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What are the Different Degrees of Burns?

First-Degree Burns

Second-Degree Burns

Third-Degree Burns

Fourth-Degree Burns

What are the Different Degrees of Burns?

Burns are classified on both their surface penetration and severity. They can be labeled as first, second, third, or fourth-degree. It is important to remember that many of the causes of burns remain the same for each degree. What separates them is the extent of the damage caused by the burn.

First-Degree Burns

First-Degree Burn - Sunburn on Woman's Back

A first-degree burn, also known as a mild or superficial burn, affects the first layer of skin and is the least harmful of the burn types. Although first-degree burns are seldom severe, they can become quite painful, at which point you should seek professional medical assistance.

Causes of First-Degree Burns

  • Exposure to sunlight without sunscreen
  • Making skin contact with hot water/liquids
  • Touching a hot object such as a curling iron

Second-Degree Burns

Second-Degree Burn on Forearm

Second-degree burns, also referred to as partial-thickness burns, are marked by pain, blistering and superficial destruction of the outer and lower layers of skin (dermis). As a result, second-degree burns develop blisters and become extremely red and sore, differentiating the severity level from first-degree burns.

Causes of Second-Degree Burns

  • Severe sunburns
  • Kitchen accidents involving a stove or oven
  • Exposure to fire
  • Making skin contact with boiling water /liquids
Four Degrees of Burns Table

Third-Degree Burns

Third-Degree Burn on Right Side of Torso

Third-degree burns, also referred to as full-thickness burns, severely damage all layers of the skin – often times destroying them completely. As a result, third-degree burns are typically marked by leathery-white, blackened, or charred skin and can be relatively painless due to the destruction of nerve endings. Third-degree burns always require immediate medical attention and should never be self-treated.

Causes of Third-Degree Burns

  • Making skin contact with scalding water/liquid
  • Touching a hot object for an extended amount of time
  • Interaction of the skin with a flame for an extended amount of time
  • Electrical sources
  • Chemical sources

Fourth-Degree Burns

Fourth-Degree Burn on Top of Hand

Fourth-degree burns are the deepest and most severe burn. They’re potentially life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. These burns destroy all layers of your skin, as well as your bones, muscles, and tendons.

Causes of Fourth-Degree Burns

Although fourth-degree burns are primarily the result of large fires and dangerous chemicals, other sources include:

  • Oven or stove
  • Campfires and fireplaces


University of Rochester Medical Center
American Society for Surgery of the Hand
Price Benowitz LLP
Healthline Media


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