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Superficial Burns

The anatomy of the skin

The skin can be divided into three layers:

  • Epidermis (superficial layer)
  • Dermis
  • Subcutaneous tissues

What are the functions of the skin?

Protects the body and guards it from harmful intruders like viruses and bacteria. It is an organ for sensation:

  • Touch
  • Pain
  • Pressure

Maintain body temperature.


What is superficial burns/scald?

Superficial burns or first degree burns is the least serious type of involving burn only the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). The skin is usually red. Sometimes there is swelling and pain.


What should you do?

Assess extent of the burn. If it is limited to an area no larger than 2-3 inches in diameter take the following action.

Immediate action

Cool the burn

  • Hold the burned area under cold running water for 15 minutes. If this is impractical, immerse the burn in cold water or cool it with cold compresses
  • Cooling the burn reduces swelling by conducting heat away from the skin. Don’t put ice on the burn

Apply a lotion

  • Once the burn is completely cooled, applying an aloe Vera lotion, a triple antibiotic ointment or a moisturizer will prevent drying and make you feel more comfortable

Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage

  • Do not use fluffy cotton, which may irritate the skin
  • Wrap the gauze loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin
  • Bandaging keeps air off the area, reduces pain and protects blistered skin

Take an over-the-counter pain reliever

  • These include ibuprofen, naproxen or paracetamol
  • Minor burns usually heal in about one to two weeks without further treatment
  • Seek medical help if there are any signs of infection such as increased pain, increased redness, fever, swelling or oozing


Don’t use ice. Putting ice directly on a burn can cause further damage to the skin.

Don’t break blisters. Fluid-filled blisters protect against infection. If blisters break, wash the area with mild soap and water, then apply an antibiotic ointment and a gauze bandage. Clean and change dressings daily


See a doctor if:

Burnt area is extensive. Other structures are also involved e.g. the joints or organs like the eye, ears etc.


Last Reviewed : 27 April 2012
Content Writer : Dr. Wan Fadhilah bt. Wan Ismail
Accreditor : Dr. Nazrila Hairizan bte. Nasir
Reviewer : Dr. Samiah bt. Md. Sharif
: Dr. Wan Fadhilah bt. Wan Ismail