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As described below, burns are classified according to their depth of penetration. For the purposes of this book, you can self-treat first-degree and small second-degree burns, with caution to avoid infection and promote rapid healing. Use aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as Ibuporfen or Naproxen for pain management.

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns harm only the superficial skin layer or epidermis (A), and heal spontaneously in three to five days. The skin becomes red and tender, but no blisters form. A general example of a first-degree burn is a mild sunburn.


Topical care with aloe vera gel or moisturizing lotion may help sooth the pain. It can also help to apply ice to the affected area or immerse it in ice water.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns have penetrated to the layer of skin below the epidermis called the dermis (B). These burns will blister and cause pain.


To care for second-degree burns, use topical antibiotic creams such as Bacitracin, Neosporin, or Silvadene cream twice daily, once the blister has ruptured. Do not purposely tear the blister as it protects the wound from infection. Be sure to keep the burn wound clean and moist with antibiotic ointments or creams, and always wipe away old cream before application of new. Most smaller, second-degree burns do not require any other special considerations. Exceptions may include very large burns and wounds involving the genitals, face, joint spaces, or armpits. These burns require consultation with a doctor. Second-degree burns generally heal within 7 to 14 days.

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns have penetrated through the skin to the fat and underlying muscle or deeper ©. These wounds appear charred or pale white. They are much more complicated and require intensive treatment.


Anyone with a third-degree burn needs to be evaluated by a physician immediately.

Wound Infections

You may develop a wound infection if you do not start proper care within the first 12 hours. Penetrating wounds, those caused by human and animal bites, burns, and dirty wounds may become infected regardless of the care provided. People with impaired immunity, diabetes, or circulatory problems are also susceptible to wound infections and should always act cautiously with a significant wound.

Infections typically arise two to three days after the initial wound and are characterized by increased warmth, redness, swelling, pain, and sometimes pus drainage. If you develop what you think may be a more serious wound infection, seek immediate medical attention.

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