3 Types of Skin Burns and How To Treat Them With First Aid

A burn is damage to the skin or underlying tissue usually caused by heat, but also by chemicals, electricity, or radiation such as with a sunburn. There are 3 levels of severity: first, second, and third. With third degree burns being the most serious.

First Degree Burns

A first degree burn damages only the top layer of skin. The skin is red, dry, and painful. The area may swell. Most sunburns are first degree burns. These types of burns heal withing 5 or 6 days without permanent scarring.

Second Degree Burns

A second degree burn damages both layers of skin i.e. the epidermis and the dermis. Heat, very severe sunburn, and some chemicals can cause this type of burn. The skin is red and has blisters that may open and leak clear fluids making the skin appear wet. The burned skin may look patchy and is usually feels painful. This type of burn heals in 3 or 5 weeks with some scarring possible.

Third Degree Burns

A third degree burn destroys both layers of skin as well as any or all of the underlying structures i.e. nerves, blood vessels, fat, muscles, and bones. Severe heat, fire, and electricity such as lightning can cause this kind of burn. These burns look either charred or waxy white. They are usually painless because the nerve endings in the skin have been destroyed. Despite the lack of pain, these kinds of burns are prone to infection and can be life threatening. Treatment often involves skin grafts.


There are 5 main sources of burns: electricity, radiation (sun), heat, chemical, and friction. Some tips for avoiding burns include:

  • Keep matches away from children.
  • Never store gasoline or other highly flammable substances indoors.
  • Do not put water on a grease fire.
  • Never use electrical appliances near water.
  • Repair or discard frayed cords.
  • Go inside when there's a thunderstorm.
  • Stay way from tall objects if caught outside during a thunderstorm.

First Aid for Burns

For first and second degree burns you should cool the area immediately with gently running cold water for about 10-15 minutes or until the burned area has cooled. This will help remove the heat from the tissue so the burning will stop. Do not apply ointments unless told to do so by a physician or pharmacist. And do not break any blisters. Keep the area as clean as possible. If a first or second degree affects a large area of the body or affects a sensitive area (e.g. eyes, throat, face, chest) then medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.

For third degree burns do not put anything on the burn. Instead seek professional medical help immediately and treat the person for shock. Third degree burns are life threatening even when only a small body part is effected.

For electrical burns, check for an exit wound as well as treating for the entrance wound.

For chemical burns, flush the area with lots of water to get it off the person's skin.

Never apply ointments, butter, or other home remedies on burns, as this may make the burn worse, keep the heat trapped in, or cause an infection.

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  1. I lit a match and the flame hit my finger and burned it. Now my finger (thumb) is all red swollen and hurts . What should I do?

  2. I shaved my legs and got a pedicure in the same day. They used a sea salt scrub on me and I have a bad burn now where there was razor burn on my ankle. It's been two weeks and I've kept it clean and covered. It itches a lot all of a sudden, there isn't any pain. But, there is a hole in my leg the size of a dime.

  3. We have an old stove at work. I turned the gas on and was distracted. When I lit the stove a ball of flame consumed me... No more eye brows

  4. I was cooking a omlet a couple of days ago and accidentally splashed grease a quarter size on the top of my right foot. I was wearing socks but it burnt the top layer of my skin. It did have bubbles and was brown then the top scab accidently got knocked off then it was pink and red around the area. Now it's red around the area and the area is a milky white spot. I keep antibiotics on it and make sure it keeps clean. But it hurts bad and I can't barely walk on it. Am I doing the right thing what should I do. Please help and let me know.

  5. Thank you for outlining the different burn degrees. It is important to understand the differences because treatment may vary depending on the seriousness of the burn. I always recommend that people get certified in First Aid and CPR for situations such as burns. Knowing what to do in the case of an emergency can help with pain relief, infection control, and even recovery. Thanks again for sharing, your readers are sure to benefit.

  6. I have 2nd degree burns on my thigh from riding a motorcycle. The doctor says it was probably an exhaust leak. The blisters popped on their own and are now scabbing over.. but the area is still just as red and swollen as the first day I got burned. I'm an antibiotic, got a tetanus shot, and am on a painkiller. Is there anything I can do to make the pain go away other than taking this painkiller that heavily sedates me? The pain is unbearable, the skin is tight around my scabs.... and I have shooting pains. Any suggestions?


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    It's been a couple of days since your post. More reason to not seek medical help from the Internet :-) Your burn is probably already doing better. Popping blisters increases your chances of infection so it's generally not recommended.

  8. Tuesday I burned my finger. Based from what Ive read here it's a 2nd degree. It has the blister with the clear like fluid. About the size of a dime.

    My boss thinks I should pop the blister so it can heal faster. We are off for the next 3 days and he thinks popping it now and being away from the dirty work conditions would be best for it now. It's really becoming a pain in the butt trying to keep it from breaking when home and at work. It is still a little sore along the bottom of the blister. Should I or shouldn't I?

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    That's real downer about your arm. We suggest you head to a pharmacist where you can show someone your arm and describe your situation. We'd be remiss in making a suggestion without actually seeing the condition of your arm.

  10. I washed a gutter with bleach and it ran down my arm and burned my arm skin pretty bad; it's red, blotchy, very painful. What can I put on it as a home remedy to get pain relief as it heals?

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    We're glad you found the information here useful. It's a shame about the butter. There are a lot of those sorts of tips floating around. I think we need a first aid myths page to dispel them. We hope your hand heals quickly!

  12. I just got burned on my hand at work and of course nobody knew how to administer first aid so I got all the wrong information including putting butter on the burn. Luckily I had iced the burn immediately. It looks like a first degree burn according to your information. Thank you.

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