Burn Pictures: A Close Look at First, Second, and Third Degree

You've likely heard of first-, second-, and third-degree burns, but do you know how to tell the difference? It's not difficult to differentiate burns if you know what to look for. These burn pictures will show you several types of burns, so you can recognize how severe a burn is and seek proper treatment.  


First-Degree Sunburn

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Sunburned feet

Sharon E. Lowe / Getty Images

This is a good example of a first-degree sunburn. Sunburns can also become second-degree burns. The differences depends on the depth of the burn, or the thickness of the skin that was injured. If only the surface of the skin, or top layer, was burned, it's called a first-degree burn.

Signs of first-degree burns include:

  • Red
  • Hot to the touch
  • Irritated
  • Dry
  • No blisters or bubbles

First-degree burns don't blister. Blistering is a sign that the burn got deep enough to injure the second layer of skin. When that happens, the skin layers start to separate, which leads to blistering.


Second-Degree Burn With Swelling

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Second-degree burns on male back caused by heat

Getty Images

Blisters are the most common sign of a second-degree burn. Most symptoms of a second-degree burn are similar to first-degree burns. However, second-degree burns will also have:

  • Blisters
  • Severe pain
  • Sloughing, or when the top layer of skin falls away
  • Swelling
  • Weeping fluid, or fluid that oozes out

A second-degree burn is considered severe when it can potentially cause a loss of function in the the part of the body burned. When emergency healthcare providers determine the severity of a burn, they look to determine the extent of the body burned.

Second-degree burns that involve the face, hands, feet, genitalia, or major joints are considered severe and require immediate attention.

A swollen, second-degree burn that goes all the way around an arm or leg can also put pressure on nerve cells and restrict blood flow to other parts of the body that aren't even involved in the burned area. This is known as compartment syndrome.

In the worst-case scenario, compartment syndrome can cause tissue to die and give off toxins that increase the overall damage. If left untreated, this can lead to amputation, or worse, fatality.


Second-Degree Burn with Sloughing

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Second-degree burn on hand with sloughing

 Tim Ballantine / Flickr

Deep second-degree burns will eventually shed the top layer of skin. This is called sloughing.

Second-degree burns can develop over time if not treated promptly. Skin tissue continues to burn even after the heat source is gone. It's similar to how steak continues to cook when taken off the grill. If you want the skin to stop burning, you'll have to actively cool it down.

Place the burn area under cool running water to stop the burning process. Then, flush the area with water for 20 minutes to return the tissues to their normal temperature.


Second-Degree Road Rash

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Second-degree road rash burn


ftwitty / Getty Images 

Abrasions, typically caused by a fall or crash onto a hard surface, are often called "road rash" or "friction burns." This one is pretty severe. You can also get friction burns from things like rugs ("rug burns") or ropes ("rope burns").

Signs of second-degree road rash include:

  • Jagged, torn top layer of skin
  • Raw dermis, or the inner layers of skin
  • Possibly oozing blood
  • Weeping fluid, or fluid leaking from the burn

Since burns are essentially just damage to the outermost layers of skin, called the epidermis, road rash treatment and burn treatment are very similar.


Deep Second-Degree Burn

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Deep second degree burn

Kathryn Harper / Flickr

It's easy to identify a first-degree burn: The skin is red. In a second-degree burn, blisters develop. Third-degree burns are more difficult to determine. You'll likely need a professional burn unit to make the call.

In the picture above, the deep second-degree burn was caused when an oven door sprung back up before the person was able to get their arm out.

For a burn to be considered third degree, the damage has to have completely destroyed all the layers of skin and reached the fatty tissue underneath. There's just no way to tell that outside of a hospital.

If the skin is not intact, treatment is also essential to prevent bacteria from entering into the wound.


Third-Degree Burn on Foot

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Eight day old third degree burn on arch of foot caused by motorcycle muffler.

Craig0927 / Wikimedia Commons

This picture is a third-degree burn caused by a hot motorcycle muffler. The photo was taken at the doctor's office about a week after the burn happened.

This one is a third-degree burn because the muffler burned the skin on the arch of the foot all the way through the inner layers of the skin and into the subcutaneous tissue beneath, or the layer of tissue underneath the skin.

Signs of a third-degree burn include:

  • Black center area
  • Dry burn
  • Surrounded by second-degree burned skin


First-, second-, and third-degree burns all have unique symptoms. The severity of a burn is usually determined by how far it goes into the layers of the skin and the area of the body it covers.

First-degree burns don't blister and only involve the top layer of the skin. Second-degree burns, also called partial-thickness burns, affect the outermost layer of skin and extend to the middle skin layer below.

In a third-degree burn, the damage completely destroys the thick layer of skin and reaches the fatty tissue underneath.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to treat a first-degree, minor burn.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Burns.

  3. U.S. Department of Human and Health Services. Burn triage and treatment - Thermal injuries.

  4. Boccara D, Lavocat R, Soussi S, et al. Pressure guided surgery of compartment syndrome of the limbs in burn patientsAnn Burns Fire Disasters. 2017;30(3):193-197.

  5. Agrawal A, Raibagkar SC, Vora HJ. Friction burns: epidemiology and preventionAnn Burns Fire Disasters. 2008;21(1):3–6.

Additional Reading

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.