First Aid for a Superficial Burn (First-Degree Burn)

What is a superficial burn?

A superficial burn, the least serious type of burn, is a mild burn of the top layer of skin. It is also called a first-degree burn. A superficial burn causes pain and reddened skin.

What causes a superficial burn?

Superficial burns are usually caused by overexposure to the sun or brief contact with:

  • a hot object, such as an iron or skillet
  • hot liquids or steam
  • flames
  • harsh chemicals, such as tile cleaners, car battery acid, drain cleaners, gasoline, wet or dry cement, lime, and chlorine
  • electricity.

What are the symptoms?

Superficial burns cause:

  • pink or red area of skin
  • pain
  • mild swelling (but no blisters).

When you press on the burned area of skin, it turns white and then quickly goes back to pink. You may have some swelling or puffiness of the skin. After a few days the skin may itch and peel.

Some superficial burns, such as extensive sunburns, can also cause restlessness, headaches, and fever.

How is it treated?

For a burn caused by heat, follow these steps:

  • Remove jewelry or tight clothing from the burned area before the skin begins to swell.
  • Flush the burn with cool running water or apply cold moist cloths until the pain lessens. Do not use ice or ice water, which can cause more damage to the skin.
  • Use an antiseptic spray to help relieve pain and prevent infection or use an aloe cream to soothe the skin. Do not put ointments, grease, petroleum jelly, butter, or home remedies on the burn. They can keep the burn from healing and may cause infection.
  • Cover the burn with a clean (sterile, if possible), dry, nonfluffy bandage such as a gauze pad. Do not put tape on the burn.

For chemical burns, follow these first-aid steps, avoiding contact with the chemical:

  • Remove right away any clothing or jewelry on which the chemical has spilled.
  • Flush liquid chemicals from the skin thoroughly with cool running water for 20 minutes. Be sure to avoid splashing the chemical in your eyes. After flushing, call the Poison Control Center for further advice, or have someone else call while you are rinsing the chemical off. It helps to have the chemical container with you when you make the call to make sure you give the correct name for the chemical.
  • Brush dry chemicals off the skin if large amounts of water are not available. Small amounts of water will activate some chemicals, such as lime, and cause more damage. Be careful not to get any of the chemicals in your eyes.
  • Do not try to neutralize a chemical. For example, putting an alkali chemical onto skin that has been exposed to an acid will often produce a large amount of heat and may increase the burning.
  • Do not put any burn medication on skin burned by a chemical. Salves, grease, or butter may keep the chemical on the burned area, increasing exposure to the chemical.
  • Do not put a bandage on the burn until you are told to do so by a healthcare provider.
  • Seek emergency medical help if a chemical burn is on the face, feet, hands, groin, buttocks, or over a major joint.

For all burns:

  • Take aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve pain and inflammation, or take acetaminophen to relieve pain.
  • Avoid wearing clothes or shoes or doing activities that rub or irritate the burned area.
  • Protect the burn from pressure and friction.
  • Do not overuse the burned area.
  • If you are bothered by itching, talk to your healthcare provider, who may prescribe a medicine to help.
  • Get medical treatment if a burn covers more than a couple of inches of skin.
  • Call or see your healthcare provider if your burn does not heal in 1 week or you develop any of the following symptoms:
    • fever over 100F (37.8C)
    • puslike drainage from the burned area
    • blistering
    • a lot more swelling of the burned area
    • more redness of the skin.

How long will the effects last?

This type of burn usually heals in 5 to 6 days. The damaged skin may peel within a day or two. You will usually not have any scarring unless the injury gets infected.

How can I help prevent burns?

Some examples of things you can do to help prevent burns are:

  • Keep pot handles turned away from the stove front.
  • Turn your water heater setting down to 120F (48.8C).
  • When you are outdoors, always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater and wear protective clothing. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. It's best to put the sunscreen on your skin 30 to 60 minutes before you go out into the sun. Avoid being out in the sun for a long time, especially in the late morning and early afternoon.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File INJU4915.HTM Release 11.0/2008

© 2008 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

2008 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.