What is a first degree burn?

A first degree burn or superficial burn is an injury that only affects the first or external layer of the skin. A first degree burn is considered the mildest form of skin injury and typically do not need any medical care. Nevertheless, some cases of superficial burns can cover a large part of the body or can be painful, thus requiring a trip to a doctor.

Causes of first degree burns and preventive measures

Most cases of first degree burns can be prevented if the proper precautions are taken into consideration. It is important to be familiar with the following causes of first degree burns.


Sunburn develops if the individual stays out under the sun for a long period and has not used any sunscreen protection. The sun produces intense UV rays that can easily penetrate the external layer of the skin and can cause it to redden, blister and eventually peel. Sunburn can be prevented by using a broad-spectrum sunblock or sunscreen with SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher.


Electrical cords, sockets and appliances can appear interesting, especially to young children, but always remember that they pose as a danger. If a child sticks his/her finger into a socket, bites an electrical cord or plays with certain appliances, he/she can get burned due to exposure to electricity. This can be prevented by covering all exposed sockets with childproof covers, placing cords out of reach and unplugging appliances not being used.


Children below 4 years old are prone to scalds. This can occur from a spilled hot liquid or steam from hot liquids. With this in mind, it is important to keep cooking pots on stoves with the handles turned toward the center to prevent any accidents.

Scalds can also occur when bathing in hot water. Temperature higher than 120 degrees F can cause serious skin damage especially on young children.


The symptoms of first degree burns are usually minor and typically go away after a few days.

  • Redness of skin
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Take note that the pain and swelling are only mild and the affected area will start to peel after a day or two. For a first degree burn that occurs on large areas of the skin, there is a higher level of pain and swelling. Take note that it is best to consult a doctor since larger burns heal slower than smaller burns.

When to seek treatment

First degree burns

You have to apply a cool compress over the affected area in order to relieve the swelling and pain.

In case you have doubts, a first degree burn can be checked by a doctor. The doctor will check how deep the burn penetrated the skin layers, if it is large and if there are signs of infection.

It is important to consult a doctor if the burn becomes infected, very painful and swollen. Burns on the hands, feet, face and groin must also be assessed by a doctor.


A first degree burn can be treated at home. Initially, you have to apply a cool compress over the affected area in order to relieve the swelling and pain. This must be done for 5-15 minutes before removing. Do not use ice or cold compress since it will only worsen the injury. If you want to learn the appropriate first aid care for burns, click here.

The skin will start to peel as it starts to heal. It usually takes 3-20 days for a first degree burn to fully heal. Take note that the healing process will depend on the area affected. If there are signs of infection or the pain and swelling worsens, it is best to consult a doctor.


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