We include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Here’s our process.
A first-degree burn is also called a superficial burn or wound. It’s an injury that affects the first layer of your skin. First-degree burns are one of the mildest forms of skin injuries, and they usually don’t require medical treatment. However, some superficial burns can be quite large or painful and may require a trip to your doctor.
The symptoms of first-degree burns are often minor and tend to heal after several days. The most common things you may notice at first are skin redness, pain, and swelling. The pain and swelling may be mild and your skin may start to peel after a day or so. In contrast, second-degree burns blister and are more painful due to an increased depth of the burn wound.
For a first-degree burn that occurs in larger areas of your skin, you may experience an increased level of pain and swelling. You may want to report large wounds to your doctor. Larger burns may not heal as fast as smaller burns.
An Important Note About Electrical Burns
First-degree burns that are caused by electricity may affect more of the skin than you can see in the top layer. It’s a good idea to seek medical treatment immediately after the accident occurs.
Common causes of superficial burns include the following:
Sunburn develops when you stay out in the sun too long and don’t apply enough sunscreen. The sun produces intense ultraviolet (UV) rays that can penetrate the outer layer of your skin and cause it to redden, blister, and peel.
Scalds are a common cause of first-degree burns in children younger than 4 years old. Hot liquid spilled from a pot on the stove or the steam emitted from hot liquid may cause burns to the hands, face, and body.
Scalds can also occur if you bathe or shower in extremely hot water. A safe water temperature should be at or below 120˚F. Temperatures higher than this can lead to more serious skin injuries, especially in young children.
Electrical sockets, electrical cords, and appliances can appear intriguing to a young child, but they pose considerable dangers. If your child sticks a finger or any object into the openings of a socket, bites on an electrical cord, or plays with an appliance, they can get burned or electrocuted from exposure to electricity.
You can treat most first-degree burns at home. You should call your child’s pediatrician if you’re concerned about a burn your child received. Their doctor will examine the burn to determine its severity.
They’ll look at the burn to see:
- how deep it penetrates the skin’s layers
- if it’s large or in an area that requires immediate treatment, such as the eyes, nose, or mouth
- if it shows signs of infection, such as oozing, pus, or swelling
You should see your doctor if your burn becomes infected, swollen, or extremely painful. Burns on certain areas may require a visit to the doctor. These burns may heal slower than burns on other areas of the body and require a visit to the doctor. These areas include the:
Home Care Treatment
If you choose to treat your wound at home, place a cool compress over it to relieve the pain and swelling. You may do this for five to 15 minutes and then remove the compress. Avoid using ice or extremely cold compresses because they can aggravate the burn.
Avoid applying any type of oil, including butter, to a burn. These oils prevent healing in the site. However, products containing aloe vera with lidocaine may help with pain relief and are available over the counter. Aloe vera, as well as honey, lotion, or antibiotic ointments, can also be applied to first-degree burns to reduce drying and speed up repair of the damaged skin.
As the skin heals, it may peel. Additionally, it may take three to 20 days for a first-degree burn to heal properly. Healing time may depend on the area affected. Always consult your doctor if the burn shows signs of infection or becomes worse.
Most first-degree burns can be prevented if you take the right precautions. Follow these tips to prevent first-degree burns:
- Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen or sunblock with a sunprotection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to prevent sunburn.
- Keep hot cooking pots on the back burners with the handles turned toward the center of the stovetop to prevent accidents. Also, be sure to watch young children in the kitchen.
- A safe water temperature should be at or below 120˚F. Most water heaters have a maximum setting of 140˚F. You can manually reset your hot-water tank to have a maximum of 120˚F to avoid burns.
- Cover all exposed electrical sockets in your home with childproof covers.
- Unplug appliances that aren’t in use.
- Place electrical cords where your child cannot reach them.