You've likely heard of first-, second-, and third-degree burns, but do you know how to tell the difference? It's not difficult to differentiate burns if you know what to look for.
These burn pictures will show you several types of burns, so you can recognize how severe a burn is and seek proper treatment.
This is a good example of a first-degree sunburn. Sunburns can also become second-degree burns. The difference depends on the depth of the burn or the thickness of the skin that was injured. If only the surface of the skin, or top layer, was burned, it's called a first-degree burn.
Signs of first-degree burns include:
- Hot to the touch
- No blisters or bubbles
First-degree burns don't blister. Blistering is a sign that the burn got deep enough to injure the second layer of skin. When that happens, the skin layers start to separate, which leads to blistering.
Second-Degree Burn With Swelling
Blisters are the most common sign of a second-degree burn. Most symptoms of a second-degree burn are similar to first-degree burns. However, second-degree burns will also have:
- Severe pain
- Sloughing, or when the top layer of skin falls away
- Weeping fluid, or fluid that oozes out
A second-degree burn is considered severe when it can potentially cause a loss of function in the part of the body burned. When emergency healthcare providers determine the severity of a burn, they look to determine the extent of the body burned.
Second-degree burns that involve the face, hands, feet, genitalia, or major joints are considered severe and require immediate attention.
A swollen, second-degree burn that goes all the way around an arm or leg can also put pressure on nerve cells and restrict blood flow to other parts of the body that aren't even involved in the burned area. This is known as compartment syndrome.
In the worst-case scenario, compartment syndrome can cause tissue to die and give off toxins that increase the overall damage. If left untreated, this can lead to amputation, or worse, fatality.
Second-Degree Burn With Sloughing
Deep second-degree burns will eventually shed the top layer of skin. This is called sloughing.
Second-degree burns can develop over time if not treated promptly. Skin tissue continues to burn even after the heat source is gone. It's similar to how steak continues to cook when taken off the grill. If you want the skin to stop burning, you'll have to actively cool it down.
Place the burn area under cool running water to stop the burning process. Then, flush the area with water for 20 minutes to return the tissues to their normal temperature.
Second-Degree Road Rash
Abrasions, typically caused by a fall or crash onto a hard surface, are often called "road rash" or "friction burns." This one is pretty severe. You can also get friction burns from things like rugs (rug burns) or ropes (rope burns).
Signs of second-degree road rash include:
- Jagged, torn top layer of skin
- Raw dermis, or the inner layers of skin
- Possibly oozing blood
- Weeping fluid, or fluid leaking from the burn
Since burns are essentially just damage to the outermost layers of skin, called the epidermis, road rash treatment and burn treatment are very similar.
Road Rash: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes, and Treatment
Second-Degree Electrical Burn
This electrical burn is a second-degree burn because it has a blister. The burn went through the top layer of skin down into the second layer of skin. When that happens, the two layers separate, making a blister.
Electrical burns occur when you touch a source of electricity. You have to have at least two points of contact to complete the electrical circuit. For example, you have to touch a source of electricity and be grounded or touch another source of electricity.
Most electrical burns are thermal, or heat burns from arcs. Arc-blasts are the blinding white sparks that jump across wires. They generate heat at thousands of degrees Fahrenheit and burn instantly.
Deep Second-Degree Burn
In a second-degree burn, blisters develop. Third-degree burns are more difficult to determine. You'll likely need a professional burn unit to make the call.
In the picture above, the deep second-degree burn was caused when an oven door sprung back up before the person was able to get their arm out.
For a burn to be considered third-degree, the damage has to have completely destroyed all the layers of skin and reached the fatty tissue underneath. There's no way to tell that outside of a hospital.
If the skin is not intact, treatment is also essential to prevent bacteria from entering into the wound.
Third-Degree Burn on Foot
This picture is a third-degree burn caused by a hot motorcycle muffler. The photo was taken at the doctor's office about a week after the burn happened.
The muffler burned the skin on the arch of the foot all the way through the inner layers of the skin and into the subcutaneous tissue beneath, or the layer of tissue underneath the skin.
Signs of a third-degree burn include:
- Blackcenter area
- Dry burn (not oozing)
- Surrounded by second-degree burned skin
How to Treat First, Second, and Third Degree Burns
Prompt treatment of burns can minimize the damage and promote healing. First-aid protocols for burns depend on the severity.
First-degree burns and minor second-degree burns can often heal on their own, but more serious second-degree burns and third-degree burns require medical attention.
First Aid for Minor Burns
Minor burns that do not break the skin can be treated at home with simple first aid.This includes first-degree burns and small second-degree burns (2 to 3 inches).
First, run cool water over the skin for at least five to 30 minutes until the skin cools. If the area is large, soak it in a cool water bath or basin or cover it with a clean, cold, wet towel.
Once the skin has cooled, gently wash and dry the area, taking care not to break any blisters. You can apply moisturizing lotion or aloe, if available, but avoid applying oil or sprays that can trap heat.
Cover the burn with a dry, sterile bandage or clean dressing and protect it from pressure and friction.
If the burn still hurts after 48 hours, contact your healthcare provider.
Treating Major Burns
Larger second-degree burns and those that are third-degree require medical attention. If the skin is unbroken, rinse the burn for at least 15 to 30 minutes or cover with a clean, cold, wet towel until the pain subsides.
Seek medical attention for burns that break the skin. Second-degree burns that cover a small area can often be treated by your healthcare provider or a walk-in clinic.
Go to the emergency room or call 911 for:
- Second-degree burns that cover a large area
- Second-degree burns on the face or hands
- Third-degree burns
How Long Does It Take to Heal a Third-Degree Burn?
Third-degree burns can take months to heal and typically require skin grafts. Skin graft surgery removes healthy skin tissue from one area of the body and attaches it to the burn. It takes at least a month for a skin graft to heal, and after that, you may need physical therapy. Severe third-degree burns can take a year or longer to heal and will likely cause significant scarring.
First-, second-, and third-degree burns all have unique symptoms. The severity of a burn is usuallydetermined by howfar it goes into the layers of the skin and the area of the body it covers.
First-degree burns don't blister and only involve the top layer of the skin. Second-degree burns, also called partial-thickness burns, affect the outermost layer of skin and extend to the middle skin layer below.
In a third-degree burn, the damage completely destroys the thick layer of skin and reaches the fatty tissue underneath.