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Frequently Asked Questions

How to treat burns and scalds

The NHS treatment of burns and scalds can be found here:

What is the right First aid for burns and scalds

First aid advice is available on our First Aid Page

How do burns affect the skin?

Our skin is the largest organ of our body and has several purposes.  Amongst these, it controls our temperature and helps to prevention infection.  The skin has 2 layers called the epidermis and the dermis and when not scarred it is flexible and elastic. When the skin is burnt it can literally peel away due to the heat damage. Loss of skin can be very painful, even with small or superficial burns which expose the nerve endings in the dermis layer. Deeper burns are often less painful than superficial burns.


How long does it take for burns to heal?

This depends on the depth of the burn.

Burns involving the epidermis and a little part of the dermis may heal within 2-3 weeks with the correct treatment and leave little or no mark or scar.

Burns that are deeper involving all of the dermis layer will only heal from the edge of the wound, and depending on the size of the burn can take weeks or months to heal.  Having a skin graft will shorten the healing time.

A deeper burn will leave a scar or a mark (with or without a skin graft).

What long term problems occur following a burn injury?

All burn injuries are individual.

Deep burns can lead to scarring, itching, pain and the skin is generally less elastic. A scar over a joint might contract over time and cause some changes to the range of mobility in that joint.

The area that was burnt and any donor areas used for skin grafts will become sensitive to the sun.

Disfigurement and altered body image can affect some burn survivors.

What is the difference between a Superficial (1st degree), Partial Thickness (2nd degree) or Full thickness (3rd degree) burn?

Superficial (1st degree)

The burn only affects the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis)

The skin will appear very red in white skin tones or darker in black skin tones, swollen, and small blisters might be present (this burn is like a bad sunburn)

This depth of burn usually heals within 5-7 days.

Partial Thickness (2nd degree)

Both the outer layer (epidermis) and deeper layer (dermis) are affected by the burn.

Blistering, swelling, peeling of the skin, and the appearance of clear fluid are likely to be seen. This type of burn can be very painful as the nerve endings in the dermis are exposed.

This depth of burn usually heals within 2 weeks.  If healing takes longer a scar or mark is more likely to be seen.

Full Thickness (3rd degree)

Both layers of the skin (epidermis and dermis) are totally destroyed, and other deeper tissue layers might also be affected; fat, muscle, tendons, bone.

The burn will appear white or charred black.

Pain is less common in deeper burns as the nerve endings are destroyed but might be painful at the edge of the burn where it just affects the superficial layer of skin.

A skin grafts and other types of surgery are usually needed to speed up healing. A scar or mark will be left by this depth of burn.

(1st, 2nd, 3rd degree burn terminology is American and not usually referred to by burn care professionals in the UK who describe burns by their depth to the skin layers)

What is a skin graft?

A skin graft can be partial thickness or full thickness.

In partical thickness skin grafts, sheets of skin containing epidermis and a small amount of dermis are taken (harvested) by specials machines called dermatones.  The area where the skin is taken from is called the donor area and heals wihtin about 10days (like a partial thickness burn).  It can be reused once it has healed.  A partical thickness skin graft does not always retain its elasticity and may contract over time as the scar matures.

A full thickness skin graft involves taking the epidermis and dermis and is usually closed surgically, so limits the size of the full thickness graft that can be taken. The benefit of a full thickness graft is that if often retains its elasticity and is less likely to contract.

Where can I get support and more information about burn injuries?

Talk to your GP or if your child has been admitted to a burns service speak to any member of staff to request more information.

Chat to other parents and carers on the Children’s Burns Trust closed parent Facebook group.

Other online resources that might be helpful include;

How can I protect my child in the sun?

We would advise the following general principles;

  • Avoid the sun between 10.00 -16.00 in the UK when the UV rays are at their highest.
  • Minimise exposure to the sun if you are out and about by finding the shade (under a tree, parasol, shady part of the street)
  • Select clothing that covers the area of burn if possible
  • UV clothing and swimming suits are recommended to cover burns on the body if you are going on holiday or are likely to be in the sun during the hottest part of the day
  • Select a hat to shade the face and neck
  • Select a sun cream with SPF 50 plus or a sun block. Apply regularly throughout the day and after always after swimming.
  • Speak to your GP if you are concerned about protecting your child’s burn from the sun.

A burn injury is for life

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