All About Third Degree Burns

Black and Charred

The black and charred areas of a 3rd degree burn are telltale signs. (c) Kim Babiak

Third degree burns destroy the skin completely. Also called a full thickness burn, the injury causes a loss of nerves. There's no feeling in the center of a full thickness burn, but around the edges, the nerves are very raw and the pain is excruciating.

Loss of skin leads to a loss of fluids. Severe second and third degree burns can cause dehydration. Skin is also a barrier to germs. The loss of skin opens the body up to infection.

After a catastrophic funnel cake accident, this reader had to have skin grafts on her foot. Skin damage requires replacing the lost tissue. Second and third degree burns are especially dangerous on hands, feet, arms, legs and face.

Partial or Full Thickness? It Doesn't Matter

Sparkler Burn
Fireworks burn from holding sparklers. William Loyd

There's a fine line between second and third degree burns. The top two layers of skin are only about 2 millimeters thick. Second degree burns extend into the dermis, the main skin layer, but not all the way through. Third degree burns go all the way to the subcutaneous tissue, the fatty layer underneath the dermis.

In practice, there's not really a way to tell whether or not a deep burn is partial thickness (2nd degree) or full thickness (3rd degree) without specialized training in burn assessment and some fancy medical equipment. More importantly, it doesn't matter. Deep burns, whether they extend all the way to the subcutaneous or not, are counted as part of a critical burn assessment.

Read more from the reader who submitted the picture.

Concentrated Heat


It's easy to get a first degree burn (redness without any blisters or loss of skin). Nearly every human being who's spent time outside in the sunshine has experienced a sunburn at least once. A bit more time lying out on the beach and second degree burns are sure to follow.

Third degree burns are much harder to come by. It takes some doing to burn all the way through the skin. A concentrated heat source will be needed. And, depending on how hot the offending object is, you'll have to spend some time with it.

Skin is naturally burn resistant; just like it's cut resistant and infection resistant. We wouldn't be a very successful species if we burned very easily. That said, we're just meat and if you leave meat over the flame long enough, you'll get a charred mess.

Hot oil, curling irons, heater coils, fire and motorcycle exhaust pipes are all examples of things that can give you a third degree burn, given enough time. The best way to avoid a third degree burn is to avoid touching or being exposed to really hot things.


3rd degree burns often lead to severe scarring. Deria

Third degree burns cause scars. First degree burns do not scar. Second degree burns might or might not cause scars. Third degree burns, on the other hand, most definitely lead to scarring.

As explained in Slide 2, third degree burns are classified as full-thickness. The skin (at least the top two layers) are completely destroyed in order to call it a third degree burn.That skin has to grow back and when it does, it won't look the same way it used to look.

Read more from the reader who submitted the picture.

Life of a Burn


Black, charred, full-thickness burns are devastating and rare. Most of the household burn injuries you might experience are not going to be this bad. However, it happens. Luckily, in the age of the internet, there are bloggers willing to share very intimate details of their lives in order to educate the rest of us.

This progression of a burn comes from an actual burn of an actual blogger. Note how much the loss of tissue affects the way her hand healed. Tissues--all tissues, not just skin--grow to close gaps. Tissues don't regenerate what was there before. If you cut (or burn) away a large chunk of flesh and/or bone, the missing parts aren't going to come back. Instead, new growth will work from the outside in until the whole injury is covered.

That's why it's extremely important to avoid injury in the first place. Modern medical treatments are amazing, but nobody has figured out an easy way to make damaged tissues look like they did pre-injury; well, at least not yet.

Read more from the blogger who submitted the picture.

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