Why Does Sunburned Skin Feel Hot? Unraveling the Science Behind the Sensation

Uncover the science behind sunburn sensation and the skin's sensitivity to heat due to the inflammatory response.

Why Does Sunburned Skin Feel Hot? Unraveling the Science Behind the Sensation
Photo by Brooke Lark / Unsplash

When you get a sunburn, you often experience the sensation of your skin still feeling hot even after being out of the sun for hours.

This phenomenon can be attributed to the body's inflammatory response to sun damage.

Inflammatory Response

Sunburn occurs when the skin is damaged by ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

When this happens, the body's immune system responds by triggering an inflammatory process.

The damaged blood vessels dilate and become leaky, which allows white blood cells to reach the affected area and start the repair process.

Blood Flow and Heat

As a result of the inflammatory response, the damaged skin becomes inflamed, appearing red and swollen.

The increased blood flow to the damaged area carries heat from the body's core to the skin's surface, leading to the sensation of warmth in the affected skin.

This is why sunburned skin can feel notably warmer than unaffected skin.

Delayed Cooling Sensation

Even after taking measures to cool the skin, such as applying cold water or using aloe vera gel, the sensation of heat may persist due to the continued blood flow to the area.

While these methods can temporarily alleviate discomfort, the underlying inflammation and increased blood flow contribute to the prolonged sensation of warmth in sunburned skin.

Skin Sensitivity

In addition to the physical inflammation and increased blood flow, sunburn also sensitizes the skin, making it more susceptible to temperature changes.

This heightened sensitivity can amplify the perception of heat, causing the sunburned skin to feel even warmer than it actually is.

Protecting Against Sunburn

Preventing sunburn is crucial to avoiding the discomfort associated with the heat sensation in sun-damaged skin.

Using sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and seeking shade during peak UV hours are effective strategies for safeguarding the skin from harmful UV radiation.


With 1 in 3 adults having experienced sunburn in the past year, understanding the science behind sunburn sensation is paramount.

Further research on methods to mitigate the inflammatory response could potentially alleviate the discomfort associated with sunburn.Embracing the scientific understanding may lead to enhanced sunburn management approaches in the future.