What is a second-degree burn?

Dr. Stuart A. Linder, MD
Plastic Surgeon

A second-degree burn normally involves both the outer epidermis and the superficial dermal layer. These burns will often blister and can be very painful. Treatment may include debridement with Silvadene or Sulfamylon dressing changes daily. Infected second-degree burns may become full-thickness or third degree. If in any doubt, consult with a burn surgeon at a qualified burn unit for management.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

A second-degree burn is one that damages the top two layers of skin: the outer layer, known as the epidermis, and the layer beneath it, called the dermis. Burns can be caused by heat, sunlight, chemicals, electricity, or nuclear radiation. A second-degree burn is quite painful. Skin may blister, become swollen, and appear red and blotchy. Second-degree burns must be gently cleaned and dressed daily. Consult your doctor, who will likely prescribe an ointment to apply. Blisters should not be punctured.

With a second-degree burn, the first layer of skin (the epidermis) and the second layer of skin (the dermis) are both burned. During the burning process, blisters develop on top of the bright red skin, and you will feel swelling, heat and severe pain.

If a second-degree burn is small in size, it can be managed with home care and be treated as a minor burn. But if the second-degree burn covers a larger part of the body, it needs immediate medical attention to avoid further problems with infection or scarring.

Sometimes blisters do not appear immediately but may appear 12 hours after the burn occurs. Some sunburns are second-degree burns and can cause initial scarring. If a second-degree burn extends into deeper layers of the dermis, the doctor may recommend excision and grafting during the healing process.

There are three primary types of burns: first, second, and third degree burns. Each degree of burn is based on the severity of damage to the skin.

Second degree burns are also referred to as partial thickness burns. These burns are more serious because the damage extends beyond the top layer of skin; with second degree burns, the epidermis and a portion of the dermis is affected. The burn causes the skin to blister; it then becomes red, weepy, and is very painful. Due to the delicate nature of second degree burns, frequent bandaging and antibiotic ointment is required to prevent the wound from becoming infected. Superficial second degree burns heal within two to three weeks. In some severe cases, skin grafting is required to surgically repair the burned skin damage.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.