Burns are classified according to the depth of injury caused to the dermis. First degree burns are less severe than second degree burns and typically do not require medical treatment. Briefly touching a hot pot, for example, would give you a first degree burn. Second degree burns do require medical attention, especially if they cover a large area. Being burned by very hot coffee is an example of second degree burns.

Comparison chart

First Degree Burns versus Second Degree Burns comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartFirst Degree BurnsSecond Degree Burns
Depth affected Epidermis Extends into superficial dermis or deep dermis
Appearance Red Red with clear or bloody blisters. Blanches with pressure
Texture Dry Moist
Sensation Painful Painful
Time to heal 1 week or less 2-3 weeks
Treatment Run burn under cool, running water for several minutes and sooth with burn cream. Submerge in cold water and cover with dry non-sticking dressing. Change every day.
Complications Increased risk of developing skin cancer later in life Local infection, scarring. May require skin grafting.
Need professional medical care Not usually. A doctor's advice is always recommended. However if the burn is over a large area or signs of infection are seen, a person needs to be taken to a doctor immediately.
A first degree burn from sunburn
A first degree burn from sunburn

Severity of burns

First degree burns are the least severe kind of burns. Examples include sunburn and the burn from briefly touching a hot pot. Medical treatment is not usually needed, unless the burn covers a large area.

Second degree burns are the second least severe kind of burn. Examples include a quick burn by a flame, being splashed with boiling water or contact with some chemicals. They usually do not need intensive medical treatment unless they cover a large area or show signs of infection. (See the Treatment section).

In comparison, third degree burns extend through the entire dermis and appear stiff and white or brown. They are painless and require excision to heal. Fourth degree burns are the most severe type of burns, extend into the underlying muscle and bone, have a black, charred appearance, require amputation and can cause death.

Burns can also be measured in terms of total body surface area (TBSA), aka what percentage of the body is affected by burns. First degree burns are not included in this estimation. Burns of 10% in children and 15% or more in adults ate potentially life threatening. Burns can be split into “major,” “moderate” and “minor” burns depending on the TBSA, the location of burns, and the cause of burns (electrical burns are always major).

Blsiter from a second degree burn
Blsiter from a second degree burn


First degree burns appear red and swollen. They are dry and painful.

Second degree burns are red the clear or bloody blisters. The skin blanches under pressure and is moist. The burn is painful.


First degree burns are usually healed by running them under cold water for several minutes. They can be soothed with burn cream and usually heal within one week. They also bring a heightened risk of skin cancer.

Second degree burns can be treated by submerging the area in cold water and then covering them with dry, non-stick dressing that is changed every day. They take two to three weeks to heal and may result in local infection or scarring. The skin will be extra-sensitive to the sun for about a year after the burn. Medical attention is needed if the condition worsens after first 12 hours or an infection develops at the burn spot.

The following videos explain the treatment that can be provided for these burns:

First and Second Degree burn treatment from Sunburn:

Second Degree Burn treatment:


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