Difference Between First, Second, and Third-degree Burns

Skin burns are divided into four major categories based on their severity including first, second, third, and fourth-degree burns.

However, only the first three stages are comparable as the fourth degree of burn is easily differentiable from the others in appearance and symptoms.

First-degree Burns vs Second-degree Burns vs Third-degree Burns

The main difference between first, second, and third-degree burns is that first-degree burns affect only the outer layer of skin, second-degree burns affect the outer layer and inner layer partially, and third-degree burns completely damage both the layers of the skin.

First Second vs Third Degree burns

First-degree burns cause minimal damage to the skin. They are also known as superficial burns as they affect the outer layer of the skin known as the epidermis. First-degree burns usually heal within seven to ten days and leave no post-burn scars.

Second-degree burns cause noticeable damage to the skin. They are also known as partial-thickness burns as they partially affect the inner layer of the skin as well, which is known as the dermis. Second-degree burns usually heal within two to three weeks.

Third-degree burns cause severe damage to the skin. They are also known as full-thickness burns as they completely damage both the outer and the inner layer of the skin. Third-degree burns take a long time to heal and they often leave severe scars behind.

Comparison Table Between First, Second, and Third-degree Burns

Parameters of ComparisonFirst-degree BurnsSecond-degree BurnsThird-degree Burns
Other NamesSuperficial burns.Partial-thickness burns.Full-thickness burns.
Affected AreaIt affects only the epidermis.It affects the epidermis and dermis partially.It destroys the epidermis and dermis completely.
SignsRedness and minor inflammation.Redness, soreness, blistering, etc.Pain, dark brown color, underdeveloped blisters, etc.
InfectionsThese do not cause any infections.These may cause infections.These will cause infections if left untreated.
TreatmentCool tap water, non-stick bandages, etc.Coop tap water, Antibiotic creams, etc.Surgery, physical therapy, rehabilitation, etc.

What is First-degree Burn?

First-degree burns are also known as superficial burns. These burns are rarely severe and are mostly self-treated or by a few home remedies.

Some common symptoms of first-degree burns include redness, minor inflammation, minor swelling, and itching in the affected area, etc.

First-degree burns are mostly caused by sunburns. Staying out in direct sunlight for a few hours will most likely cause skin burns in people with sensitive skin.

Some other causes of these burns include spilling of hot liquid on the skin, electric shocks, etc. The pain and symptoms are mostly mild.

However, first-degree burns that are caused by electricity may affect the inner part of the skin, the symptoms of which are not immediately visible. In such cases, it is recommended to seek a medical diagnosis.

For most adults, first-degree burns over a small area mostly never develop an infection. Nevertheless, in infants and young children, the risk of infection is higher. It is recommended to consult a pediatrician as the skin of children is more sensitive than adults.

For home care treatments, it is advisable to pour cold tap water over the affection area immediately after the burn. As it is not too severe, the skin recovers completely in a week or two with no post-burn scarring.

What is Second-degree Burn?

Second-degree burns are also known as partial-thickness burns. These burns can be severe and may or may not be self-treated or by home remedies.

Some common symptoms of first-degree burns include redness, skin inflammation, skin blistering, and moderate pain in the affected area, etc.

Second-degree burns are more severe than first-degree burns as they not only affect the outer layer of the skin but also partially affect the inner layer of the skin, known as the dermis.

However, second-degree burns are not as severe as third-degree burns. Second-degree burns are caused by severe sunburn, fire exposure, and spilling of hot boiling water, etc.

As the inner layer of the skin is affected, second-degree burns can cause infection. Early signs of an infection include headache, fever, severe pain, or burning sensation in the affected area, etc.

Therefore, it is advisable to immediately seek medical help following a burn. For serious second-degree burns, surgeries can also be done to prevent infection throughout the body.

In some cases, home remedies such as antibiotic creams and pouring cold tap water can also provide relief. Most second-degree burns take a few weeks to completely recover and they often cause post-burn scarring.

What is Third-degree Burn?

Third-degree burns are also known as full-thickness burns. These burns are highly severe and cannot be self-treated or by home remedies. Some common symptoms of third-degree burns include skin discoloration, dry leathery skin, swelling, and severe pain, etc.

Third-degree burns are much more severe than first and second-degree burns as they completely damage the outer and the inner layer of the skin. Third-degree burns are caused by chemicals, explosions, direct contact with fire flames, etc.

If left untreated, third-degree burns will cause more internal damage to the skin and serious infections as well. As the injury is deep into the skin, it can also damage the hypodermis, which is the internal most layer of the skin.

In an even more critical case, the nerve endings may also be affected. As a result, there is a lack of pain or feeling in the affected area.

Such severe burns can also result in various complications including body shock. Several organs including the lungs, heart, and brain are directly affected by it and the consequences can be life-threatening.

Home remedies must be strictly avoided. Third-degree burns require immediate diagnosis, hospitalization, and professional treatment including surgeries. It takes a long time for these burns to heal and they cause a lifetime of scarring in the affected area.

Main Differences Between First, Second, and Third Degree Burns

  1. First-degree burns are very mild, and second-degree burns are moderately mild. On the other hand, third-degree burns are severe.
  2. First-degree burns are rarely painful whereas all the other degrees of burns are painful.
  3. First and second-degree burns need only a few days to heal whereas third-degree burns require a long period to heal.
  4. First-degree burns don’t require a medical diagnosis or treatment whereas all the other degrees of burns need a professional diagnosis.
  5. First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin whereas all the other degrees of burns affect the inner layers of skin as well.


According to scientific researches, skin burns are a common occurrence in people’s lives. Everyday tasks including working in the kitchen, fire departments, and construction sites, etc., are a few of the instances where skin burns are common.

As most cases of skin burns are not too severe, people often overlook the potential risks. First, second, and third-degree burns are categorized on the basis of the severity of burns. If left untreated, skin burns can cause skin infections.

If undergone medical treatment, these infections are easily avoided in most cases with antibiotic creams or consumables. Furthermore, a very severe injury can cause critical damage to the nerve endings.

If the affected area is around the major sensory organs of the body including the nose, eyes, and ear, etc., then it should immediately be diagnosed as an infection to the sensory organs will pose a much bigger threat.

Even for first-degree burns, diagnosis is necessary as sensory organs are the most sensitive. Additionally, skin burns are dangerous for infants, young children, and older people.

For such people, all degrees of burns pose a much higher risk of infection. Hence, it is necessary to not avoid medical help to prevent additional infectious symptoms.


  1. https://www.ajronline.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2214/AJR.06.5082
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc1617734/
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