should I do , will it grow back and heal

  18. Caitlin W says:

    My forehead got badly burnt and it started peelin and I pulled the skin off but I think I peeled it too early because the area is red and sensitive and I tried moisturizing it but it burned and stung when I stuck the moisturizer on it. I also used aloe on it the first three to four days after I got the burn. It also has a very very very light brown scab like thing on it. Is there a high chance that my forehead will scar where it got burnt?

  19. I put sunscreen on but my face is very burned and my forehead and nose had some blisters but they went away within 2 days and then rough skin started to form and it was peeling alittle so i peeled it off my nose and now it’s like stinging and like red.. Is my nose gonna scar?

  20. I got burnt really bad and today I peeled the skin off my face because it was addicting and irritating. I peeled the skin too early and now it’s really red and stings. Will this cause scarring an what should I do about it to stop it

  21. lisa paterson says:

    I need something to heal my spots of sun damage my arms and hands look bad

    • Hi Lisa, a stable form of Vitamin C helps to fade sun damage, however because this damage is so deep into the skin, if you don’t wear sunscreen regularly or continue applying the Vitamin C, the dark coloring will return.

  22. My sunburn on my face hasn’t faded even after a month. It peeled a bit but my face is still red. Is there anything I can do?

    • Make sure you aren’t using any skin and makeup items that may be further inflamming it. Only use products that contain a high concentration of aloe to soothe it and keep out of the sun.

  23. BurningToGoOutside says:

    Hi! After years of Chronic illness and not being able to be in the sun, I ventured out. I had been off all medications for 18 months, used SPF 50 reaplied every hour and stayed out of the water. Yet, i burned. Oh, how I burned. Luckily I wore Capris with a long shirt and hat. But my legs haven’t been the same. People stop and stare at the odd discolaration. And this is three months later, an an extensive regiment of prescription burn medication from the e.r. I couldn’t walk for the first week of the burn and had to be sedated to sleep. So, why am I so shade friendly and when will my ugly reminders leave me?

    • Do you have a condition that makes you very susceptible to sun burn? I’m afraid we can’t say how long the reminders will remain. Everyone heals differently and some hyperpigmentation from sun burns can be very difficult to fade. A lot depends on factors like skin type and underlying skin conditions. I would recommend you consult with a dermatologist or burn physician.

  24. Hello ,
    I have got really badly sunburnt under my eyes and on my noes (I had loads of sunscreen on and I never peel or sunburn , I just tan) I went into the pool and all off my skin fell off, is that ok? Also will frekials appear? And will my sunburn scar ? And how long will it take to peel?
    Thank you

    • Hi Lily, did you see your dr to make sure the burn was not severe enough to warrant any further products? Sunburns can result in dark spots appearing later in life. If your skin is peeling, do not pick at it. Easier said than done, but it is important. You can gently exfoliate with a soft washcloth when you shower.

  25. I got a bad sunburn on the tip of my nose May 2015. Went to Derm, she thought I just had a bad reaction that day despite wearing a hat and 50 SPF. It went through the healing motions of blister, peel etc. The tip stayed red but the skin itself seemed to heal.
    Just this last Dec, I broke out bad on my nose, used acne meds daily and outside often (with SPF) my nose has been peeling again, seems to be a bit swollen and pores keep clogging/zits and is VERY red again. So red kids ask me what happened (they are the most honest and blunt after all) . Should I go back to Derm? Will redness ever go away?

    • Hi Cori, something is irritating it, and it may (or may not) be related to the acne meds or whatever skin items you are using to exfoliate the clogged pores. A call to your derm may help to narrow down what’s going on.

  26. I peeled my skin on my nose too early and now I am left pinkish red skin underneath, will it scar? Is there anything I should do?
    Thanks

  27. Also, where my skin was originally burnt is now turning into a tanned colour, is this normal?

    Thanks agian

  28. I have had a red blotchy scar for about a year now…it resembles a birth mark. I am pretty sure its from a bad sunburn that I got awhile back. Is there anything I can do to make it fully disappear??

  29. I got quite sunburnt a few days ago and I noticed that blisters started to appear. I tried my best not to mess with them but a few popped and now the skin is rough and thick feeling- is this going to scar? Also I have bad allergic reactions to sunblock and it causes me to have big white patches on my shoulders. Can I do anything for either of these issues?

    • Hi Ella, a sunburn goes through a process for healing and you will continue to see skin changes over the course of a few weeks. Make sure to be treating it with aloe so that it keeps it moisturized and treats the inflammation. Once the blistering has stopped, then apply a scar treatment. As for sunblock, you may want to speak to a dermatologist who can recommend something for you.

  30. Hi, my husband got a serious sunburn while plastered on the beach during his honeymoon 40 years ago. He has a smattering on small white, raised spots on his lower legs. I was told the issue by his doctor and was in no position to write it down and have forgotten. I have looked so many places for the proper name. Any thoughts? With thanks, Mary

  31. I shave my head and can’t seem to get rid of a few scars which discolored an area on top of my forehead. I was on vacation in the Caribbean and forgot to put on sunscreen as we were playing volleyball. I didn’t have scabs but for about 2 weeks the skin on my head was peeling. Now an area 1×2 has a few discolored spots that look cream white. This was back in April and now it’s June. What can I do to get rid of this area that is discoloribg the skin in my forehead so it looks normal again?

  32. Hello I peeled off sling on the tip of my nose due to a sunburn. The first day it was really red on the pet that I peeled it and had discoloration from the rest of my nose. Now the part I peeled it is now light brownies looking from the rest of my nose. Will it scar, or is it healing?

  33. On June 24th and 25th I got a horrible sunburn on my forehead, nose, and cheeks under my eyes. I regretfully have been possessed to pick at it yesterday and today. The newly exposed skin is very very red and hurt terribly. I hope I’m not is scarring territory but I am scared and don’t know what to do. Putting Aloe Vera on it hurts. I want it to heal quickly but I’m afraid I’ve only made it worse. My summer has only just begun and I won’t go outside or even see my boyfriend. HELP

    • Hi Chloe, putting anything on the sunburn will hurt because it is injured, however, aloe is best as it moisturizes and aids in decreasing inflammation. Keep applying aloe, but also keep your skin covered until it heals (subsequent sunburns will make it worse.) Since it’s on your face, wear a beach hat when outdoors. Do not pick at your skin when it begins to heal. I know this is difficult especially since it is on your face, but it’s best to use a wet, soft cotton wash cloth to exfoliate as the skin peels. That way only loose dead skin will come off as opposed to you peeling away skin that is not ready and therefore causing more damage. Also apply sunscreen to protect your skin. Once the peeling has stopped, apply a scar treatment or topical treatment with stable Vitamin C to help fade any scarring or brown spots that may emerge from the sun damage.

  34. Hello i peeled my arm because it was badly sunburned and then the under layer got burned and that has scapped over and now their are little blood red streaks around the scabs.

  35. Hi,

    I work abroad during the summer for 6 month periods and I’m currently on Spain.
    I’ve never really burnt much before but yesterday my face burnt pretty badly. I used sunscreen but my forehead nose mouth and chin have blistered. Most of the blisters above my mouth and chin have burst but now a large amount of the dried skin has come off of my chin leaving a large red exposed area.
    Luckily none of it hurts and I’ve been using an organic aloe Vera gel with a hydrating lotion which has helped significantly but I’m worried now that the exposed area is going to leave quite a nasty scar. What is the likelihood of it scaring and is there any way to treat it?

    • Hi Remi, since you mentioned that you burned pretty badly chances are that the area will have hyperpigmentation, either in patches or spots (which would look like freckling.) You’re on the right track with the aloe for the inflammation and moisturizing, but once the dead skin has come off, it’s a good idea to use a scar cream to fade any discoloration. It will take a few months of use for it to fade.

  36. i had a kinda bad sunburn on mainly my face after a day it started to peel on my nose and i peeled it and it looks like it will scar and there were some blisters and me being dumb i popped them and i hope it doesnt scar.

  37. nicola sellers says:

    i am badly sun burnt on my foot and cant bare wearing shoes at the moment. i am still on holiday but have been applying aloe vera cream to it to keep it moisterised and stayed in my room for the last 3 n half days. it is still very red and sore. its not infected luckily. i think as soon as im back in the uk if no better i am going to hospital.

  38. caroline rigney says:

    Ok so this weekend I got a really bad sunburn to where it blistered on my forehead and after it scabed me being the inpatient person I am pealed is way to early and now it’s all red and hurts really bad do you think aloe will help from not scarring or an ice pack I feel really stupid now

  39. Hi I have recently been to the beach around a week ago and have got sunburnt on my shoulders and chest. I didn’t know that u don’t peel the skin off so as tempting as it was I started to peel. Part of my shoulder is like my normal skin colour and the rest of my shoulder is darker. Same with my chest. I have applied aloe Vera to it but I stopped for 2 days., I stopped peeling but I am scared it is going to scar. Any tips ?

    • Hi Nicole, most likely you will have hyperpigmentation (brown spots) from the sunburn. Even though you stopped peeling, it’s probably a good idea to continue aloe, as it will help with inflammation and moisture. Once the area is completely healed, you may want to try InviCible Scars on the dark spots. It does take consistent application of it for about 12 weeks, but it should help, especially since it is new hyperpigmentation.

  40. Hi there,
    I have a scar on my face, it happened after I waxed my top lip one year and I think I took some of the delicate top layers of skin off and then I think the area got sunburnt :/ I have been to see a dermatologist and he prescribed me with ‘Skinoren’ which is usually used to treat acne but apparently can also help with my problem. It worked for a while but now doesn’t seem to be as effective. The scar fades in the winter when I don’t get any sun but as soon as the slight bit of sun comes out it shows up again. I wondered if you thought your product could help me at all? I don’t want to use anything that makes it any worse than it is, but short of some kind of surgery, I’m not sure what else I can try…

    • Hi Simone, InviCible will help you to fade your scar, but for our product and any other scar therapy, you must also apply sunscreen over it. The reason that it darkens in the Spring/Summer but fades in the Fall/winter is because you are 1. outdoors more, 2. UV rays are stronger in the warmer months. Scar tissue is very sensitive to UV rays and that tissue does not fade in the same way normal skin would from a tan. Apply a scar treatment AND use sunscreen daily. That should help.

  41. hi. about three years ago(this is the fourth year, i think), i got a sunburn and i woke up to my face being all rough and peeling. this was while i didn’t know much about skincare and i was still a child, and so i peeled it all off because i got all self conscious about how it looked. terrible mistake. so i’ve had scarring/discoloration all over my cheeks, and over my nose all this time. this summer( its only the beginning though,), i’ve noticed its less noticeable as my discolouration would immediately show once i got out into the sun during the past years(i guess i have sensitive skin? idk why but i tan extremely easily, and i’m always wearing spf 100 and reapplying when i’m out but i still manage to tan!?). why is it that i tan easily, even with an spf of 100 on and that the discolouration is lasting so long? is the normal?

    • Hyperpigmentation can last a lifetime if you haven’t applied a scar fading cream that contains vitamin c. You are definitely on the right track with the SPF, as that will will protect your hyperpigmentation from getting worse. SPF does not prevent tanning, it means it protects you from harmful UV rays, but your skin will still tan as the melanin reacts to the sun. Heat is also a factor in hyperpigmentation becoming more visible and won’t have anything to do with how much sunscreen you are wearing (but still wear it.)

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