What is a first-degree burn?

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A first-degree burn or superficial burn affects the first skin layer. This is a mild skin injury that does not require treatment. Nevertheless, there are cases where it can be quite sore or painful and requires an assessment by the doctor.

Indications of a first-degree burn

The indications of a first-degree burn are often minor and eventually heal after several days. One will initially notice skin redness, pain and swelling. The pain and swelling might be mild and the skin will start to peel after 1-2 days.

For a first-degree burn that covers a wide area, there is increased level of swelling and pain. This should be reported to a doctor for further assessment. Remember that larger burns might not heal at a faster rate than the smaller-sized burns.

What are the causes?

The indications of a first-degree burn are often minor and eventually heal after several days. One will initially notice skin redness, pain and swelling.

The usual causes of a first-degree burn include:

  • Sunburn – this develops if spending too long under the sun and not applying sunscreen
  • Scalds – this occurs if hot liquid spilled on the skin or exposed to steam from hot liquid. This is the usual cause of burns among children younger than 4 years of age
  • Electricity – biting on an electrical cord, sticking a finger or any object into an electrical socket or playing with appliances can result to electrocution


A first-degree burn can be managed at home. If worried about the burn of a child, consult a doctor so that it is further assessed.

A doctor should be seen if the burn becomes swollen, infected or significantly painful. Burns on certain parts of the body might require an assessment by a doctor. If burns occur on these areas, they tend to heal slower such as the groin, face, hands or feet.

Home treatment

If a first-degree burn is treated at home, apply a cool compress to reduce the swelling and pain. This should be done for 5-15 minutes and then removed.

Do not apply any type of oil including butter on a burn since these prevent healing. Nevertheless, products that contain aloe vera with lidocaine can ease the pain.

Other products such as aloe vera and antibiotic ointments can also be applied to a burn to hasten the repair of the damaged skin.

How long does it heal?

Once the skin heals, it will start to peel. In addition, it might take 3-20 days for a first-degree burn to properly heal. The healing time might depend on the affected area. A doctor should be consulted if the burn has indications of infection or becomes worse.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on a first-degree burn is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage this type of burn, register for a first aid and CPR course with Victoria First Aid.

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