Burns are skin damages sustained as a result of contact with a hot surface, flame or other substance such as boiling water or excessive exposure to the sun. Burns can also be caused by exposure to high levels of electric current or by chemicals.

The term 'burn' doesn't just relate to the burning sensation that occurs with this injury, burns cause skin cells to die which leads to severe skin damage. Learn about the different degrees of burns and the best method for treating burns.

What are the degrees of burns?

Burns are classified as first-, second-, third-, or fourth-degree, depending on how deeply the skin’s surface is penetrated. Knowing how to treat burns is vital because the different categories of burns each require their own treatment.

First-degree burns

First-degree burns are typically superficial skin damages that do not exceed the top layer of skin. First-degree burns can be painful but, in most cases, easily treated at home. They are often characterised by pain, redness, slight swelling and dryness but without blisters.
Illustration of a first degree burn damaging skin
First-degree burns can usually be treated at home

Second-degree burns

Second-degree burns can be extremely painful and create more serious skin damage as they include the epidermis and part of the underlying dermis. The burned area is red, swollen and blistered and may become infected if not properly cared for. These burns can often be treated with basic first aid but depending on their location or size may also require medical attention.

Illustration of a second degree burn damaging skin
Second-degree burns cause more damage to the skin and sometimes require medical attention

Third-degree burns

Third-degree burns are extremely serious and cause severe damage to deeper layers of the skin. They are characterised by a whitened or charred burn site with no sensation in the area due to destroyed nerve endings. Third-degree burns are emergency situations and immediate medical attention should be sought.

Fourth-degree burns

As the most severe type of burn, fourth-degree burns penetrate both layers of skin, the underlying tissue and the deeper tissue. Fourth-degree burns can involve the muscle and bone, sometimes resulting in a loss of feeling if the nerve endings are destroyed.

Just like any other wound, burns can become infected. Learn how to monitor signs of an infected wound or burn.
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Treating burns

You can easily get burned, and chances are that whether it is from fire, a domestic heat source or even a curling iron, it will happen as fast as lightning and take you by surprise.

Treating burns and scalds using Elastoplast products will help your skin return to a healthy and unimpaired state. Read on for our step-by-step guide for treating first-degree and second-degree burns.

Treating first-degree burns

Typically, first-degree burns recover on their own and do not require special treatment. 

  • Cool the affected area under running water to relieve the pain.
  • Apply Elastoplast Wound Healing Ointment.
  • If you have a sunburn, wear loose-fitting clothing for a few days.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
woman treating sunburn on shoulder
Sunburn is a common form of first-degree burn

Treating second-degree burns

Second-degree burns can be more serious and thus require more care than first-degree burns.

  • Move away from the heat source and secure the danger area first. Switch off electrical appliances, fight flames or remove the source before treating the burn.
  • Don't remove anything stuck to the skin, such as clothing.
  • Cool the wound under running water for 10 to 15 minutes. Cooling the burn with water is known to relieve pain and reduce swelling, as well as preventing blisters.
  • Do not apply ice or extremely cold water as it could create further damage and lower the body’s temperature. Ice burns occur when ice or other extremely cold objects contact and damage the skin tissue.
  • Use the Elastoplast Wound Spray to clean from bacteria to prevent infections.
  • Gently dry the affected area and apply a thin layer of Elastoplast Wound Healing Ointment to support the healing process.
  • Cover your burn with an appropriate plaster or a sterile compress to protect it from external influences.

Many second-degree burns will heal within a week or two if kept clean and cared for. If it’s a severe third-degree burn, caused by chemicals or larger areas are affected, you need instant medical attention.

Never put fat or butter onto a burn. When in doubt, seek medical advice.

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Should you cover a burn or let it breathe?

If you should suffer a burn, follow the steps above and keep your wound covered so that it will have ideal moist wound healing conditions. Keep the burn loosely covered with a clean bandage, dressing or gauze pad.

How long should you keep a burn covered?

This depends on how fast the burn heals. Change the dressing daily and check the burn for signs of infection. If the burn is healing well after a few days, dressing changes may only be needed every three to five days.

Dressings should be changed immediately if the wound starts to smell or become painful. Seek medical assistance if the burn hasn't healed within two weeks.
person covering a burn
Check the burn for signs of infection when changing dressings

How to treat a burn blister

Wondering what to do with a burn blister? If a blister should appear, leave it alone and do not open its protective roof. Though burn blisters can be uncomfortable and unsightly, they act as the body's natural barrier to protect the underlying burnt skin from infection.

Can I put a plaster on a burn blister?
Yes, if a burn blister has developed you can cover this with a loose dressing or plaster. However, be careful not to pop your burn blister because this helps prevent infection. If the blister does break, then clean the area carefully with Elastoplast Wound Spray.
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Preventing burns

Fortunately, many burns can be prevented. Most of them happen in the heart of the home – the kitchen. These simple tips can protect you and your family:

  • Always stay in the kitchen while food is cooking. Don’t get distracted by phone calls, someone calling from another room, etc.
  • Wear protective oven gloves when taking something out of a hot oven.
  • Turn pot and pan handles toward the back or centre of the oven so that they cannot be knocked over, because steam can easily scald your wrists and hands.
  • Place hot liquids like soup, coffee or tea away from the edges of worktops and tables so that children cannot tip them over.
  • Keep items such as dish towels, plastic bags, and long sleeves away from the heating surface.Never cook while holding a child or pet.
  • Keep small children and pets away from the front of the oven.
  • Never warm baby bottles in the microwave; they may heat unevenly and can burn your baby’s mouth.
  • Place a fire extinguisher in or near the kitchen.
  • Test smoke detectors once a month.

Learn more about safety in the kitchen.

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Always see a doctor if the wound is deep, bleeds heavily or shows signs of infection like reddening, swelling or warmth. Please note that, although they were compiled with great care, the tips and advice given on this website by no means substitute medical advice and treatment. If you have or suspect a health problem, consult a doctor and follow medical advice, regardless of what you have learned on this website. Always read carefully and follow the instructions for use or the leaflets of our products.

For further information about Elastoplast products, please contact us at consumer.relations.uk@beiersdorf.com