10 Graphic Examples of Second-Degree Burns

The severity of a burn depends partly on the  degree of the burn. Second-degree burns are also known as partial thickness burns. They can look drastically different from one another, depending on how deep the burn actually goes. As long as the injury does not completely destroy the entire main skin layer (dermis) and extend into the fatty tissue below, the burn is still considered partial thickness.

Here are 10 examples of how these burns can happen, the differences, and what they look like.


Potato Gun Explosive Burn

Partial thickness burn from an unloaded potato gun
(c) Shells

An unloaded potato gun (meaning it was potatoless) gave this person a partial thickness burn. The potato gun used hairspray as the explosive agent that was meant to propel the potato. Hairspray is flammable.


Scalding Hot Water

Scalding hot water spilled onto this reader's hand, causing blisters consistent with 2nd degree burns
(c) Nordyke

This photo shows a second-degree burn from the scalding hot water. The patient said she was carrying a pot of boiling water and one side of the pot slipped, spilling the water on her left hand.

Scalds are burns from hot liquids. They are almost never full thickness (third degree) burns, but they do blister quickly.

Unfortunately, as this person discovered, a doctor can easily misdiagnose the severity of smaller second-degree burns. The patient visited an urgent care clinic, was bandaged, and had a clear-looking cream applied to the burn. However, she later had to go to the emergency room with signs of infection.


Heat Pack Burn

Second degree burn from a reusable heat pack
(c) nise, a reader

A reusable chemical hot/cold pack bought at a pharmacy caused this burn to the neck. The patient put the pack in the microwave for 10 seconds, even though the instructions said to heat it for 30 seconds.

There were never any blisters, which is common. Blisters indicate that the epidermis is completely damaged and is pulling away from the dermis. Sometimes, the epidermis is completely destroyed and is no longer present, which means there won't be blisters.

It's easy to get complacent when using over-the-counter medications and medical devices and think they will always be safe to use. This is a reminder that seemingly innocuous items can cause harm, even when used according to the instructions.

The next picture shows the burn after five weeks of healing.


Heat Pack Five Weeks Later

Healing 2nd degree burn
(c) nise, reader

After sustaining a burn from a reusable heat pack, the patient treated the injury with lidocaine, which is used to numb the skin. This picture shows how the burn looks five weeks after the injury. It's healing nicely, but despite the lidocaine, the patient said it still hurts substantially.


Exploding Wax

Hot wax under a faucet exploded, causing these burns
(c) cmoore, reader

Burn injuries can happen in ways that are easy to picture happening to you. This patient was burned when hot wax from a candle exploded and covered her hand.

Covered in blisters, this is most definitely a second-degree burn. Burns of the hand is even worse because the damaged tissues can lead to a loss of hand function.


Hot Iron Blister

Steam and hot water from an iron caused this large blister
(c) Cheryl H, reader

After burning herself with the steam and hot water from a household iron, this patient has a giant blister on her pinky finger.

Blisters form in second-degree burns because the dermis (second and main layer of skin) has been damaged and begins to swell. The swelling causes fluid to build up between the dermis and the epidermis (top layer of skin).

The epidermis doesn't always remain after a second-degree burn.


Out of the Frying Pan

Hot Oil Burn
(c) Sarah, reader

While cooking over a campfire, this patient managed to drip a bit of very hot oil onto her knee, resulting in a second-degree burn.

Notice that the top layer of skin (epidermis) is completely missing. In the last picture, a giant blister shows how the two layers can separate. In this case, the epidermis has either been destroyed or fell off. In the next picture, you'll see how the epidermis falls away after a burn in a process called sloughing (pronounced sluffing).



(c) Shelley Saunders, reader

Once the blisters have popped (or in the case of a giant blister, more like torn) the epidermis begins to fall away. As this top layer comes off, it's known as sloughing (pronounced sluffing).

This burn resulted from spilling boiling hot water from a pot of pasta onto the cook's foot.


Sunburns can be Second Degree, Too

Second Degree Sunburn
(c) jayjay, reader

This patient was in the sun too long. It's often thought that sunburns can't be severe. In reality, sunburns can be bad enough to kill, albeit that's rare.

Notice the odd pattern of blisters as compared to earlier pictures of blisters from hot liquids or appliances. When the sun is the culprit, the blisters are small and numerous.


Friction Burn

Friction Burn
(c) DawnH, reader

Technically, a friction burn is really an abrasion. However, the loss of epidermis and the damage to the dermis underneath makes this exactly the same as any other type of second-degree burn.

Partial thickness burns are bad because of the loss of the epidermis. That damage can lead to infection or loss of heat. When determining the severity of the injury, the same process is used for abrasions as it is for thermal burns.

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