Some of the Types of Burns That You Can Get 

Burns are a painful, and at times confronting experience. In this article, we cover the different types of burns you can get - and what to do for each. 

The different types of burns you can get.  

Short answer: there are three main different types of burns - ranging from mild to severe. 

  • They are first, second and third degree burns. Also called superficial, partial thickness and full thickness burns. 
  • Mild burns may not require medical attention. Severe burns such as a second and especially third degree should be evaluated. 
  • For a third degree burn you should seek immediate medical attention. 
  • There are many different causes of burns including hot water, electricity, fire and chemicals. 

Descriptions of the Different Types of Burns 

Burns vary in severity - essentially from mild to severe.

There are three main different types of burns.

In addition to the names below, they may also be referred to as first, second and third degree burns.

  • Severe burns are likely to require medical attention and may not be sufficiently treated by first aid. 
  • Some types of burns can be very serious, and an ambulance should be called immediately in the case of sustaining a critical burn. 

The different burn levels are outlined below: 

  • Superficial (first degree) burns 
  • Only the first level of skin is affected by this type of burn.

    The skin may become red and mild pain may be experienced, but no blisters will form.

  • Partial thickness (second degree) burns
  • A second degree partial thickness burn is the mid category in burn severity.

    In this type of burn, both the first and second layer of skin will be affected.

    The pain is severer than a first degree burn and may be quite intense.

    Symptoms include formation of blisters, very red or peeling skin, and possible swelling.

  • Full thickness (third degree) burns 
  • This is the final and most severe type of burn.

    Third degree burns require urgent medical attention.

    Both the first and second layers of the skin will be affected just like a second degree burn, but this type of burn also affects the tissue beneath the skin.

    In severe cases, it may even go as far as to damage muscle or bone.

    The skin can have a white or charred blackish colour, and you may be able to view white fatty tissue appearance.

    Due to nerve damage you may become numb in the area - so the burn may be near or entirely painless.

    (However, if there are any second degree burns alongside - you will feel them as above, and they may be very painful).

When you may require treatment in a specialised burn unit: 

If the burn covers the surface area of over 10% of the total body, you may be admitted to a specialised burns unit to receive treatment.

Possible burn complications:

Severe burns especially may come with complications.

These include:

  • Fluid loss 
  • Infection (which can lead to sepsis if untreated, a severe condition). 
  • Shock (due to pain/low body temperature) 
  • Surgery requirements 
  • Scarring
  • For very severe burns, long term nerve/ joint or muscle damage (third degree deep burns). 

All burns that are open wounds carry infection risk, and must be tended to until they heal. 

What are the Causes of Burns? 

There are a variety of ways in which a person may get burnt. Generally many burns occur due to a heat related application, but burns can also happen due to other types of scenarios (for instance chemical exposure).

Some of the most common burn causes are: 

  • Fire, heat or flame related burns 
  • Items may include hair straighteners, stoves, flat irons, or coals/burning wood etc. 

  • Exposure to UV radiation. This may include the sun rays. 
  • Very hot or scalding liquids (such as boiling water) 
  • Examples include:

    Hot drinks (like coffee), hot water bottles, boiling water OR steam from the kettle, or tap water from the bathroom/sink.

  • Electrical burns (such as electrical malfunctions for example) 
  • Lightning burns (a less common occurrence) 
  • Some types of chemical agents or substances 
  • Chemical burns may occur from spilt chemicals, like bleach, concrete or harsh cleaning/acid agents.

    This can include battery acid too.


How to Give First Aid for Various Types of Burns 

First degree burns can generally be managed using first aid, and may not require any in-depth medical attention.

For a second or third degree burn, regardless of administering first aid it is generally advisable to have your burn checked.

Second degree burns may be manageable, but you should not rely on first aid for a third degree burn.

Severe burns: 

You should ring an ambulance or visit the emergency room, because medical assistance may be necessary.

In severe cases, third degree burns may even require skin graft surgery.

Basic first aid steps for burns: 

  • Before proceeding with the steps, ensure that nobody is exposed to danger (including the person/people assisting, if any). 
  • Make sure your hands are clean. 

  • Apply cool or lukewarm water to the burn. You can do this for about 20 minutes, using running water if accessible. Otherwise, apply water using a cloth or such. 
  • Do not use very cold water, simply cool or moderately neutral.

    Note: if the burn was caused by chemicals, they will need to be washed off adequately.

    • Aim to do this for at least 20 minutes. 
    • If they are dry powder, brush the chemicals off prior to water application.  
  • Do not apply any ice. Keep the person warm (you can use blankets/cover them) but do not cover the burn with anything directly. 
  • Note also: You can remove clothing from the area around the burn, but do not remove any clothing that is directly stuck to it (wedded to the burn). 

  • For mild burns such as a first degree, you will need to cover and dress the wound to prevent infection.  
  • You can do this by: 

    • Ensuring the wound is clean. Disinfect it and/or apply some antibiotic ointment. 
    • Note: you should not apply anything on severe burns, instead immediately seek treatment.

      Simply apply cold water and ring an ambulance.

    • You can also apply some burn aid gel or aloe vera. There are many different types of burn aid ointments. 
    • It is very important to keep the wound moist and covered to promote healing.

      An antibiotic or antiseptic ointment will help with preventing infection.

      Note: do not use any creams or oil/grease based substances.

  • Cover the wound with non adhesive sterile pads. Secure with tape. 
    • Do not use anything that will stick to the area directly or irritate the location. 
    • Don’t use any fluffy materials either, to prevent anything entering the wound. 
    • Do not pop any blisters, let them do so naturally and keep the burn covered. 
  • Change the burn dressing periodically. 
  • The length that the dressing lasts will depend on what type of dressing is being used.

    Burn management:

    After first aid has been completed, certain management strategies may be taken to help with the healing process.

    These include:

    • Painkillers for pain management 
    • Regular covering and dressing of the burn
    • Natural/home remedies (see our natural burn remedies article) 
    • Medical attention or hospital admission (for severe cases) 

How Can I Prevent the Various Types of Burns? 

Depending on the different types of burns you can get, there are various safety/preventative strategies you can apply. 

  • Be careful when handling hot or boiling water. 
  • Try to keep (when non essential) water to below 50° to prevent scalding. 

  • Avoid exposure (especially for long periods) to UV radiation. This includes the sun. 
  • Do not remain in the hot or scorching sun for long periods of time. Seek shelter if so.

    This can cause quite severe sunburn, and in some cases it may require treatment.

    Try to use a protective sun cream application, and wear proper clothing such as wide hats if being exposed to the sun.

  • When handling dangerous chemicals, be highly vigilant and wear protective clothing/gloves (PPE). 
  • Be careful around electrical items. 
  • Unplug them when not in use.

    Never combine electricity with water.

  • Avoid exposure to flames and keep a fire extinguisher on hand. 
  • Keep a smoke detector in your home.

    Turn pots inward when they are on the stove.

    Avoid handling very hot or boiling food directly.

Adhesive Pads

Related Questions:

Can sunburn count as a burn? 

Yes. Severe sunburn can be as severe as a second degree burn in some cases. Long-term exposure to UV radiation can cause burns. 

Can I use any home remedies to treat my burn? 

For non-severe burns, there are certain natural remedies that may help facilitate healing. Try raw honey or aloe vera. Feel free to refer to our natural remedies for burns article. 


Burns come in varying degrees from mild to severe.

When sustaining a burn, be sure to follow the first aid instructions listed here for the different types of burns you can get.

Prompt treatment will help to speed healing.

If you are severely burnt, seek urgent medical attention.

Continue to tend to the burn until it heals.


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