Medical Conditions



First-Degree Burns (Superficial)

What is a first-degree burn?

First-degree (superficial) 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
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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.

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Online Resources of Burns

Last reviewed: 5/23/2013