A superficial burn, also called a first-degree burn, is a mild burn that affects only the outer layer of skin, also known as the epidermis. These minor burns are usually painful and appear red with some minor swelling. First-degree burns do not blister. If there are blisters present, it is likely a second-degree burn, in which case you should seek medical attention. Superficial burns do not cause scarring.

What causes superficial burns?

Just about any source of energy can cause a superficial burn. This includes:

  • Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  • Tanning beds or lamps.
  • Brief exposure to fire or hot objects.
  • Contact with harmful chemicals.

How do I treat a superficial burn?

If you have a small, superficial burn, hold it under a gentle flow of cool water for ten to fifteen minutes. Pat the burn dry carefully, taking care with the tender skin. If the burn continues to be painful, you may hold it under a stream of cool water again.

You should not use ice or cold water on a superficial burn; this may worsen the injury. Do not put anything on the burn that would hold in the heat, such as butter or oils, which could also worsen the injury. Ask your doctor if you should apply a burn ointment like Aloe vera.

As superficial burns do not break the skin, they are usually not susceptible to infection. However, if you believe your burn is more serious, ask your doctor about effective infection prevention measures you can take, such as cleaning and bandaging the wound.

Should I go to the doctor for a superficial burn?

A superficial burn is usually not an emergency situation. You generally do not need to go to the doctor for a superficial burn. The burn will usually heal on its own within a few days without any scarring.

However, if your burn is large, especially painful, is on the face or other sensitive areas, or if you believe the burn may be more serious, set up an appointment with your doctor for an evaluation. And if you wish to apply an ointment to your burn, ask your doctor first.