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Superficial Burn

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is a superficial burn?

A superficial burn, or first-degree burn, is a burn that affects only the outer layer of skin. The skin may be red, dry, or tender. The area may swell or turn white when touched.

What causes a superficial burn?

  • Direct exposure to heat, such as from flames, an iron, cigarettes, or fireworks
  • Harsh chemicals, such as cleaning products, car battery acid, or chlorine
  • Damaged electrical cords or electrical outlets
  • Hot water or steam
  • Sunburns or tanning beds

How is a superficial burn treated?

A superficial burn usually heals in 5 to 7 days without scarring or blisters. Use the following first-aid guide to treat your burn:

  • Remove clothing and jewelry from the burn area immediately.
  • Flush liquid chemicals from your skin completely with large amounts of cool running water. Do not splash the chemicals into your eyes.
  • Brush dry chemicals off your skin if large amounts of water are not available. Small amounts of water will activate some chemicals and cause more damage.
  • Run cool or cold 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. Ice may cause more skin damage.
  • Soothe the skin with an antibacterial ointment or skin cream, such as aloe vera cream. Do not use butter, petroleum jelly, or other home remedies.
  • Do not put a bandage on the burn until you are told to do so by your healthcare provider.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

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. Make sure it is no longer lit. Then dispose of it safely.
  • Store dangerous items out of the reach of children. Store cigarette lighters, matches, and chemicals where children cannot reach them. Use child safety latches on the door of the safe storage area.
    Common Childproofing Latches
  • 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 your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have increased redness, numbness, or swelling in the burn area.
  • You have red streaks or blisters spreading outward from the burn area.
  • Your pain is not relieved, or is getting worse even after you take medicine.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever (100.4°F or 38°C).
  • 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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