My colleagues who write about beauty are always covering the powers of SPF to shield you from the damaging rays of the sun and the best sunscreens for getting that protection. So when I recently woke up from a dream in which I was worried about sitting in the sun without my sunscreen, I figured they had probably just incepted me. It was the middle of a late July heatwave, after all! But as it turns out, the meaning of a sunburn dream may go way beyond having concerns about protecting your skin.
“Typically, when the sun or any form of light in a dream is brought to your attention, the meaning is often about truth and about honesty—open honesty,” says dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg, author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. If you’re worrying about getting overexposed to the sun and getting a sunburn, in particular, the dream may be signifying that “everything’s getting out in the sunlight, metaphorically, and within that open honesty, there are some painful truths that might burn,” she says.
“In a sunburn dream, everything’s getting out in the sunlight, metaphorically, and within that open honesty, there are some painful truths that might burn.” —Lauri Loewenberg, dream analyst
Whoa, whoa, whoa… what?! In my conversation with Loewenberg, I expected to talk about fears about aging, or perhaps, not feeling prepared for the future. But the symbolism and focus on the fear of being exposed to hard truths—of getting, well, burned by honesty—surprised me. According to Loewenberg, whenever physical pain is present in a dream, it actually refers to emotional pain. So, my fear in the dream of getting a sunburn likely means I was afraid of getting hurt by bringing something to light in real life.
The presence of sunscreen adds a whole other element to the dream. The SPF represents “whatever you do to protect yourself— whatever you tell yourself and whatever you do to avoid getting hurt,” says Loewenberg. That makes sense, at least metaphorically: Sunscreen is your best protection against getting burned by the sun IRL, so why wouldn’t it play the role of a shield in a dream, too? Apparently, when I was searching for my sunscreen as I sat in the sun in my dream, I was reaching for my emotional defenses against whatever painful truth I feared was heading my way.
How the context of a sunburn or sunscreen dream can help you unpack its meaning
One caveat to the above dream analysis is that examining the presence of the sun, sunburns, or sunscreen in a vacuum could be limiting. As with understanding the meaning of any dream, it’s essential to consider all the events of any given dream in tandem, and also examine what kinds of feelings they might elicit in you; after all, one type of dream won’t mean the same thing for everyone who has it because dreams come from our subconscious and our unique interpretation of the world.
For a sunburn or sunscreen dream, in particular, it’s also worth paying attention to the circumstances and other details for clues about what those hard truths might be in your life, and how you might be trying to shield yourself from them. “Every little element of the dream is a piece of the puzzle, and only when you fit them all together can you see the big picture,” says Loewenberg. “Every piece is just as important as any other piece.”
For example, in my sunburn dream, my mother was also sitting with me, which prompted Loewenberg to plumb whether my mom and I were going through something, or whether thoughts about motherhood were on my mind. I also wanted to physically move out of the sun, which indicated that I was uncomfortable with whatever thing may have needed to come to light.
“When you get a dream like this, it might be time to have a heart-to-heart with yourself or a heart-to-heart with someone important to you—perhaps a particular relationship where you think that some light needs to be shed on something,” says Loewenberg.
Examining the meaning of my sunburn dream went way deeper than I thought it would. Loewenberg asking me, “In real life, what is the biggest thing that you have concern over being exposed?” was not a question I was prepared to think about in the middle of a Wednesday.
But I’m glad I did. Examining the presence of light in my dream—even harsh, somewhat frightening light—helped me bring a new lens to some of the circumstances and emotional struggles playing out in my life right now, and to think about my fears, insecurities, defenses, and soul desires. And these are certainly things worth shining a light on.