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First-Degree Burns (Superficial)

What is a superficial first-degree burn?

Superficial first-degree burns affect only the epidermis, or outer layer of skin. The burn site is red, painful, dry, and with no blisters. Mild sunburn is an example. Long-term tissue damage is rare and usually consists of an increase or decrease in the skin color.

Anatomy of the skin
Click Image to Enlarge

What causes a superficial first-degree burn?

In most cases,superficial first-degree burns are caused by the following:

  • Mild sunburn

  • Flash burn -- a sudden, brief burst of heat

What are the symptoms of a superficial first-degree burn?

The following are the most common signs and symptoms of a superficial first-degree burn:

  • Redness

  • Dry skin

  • Skin that is painful to touch

  • Pain usually lasts 48 to 72 hours and then subsides

  • Peeling skin

The symptoms of a first-degree burn may look like other conditions or medical problems. Talk to your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for superficial first-degree burns

Your child’s healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old your child is

  • His or her overall health and medical history

  • How sick he or she is

  • How well your child can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • How long the condition is expected to last

  • Your opinion or preference

Superficial first-degree burns usually heal on their own within a week. Treatment may depend on the severity of the burn and may include the following:

  • Cold compresses

  • Lotion or ointments

  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen 

Superficial first-degree burns are usually not bandaged. Talk with your child's doctor if additional treatment for first-degree burns is needed.

Online Medical Reviewer: Duldner, John E., MD, MS
Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/11/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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