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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. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • 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 resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for superficial first-degree burns

Specific treatment for a superficial first-degree burn will be determined by your child's doctor, based on the following:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the burn

  • Location of the burn

  • Cause of the burn

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • 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. Consult your child's doctor for additional treatment for first-degree burns.

Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 5/23/2013
© 2000-2014 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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