Symptoms of burns and scalds 

The symptoms of a burn or scald will vary depending on how serious it is. Some minor burns can be very painful, while some major burns may not hurt at all.

Symptoms of a burn may include:

  • red skin
  • peeling skin
  • blisters 
  • swelling
  • white or charred skin

The amount of pain you feel is not always related to how serious the burn is.

Your skin

Your skin is your body's largest organ. It has many functions, including acting as a barrier between you and the environment and regulating your temperature. Your skin is made up of three layers:

  • the epidermis (the outer layer of your skin) is 0.5-1.5mm thick – it has five layers of cells that work their way up to the surface of your skin, where dead cells are shed approximately every two weeks
  • the dermis (the underlying layer of fibrous tissue) is 0.3-3mm thick and is made up of a mix of three types of tissue – it contains your hair follicles and sweat glands, as well as small blood vessels and nerves
  • the subcutaneous fat, or subcutis (the final layer of fat and tissue) varies in thickness from person to person – it contains your larger blood vessels and nerves, and regulates the temperature of your skin and body

Types of burn

Burns are assessed by how seriously your skin is damaged. There are four main types of burn, which tend to have a different appearance and different symptoms:

  • superficial epidermal burns
  • superficial dermal burns
  • deep dermal or partial thickness burns
  • full thickness burns

However, in many cases different areas of a single burn will have features of more than one of these types.

Superficial epidermal burns

Superficial epidermal burns are where the epidermis is damaged. Your skin will be red, slightly swollen and painful, but not blistered.

Superficial dermal burns

Superficial dermal burns are where the epidermis and part of the dermis are damaged. Your skin will be pale pink and painful, and there may be small blisters.

Deep dermal or partial thickness burns

Deep dermal or partial thickness burns are where the epidermis and the dermis are damaged. This type of burn makes your skin turn red and blotchy. Your skin may also be dry or moist, become swollen and blistered, and it may be very painful or painless.

Full thickness burns

Full thickness burns are where all three layers of skin (the epidermis, dermis and subcutis) are damaged. In this type of burn, the skin is often burnt away and the tissue underneath may appear pale or blackened. The remaining skin will be dry and white, brown or black with no blisters. The texture of the skin may also be leathery or waxy.

Page last reviewed: 03/12/2013

Next review due: 03/12/2015