Overview: What is a burn?

The information in this section has been gathered from existing peer-reviewed and other literature and has been reviewed by expert dermatologists on the CSPA Medical Advisory Board.

A burn is a type of skin injury that occurs when the skin or other tissue is damaged by coming in contact with:

  • Chemicals, such as acids or alkalis (pronounced al-ka-lies)
  • Very hot surfaces, liquids, foods, air or steam
  • Fire
  • Radiation, such as overexposure to x-rays and sunlight
  • Electricity
  • Hard surfaces, causing a friction burn

Although the skin is usually the area that is burned, the tissues underneath and internal organs can also be affected. Health-care professionals determine the severity of a burn based on how deep it goes and how much of the body it covers: the deeper and more widespread a burn is, the more serious it is. Burns are generally categorized as first, second, third or fourth degree. Many burns are superficial and, although painful, heal quickly and easily. However, very severe burns can be life-threatening and cause significant scarring.