Sunburn, also known as erythema, is caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which results in an acute cutaneous inflammatory response. Sunburn results from over exposure to UVR and can occur from use of indoor tanning beds or over exposure to outdoor sunlight. Although sunbathing and tanning are strongly associated with sunburn, recent data indicate that most sunburns occur in contexts unrelated to intentional tanning, such as engaging in physical activity and when spending time near the water. Sunburn symptoms include redness, warmth, tenderness, or edema, and may cause pain or blistering. Annually, over 33,000 sunburns are reported that require emergency room visits and may occur among people of all racial/ethnic groups. Previous sun burning, particularly experienced at younger ages, is a strong predictor of future skin cancer and especially melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. People with sun sensitive skin are more likely to incur sunburn and are at greater risk for skin cancer, especially melanoma, than those with relatively less sun sensitivity. Sun sensitivity reflects a person’s characteristic skin response (e.g., a burn, a burn and then tan, etc.) after prolonged sun exposure or after a long period or season of being relatively unexposed. Though related to sun sensitivity, skin color and ethnicity are not adequate proxies for sun sensitivity because they are not accurate biological descriptors of at-risk populations.

The percentage of high school students (grades 9-12) who reported having been sunburned in the past 12 months.

The percentage of adults aged 18 years and older who reported having been sunburned in the past 12 months.

Adolescents: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2015-2017.

Adults: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey NCI and CDC co-sponsored Cancer Control Supplement, 2000-2010, 2010-2020.

Refer to the Data Sources page for more information about data collection years 2019+.

  • Reduce to 52.2 percent the proportion of adolescents in grades 9 through 12 who report sunburn.

Healthy People 2030 is a set of goals set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Note: Goals are indicated as blue line on Detailed Trend Graphs.

UV Exposure and Sun-Protective Behavior