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Superficial Burn


What is a superficial burn?

A superficial burn, or first-degree burn, is when the outer layer of skin has been burned.

What causes a superficial burn?

Direct exposure to heat is the most common cause of superficial burn. This includes contact with hot objects or flames, such as an iron, a skillet, cigarettes, or fireworks. The following may also cause a superficial burn:

  • Harsh chemicals, such as cleaning products, car battery acid, gasoline, lime, or chlorine
  • Damaged electrical cords or electrical outlets
  • Hot water or steam
  • Sunburns or tanning beds

What are the signs and symptoms of a superficial burn?

  • Red, dry, tender skin
  • Swelling
  • Area turns white when touched

How is a superficial burn treated?

A superficial burn usually heals in 3 to 5 days without scarring or blisters. Use the following first-aid guide to treat your burn:

  • Remove clothing and jewelry immediately.
  • Flush liquid chemicals from your skin completely with large amounts of cool running water. Do not splash the chemicals into your eyes.
    Run cool water over area of burn
  • Brush dry chemicals off your skin if large amounts of water are not available. Small amounts of water will activate some chemicals, such as lime, and cause more damage. Do not splash the chemicals into your eyes.
  • Run cool or cold temperature water over the burned area for 10 minutes. A cold or cool compress can also be put on the burn. Do not use ice or ice water on the affected area. This may cause more damage to the skin.
  • Use an antibacterial ointment or skin cream, such as aloe vera cream, to soothe the skin. Do not put butter, petroleum jelly, or other home remedies on skin burned by a chemical.
  • Do not put a bandage on the burn until you are told to do so by your healthcare provider.

How can I prevent superficial burns?

  • Do not leave cups, mugs, or bowls containing hot liquids at the edge of a table. Keep pot handles turned away from the stove front.
  • Do not leave a lit cigarette. Discard it properly. Keep cigarette lighters and matches in a safe place where children cannot reach them.
  • Keep your water heater setting to low or medium (90°F to 120°F, or 32°C to 48°C).
  • Wear sunscreen that has a sun protectant factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. The sunscreen should also have ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) protection. Follow the directions on the label when you use sunscreen. Put on more sunscreen if you are in the sun for more than an hour. Reapply sunscreen often if you go swimming or are sweating.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a burn to the face, neck, hands, or genitals.
  • Your burn covers a large area such as your trunk or entire arm or leg.
  • You have increased redness, numbness, or swelling in the superficial burn area.
  • You have red streaks or blisters spreading outward from the superficial burn.
  • Your pain is not relieved, or is getting worse even after you take medicine.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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