Burns are damage to the skin caused by heat or chemicals. Injuries caused by hot liquids or steam are called scalds.
Burns can cause:
- Red and/or peeling skin
- White/charred skin
The pain you feel may not reflect the seriousness of the burn. In some cases, severe burns cause little or no pain.
Many burns heal with minimal scarring, but deeper wounds can cause lifelong scars. This can cause emotional and psychological impacts such as low confidence and self-esteem – but help is available to help you overcome these challenges. On this page, we discuss burns and how they are treated, and explore the support that is available to help you with the impact of scarring from burns.
- You may wish to read this page alongside our page on scarring.
- If you have experienced burns as a result of military combat, you may be interested in our page for veterans, which has information especially for ex-service personnel.
The skin is made up of three layers:
- Epidermis, the outer layer.
- Dermis, the layer of tissue just underneath.
- Subcutaneous fat, a deeper layer of fat and tissue.
Broadly speaking, the seriousness of a burn is linked to its depth. There are five types of burn, linked to different depths of the skin.
We have included some information about how the wound may feel to the touch to help you identify the type of burn, however you should avoid touching the burn unless necessary.
Superficial epidermal burn
These minor burns involve damage to the epidermis. They do not cause blistering so may not feel any different in texture to the surrounding skin.
Superficial dermal burn
These burns involve damage to the epidermis and also some damage to the dermis. They become pink and painful and small blisters may appear. They tend to heal within seven days.
Both types of superficial burn are also known as “first degree burns”.
Deep dermal / partial thickness burn
Both the epidermis and dermis are damaged. Skin becomes red, blotchy, swollen and blistered, and may be dry or moist. The wound may be very painful or painless.
The burn may feel dry, moist, swollen or blistered when touched.
These are also known as second degree burns.
Full thickness burn
All three layers are damaged. The skin is burnt away and the tissue underneath appears pale or blackened. Any remaining skin may be dry with no blisters, and have a leathery or waxy texture. It may appear white, brown or black in colour.
Full thickness burns are also known as third degree burns.
Fourth degree burns
This is the most serious type of burn, affecting bone and muscle as well as all skin layers. All nerve endings are destroyed, meaning that there is no feeling in the area affected by a fourth degree burn.
Burns can also be classified by cause:
- Chemical: Caused when chemicals such as acids, alkalis and solvents come into contact with the skin.
- Electrical: Caused by contact with an electrical current.
- Radiation: Caused by prolonged exposure to sources of radiation, such as sunlight or X-rays.
- Thermal: Caused by exposure to heat sources such as flames, hot water, steam and hot materials.