15 Warning Signs Your Lip Sunburn Has Turned To Sun Poisoning—and How to Help It Heal

15 Warning Signs Your Lip Sunburn Has Turned To Sun Poisoning—and How to Help It Heal

You just spent a day at the beach and now your lips are red, puffy, and basically feel like they’re on fire. So…should you be concerned? You might be dealing with sun poisoning on your lips, which is basically an extremely bad sunburn that can cause body-wide symptoms if not addressed quickly.

“The lips are especially susceptible to sunburn and sun damage,” says Azadeh Shirazi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in La Jolla, California.

Not only is the skin on your lips ultra-thin and delicate, it doesn’t have as much protective pigment (aka, melanin) compared to the skin on other parts of your body. Swiping on shiny balms or glosses without SPF makes matters worse. “The shine from these products actually magnifies the sun’s UV rays and intensifies the degree of damage,” Dr. Shirazi adds.

Thankfully there are ways to treat and prevent sun poisoning on your lips. Here are the signs to look out for, other symptoms, home remedies, and whether you should see a dermatologist for help.

In This Article

  • 01

    Sun Poisoning on Lips Signs

  • 02


  • 03


  • 04

    When to see a doctor

Signs of sun poisoning on lips

You might get sun poisoning on your lips as part of a bad, body-wide burn. But it’s also possible to get a significantly worse sunburn on your lips compared to the rest of your skin, because your lips are so thin and delicate, Dr. Shirazi points out. “It often comes up 12 to 24 hours after sun exposure,” she adds.

General signs of sun poisoning can include the following, according to the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Severe redness
  • Pain or sensitivity
  • Blistering or peeling skin
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness
  • In severe cases, fainting or shortness of breath

And what does sunburn on lips look like? Badly sunburnt and sun-poisoned lips, in particular, might have some additional symptoms, including the following, per Dr. Shirazi:

  • Severe redness
  • Swelling
  • Fluid-filled blisters from sun exposure
  • Severe pain that makes it hard to eat, drink, or talk
  • Itching
  • Dryness, peeling, and scabbing as the burn starts to heal

“The lips are especially susceptible to sunburn and sun damage.”—Azadeh Shirazi, MD, dermatologist

How to treat sun poisoning on lips

You may be able to manage sun poisoning on your lips with home remedies, provided the burn isn’t causing systemic symptoms (where you actually feel like you’re sick). The go-to soothers are pretty similar to what you’d try for a severe sunburn elsewhere on your body, with a few extra precautions to go gentle on your lips.

If you’re wondering what to put on sun-poisoned lips (or how to treat them in general) try the following, according to the Mayo Clinic and Dr. Shirazi:

  • Get out of the sun: Seek shade, or if possible, air conditioning.
  • Start drinking plenty of water: Sunburn can make you dehydrated. Even if it’s uncomfortable on your lips, try to take sips to avoid becoming more parched.
  • Apply a cold compress: A bag of frozen peas wrapped in a kitchen towel works great to start taking down the inflammation and give you fast relief. (Just avoid putting ice directly on the area—it can irritate your lips.) Apply it for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off, repeating as needed, Dr. Shirazi recommends.
  • Use an antiseptic spray: Sun-damaged lips are at risk for infection. Keep germs at bay while encouraging your skin to heal by applying an antiseptic spray with hypochlorous acid, like SkinSmart Antimicrobial Wound Therapy. “It’s gentle on the skin, antimicrobial, and safe to use on the delicate lip mucosa,” Dr. Shirazi says.
  • Try aloe vera: One of the best post-sunburn products is plain old aloe vera gel. An aloe-based balm like AziMD Skincare SootheHC can also soothe red, irritated lips. “Keep them in the fridge and apply them cold,” she adds.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever: Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help take down some of the swelling and help you feel more comfortable.
  • Use a healing lip balm: Once your lips start to peel, slather on a healing balm like CeraVe Healing Ointment or plain old petroleum jelly. “It helps retain moisture, forming a barrier and allowing the lips to repair,” Dr. Shirazi says. As for options like coconut oil or shea butter? They can be hydrating, but they’re also more likely to irritate sensitive skin, so you may want to steer clear, she adds.
  • Leave your blisters alone: A sun poisoning rash on lips can often have tiny blisters. Your infection risk will skyrocket if you start popping or picking, so just try to avoid picking them as much as possible.

How to prevent sun poisoning on lips

Alongside the usual sun-protection tips (think: wearing sunscreen, reapplying every two hours, and trying to stay in the shade when the sun’s rays are strongest), there are a few extra things you can do to keep your lips safe from sun damage. Try:

  • Wearing an SPF lip sunscreen or balm: Look for products with SPF 30 or greater, Dr. Shirazi recommends. Try SunBum SPF 30 Lip Balm or Burt’s Beets SPF 30 Lip Balm. Avoid wearing shiny or glossy lip products that don’t have SPF when you’re in the sun. They’ll legit fry your lips.
  • Putting sunscreen on your lips: If you don’t have a dedicated sun protection lip balm, regular sunscreen will also do the trick, Dr. Shirazi says. (For the best recs, check out our SPF Awards!)
  • Wearing a wide-brimmed hat: It’s not a substitute for sunscreen, but it might give your lips some extra coverage.

When to see a doctor

If you think your sunburn has turned into sun poisoning (that is, you have other symptoms like pain, fatigue, fever, or vomiting), seek medical attention ASAP. By this point, serious dehydration can set in, and you may need IV fluids to restore your hydration levels.

Your doctor can also check to see if you need medicine for sun poisoning on lips—like steroids or antibiotics, per the Cleveland Clinic.


How long do sun damaged lips take to heal?

Healing time varies depending on how bad your burn is. But in general, you can expect your lips to recover in about a week, Dr. Shirazi says. If a rash keeps reappearing on your lips and skin after sun exposure, you may have a sun allergy. This can be managed by staying in the shade as much as possible, and cooling off your skin when you get indoors.

What does sun damage on lips look like?

Initially, your badly sunburnt lips might look like they were stung by a bee (think: very red, puffy, or swollen. As the damage starts to heal, you might get a lot of dryness, cracking, or peeling—like you were in the desert for days without any water…or lip balm. Long term, sun damage might look like discolored skin (i.e., age spots), freckles, or wrinkling, per Yale Medicine.

How to tell the difference between sun poisoning on lips and a cold sore?

Cold sores are small, fluid-filled blisters that can form on your lips. Unlike sunburn, cold sores stem from a viral infection, not sun exposure, according to the Mayo Clinic. Also, the symptoms are usually confined to the area where the blisters are. They might be mildly itchy, tingly, or uncomfortable, but they won’t cause redness and swelling all over your lips like sun poisoning would.

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Written by Living Smarter

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