Difference Between First, Second, and Third-degree Burns (With Table)

Burns are injuries that damage the tissues of the skin. There are a few reasons why a person can be a victim of burns. A person can get fire burns, thermal burns, or electrical burns.

However, how severe the injury is, gets defined by the degree of burns. Burns are divided into degrees based on how much damage is done. The different burns degrees include First degree, Second degree, and Third-degree burns.

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

The main difference between first-degree burn, second-degree burn, and third-degree burn is that first-degree burn is when only the first layer of the skin is affected by the burns. On the other hand, a second-degree burn happens when the second layer of the skin gets burned along with the dermis layer of the skin. While a third-degree burn is when two full layers of skin get damaged by the burn.

Difference Between First Second and Third degree Burns

First-degree burns are the less impacting form of burns as it only impacts the first and the outermost layer of the skin. First-degree burns can heal on their own without any medical treatment. The level of pain for a first-degree burn is bearable and gets better in a day or two.

Second-degree burns damage the second skin layer and almost the third layer of the skin. A second-degree burn can cause red patches where the burns happened. A second-degree burn can leave behind scars.

Third-degree burns are also known as full-blown burns. Third-degree burns often destroy the full two layers of the skin. After a third-degree burn, the skin can appear to be black, yellow, white, or brown.

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

Parameters of ComparisonFirst-degreeSecond-degreeThird-degree
DefinitionFirst-degree burns are when the outer skin of the body gets burned.Second-degree burns happen when the outer layer plus the dermis layer of the skin gets burned.Third-degree burns happen when the two layers of skin get burned.
Also calledFirst-degree burns are even called superficial burns.Second-degree burns are even called semi-thickness burns.Third-degree burns are also called complete or complete-thickness burns.
Signs and symptomsThe symptoms of a first-degree burn include redness of the affected area, dry and peeling skin.The symptoms of second-degree burn include blisters, deep redness, pain when touched, the skin looking wet and shiny.The symptoms of a third-degree burn are Swelling, dry skin that feels leathery, skin that is brown, black, or yellow.
CausesA first-degree burn can happen due to exposure to hot sun for a long time, or contact with some hot object for a fraction of seconds.A second-degree burn can happen due to flames, getting in contact with some hot object, or even sunburns.The causes of a third-degree include a scalding liquid, flames of a fire, or chemical source.
TreatmentTo treat first-degree burns, a cold compress can be used followed by the application of lotions or over-the-counter ointments.Second-degree burns are treated by cleaning them and dressing them regularly along with medications as prescribed.A third-degree burn can be treated by cleaning and removing the dead skin from the affected area. After that, antibiotics and ointment can be used as prescribed.

What is First-degree Burn?

First-degree burns happen to cause the least impact as it only damages the epidermis. Hence, it is also called superficial burn. More often than not, these burns are self-treatable and might not even require a visit to a doctor.

Minor things like a mild sunburn or touching a hot surface can cause first-degree burns. It might also happen that a boil might appear, but it eventually heals on its own.

A person can use ointments that are available in the market to treat the wound caused by the burn. People who get sunburn should make sure to use sunscreen with high SPF to avoid first-degree burns. 

What is Second-degree Burn?

The second-degree burn is a little severe form of burn as in most cases it damages only the epidermis and dermis. It is hence called partial-thickness burns. Since the impact is beyond the skin level, it is necessary to consult a doctor as cleaning the wound might become imminent.

Complications because of a second-degree burn include hypovolemia (low blood volume) or even hypothermia (extremely low body temperature).

Keeping the affected area clean will keep the infections out and will help the wound to heal better. A second-degree burn happens due to a serious case of sunburn or coming in contact with an extremely hot surface.

What is Third-degree burn?

Third-degree burns can be critical and painful in most cases. As two levels of skin tissues get damaged, it requires immediate medical attention.

It can take longer for the tissues to repair and the wounds to heal. A third-degree burn can happen because of various reasons like being caught by the flames of a fire, getting scalded by hot water or oil, etc.

There are chances that the impact of a third-degree burn can cause internal damage too. Hence it is necessary to keep visiting the doctor to check the progress. In rare cases, negligence during the treatment of a third-degree burn can also prove to be fatal.

Main Differences Between First, Second, and Third-degree Burns

  1. First-degree burns affect the first and the outermost layer of skin. While the second-degree burn damage the epidermis and dermis, and the third-degree burn damages the epidermis, dermis, and subcutis.
  2. First-degree burns can heal on their own. Whereas, second and third-degree burn needs medical attention.
  3. First-degree burns take little time to treat. Whereas, second and third-degree burns take longer to treat.
  4. The pain because of first-degree burns is very less. However, the pain due to second and third-degree burns is far more than first-degree burns.
  5. The scars that happen because of first-degree burns disappear after a couple of months. While the scars caused by second and third-degree burns take years to disappear. In some cases, the scar for a third-degree burn will remain for life.


The burns under first-degree are not severe in comparison to second and third-degree. First and second-degree burns are easier to deal with. However, when it comes to third-degree burns, some severe third-degree cases can be very problematic.

In young children and infants, a simple burn can also cause several complications. It is hence imminent to seek medical attention immediately irrespective of the extent of the burn.


  1. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/pho.2010.2783
  2. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-2007-1006429