1st Degree Burn: Symptoms and Treatments

A superficial burn or first degree burn is an injury inflicted by a burn on the outermost layer of skin. A first degree burn is among the mildest skin injuries and in most cases can heal without the need for medical treatment. Still, not all superficial burns will resolve without medical care because some are serious and painful. Read on to learn more about 1st degree burn.

Causes and Symptoms of First Degree Burn


A superficial skin burn is in most cases caused by overexposure to sunlight or light contact with:

  • A hot or boiling liquid
  • Steam
  • Something hot like a skillet or a stove
  • Fire
  • A chemical, like car-battery acid, tile cleaners, drain cleaners, gasoline, wet or dry cement, chlorine, and lime
  • Electricity


The symptoms of first degree burns in most cases are minor and can heal in a couple of days. When burned, at first you will notice skin redness, pain, and inflammation. Symptoms are usually mild and skin may start peeling within two days. You might not get scarred unless there is an infection. Some first degree burns like those caused by sunburns can lead to anxiety, fever, and headaches for a couple of days. 

If first degree burns cover large areas of the body, you are likely to experience more pain and even swelling. For those reasons, you may need to see a doctor. More extensive burns will take longer to heal. 

How Is 1st Degree Burn Treated?

Heat Burns

In case of a burn caused by heat, follow these steps:

  • Discard jewelry and tight clothes from the affected area before the skin starts swelling.
  • Wash the area with cold running water or place a cool, moist piece of cloth on the burned area to relieve the pain. DO NOT use ice or ice cold water, because it might worsen the skin damage.
  • Use an antibacterial spray to help decrease pain and prevent infection. Alternatively, use aloe cream. Do not put petroleum jelly, grease, butter or similar home remedies on the burned area, because such products can slow the healing process. They also heighten the risk of infection. Do not put ointment on the burned skin unless this has been recommended by your doctor.
  • Cover the burned area with a clean, preferably sterile, bandage or gauze pad, and ensure that the affected area does not remain exposed. You may also put tape over the gauze pad, but do not put it on the burned area.

Chemical Burns

In case of chemical burns, take the following first-aid steps, and avoid contact with the chemical:

  • Immediately remove any jewelry or clothing on which the chemical was spilled.
  • Flush away any liquid chemical with cold running water for 15 minutes or longer. Don't let chemicals splash into your eyes. Once you’ve finished flushing, call the poison control center and ask for advice. You can also ask someone else to call as you clean off the chemical. It is helpful to have the culprit chemical container with you when making the call in order to provide the correct details including the name.
  • In case of a dry chemical, brush it off the skin if you don’t have access to a large quantity of water nearby. Applying small quantities of water can activate chemical reactions that cause more damage. For this reason, keep the dry chemicals dry unless you have a large quantity of water nearby. 
  • Do not try neutralizing the chemical for example by applying an alkali onto skin exposed to acid, as this can cause a serious reaction that produces a lot of heat that worsens the injury.
  • Do not apply burn medications on skin that has been burned by a chemical. Grease, salves, butter, etc. will only keep the chemical on the blistered area, causing extended exposure to the chemical.
  • Do not use a bandage on the blistered area unless this is recommended by a healthcare professional.
  • Go for emergency medical care in case of a chemical burn on the face, hands, feet, major joint, buttocks, or groin.

Electricity Burns

The impact of a 1st degree burn caused by electricity may be greater than what you can see with your eyes. For this reason, you may need to go for medical treatment as soon as possible following the accident.

Any Types of First Degree Burns

For any first degree burn, including sunburn:

  • Take a pain and inflammation relief pill like aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Be sure to contact your doctor before giving any medication containing aspirin or salicylates to a kid or a teenager. Such medicines include baby aspirin, some medicines for colds, and Pepto-Bismol. Kids and teenagers who take aspirin and similar drugs have a high risk of developing Reye’s syndrome.
  • NSAIDs like naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin may cause bleeding in the stomach besides other problems. And because the risk rises with age, you need to read the instruction and stick to the recommended dosage. In any case, do not use these medicines beyond a 10-day period unless directed by your doctor.
  • Stay away from clothes or shoes and from performing activities that irritate the blistered area.
  • Avoid pressure or friction on the burned area.
  • Do not expose the affected area to extremely hot or cold conditions.
  • If the burn is itching, contact your doctor for advice or prescription of a medicine to reduce the itch.
  • Visit your doctor if the burned area is more than 2 inches of skin, especially if the burn is on the face, hands, feet, buttocks, groin, and major joints such as knee or shoulder.
  • Consult a doctor if the burn remains beyond one week or you get symptoms such as the following: fever of more than 101.5°F, darkening redness of the skin, increased swelling, blisters and pus draining from the affected area.

How to Prevent Burns

Following are tips on how to prevent burns, including 1st degree burns:

  • Set your water heating system at 120°F.
  • Place pot-handles facing away from the front.
  • Whenever you are outdoors, apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more and wear protective clothing. A broad-spectrum sunscreen works best as it protects you from UVA and UVB rays. The best time to apply the sunscreen is 30-60 minutes before going out. Apply bigger amounts of sunscreen if you sweat a lot. Try not to get exposed to the sun for extended periods, especially later in the morning and early in the afternoon.
  • Do not allow your children into the kitchen while you are cooking.
  • Make sure all your electrical sockets are childproof.
  • Switch off appliances that are not in use.
  • Put electrical cords out of children’s reach.
  • Store your chemicals away from children’s reach, and use proper clothes (gloves) while using them.
  • It’s recommended that you have smoke alarms in your home, and regularly check them to ensure that they are in good working order.
  • Install fire extinguishers in strategic locations within your home, at work, and at school.