Most burns fall into one of three categories: first-, second-, or third-degree burns. Knowing the difference will help you know how to respond. If you've got a third-degree burn, you'll know it right away; however, first- and second-degree burns can be a little harder to peg. Here's how to tell the three types apart.
First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of skin, known as the epidermis. Often, they produce swelling, pain and redness. This type of burn should be considered minor unless it covers a major joint or a large portion of the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks [source: Mayo Clinic]. Most first-degree burns heal in about a week or less.
Second-degree burns can be intensely painful. As with first-degree burns, they are recognizable by swelling and redness, but they also produce blisters and can cause the skin around the burn to turn white when pressed. Second-degree burns penetrate the epidermis and the layer of skin underneath it, known as the dermis, which can allow the burns to affect sweat glands and hair follicles, depending on how deep the damage goes [source: WebMD]. Second-degree burns can take several weeks to heal.
Third-degree burns are the most serious because they affect all the layers of skin, and they often cause permanent tissue and nerve damage, which can cause the injury to be relatively painless. Skin burned this badly can look white, black or brown, and it will not heal without extensive scarring.
Not all burns are caused by flames. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of burns.