BACKGROUND:An acute burn wound is a complex and evolving injury. Extensive burns produce, in addition to local tissue damage, systemic consequences. Treatment of partial thickness burn wounds is directed towards promoting healing, and a wide variety of dressings is currently available. Improvements in technology and advances in understanding of wound healing have driven the development of new dressings. Dressing selection should be based on their effects of healing, but ease of application and removal, dressing change requirements, cost and patient comfort should also be considered. OBJECTIVES:To assess the effects of burn wound dressings for superficial and partial thickness burns. SEARCH STRATEGY:We searched the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register (Searched 29/5/08); The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) - The Cochrane Library Issue 2 2008; Ovid MEDLINE - 1950 to May Week 3 2008; Ovid EMBASE - 1980 to 2008 Week 21 and Ovid CINAHL - 1982 to May Week 4 2008. SELECTION CRITERIA:All randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated the effects of burn wound dressings for superficial and partial thickness burns. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS:Two authors using standardised forms extracted the data independently. Each trial was assessed for internal validity with differences resolved by discussion. MAIN RESULTS:A total of 26 RCTs are included in this review and most were methodologically poor. A number of dressings appear to have some benefit over other products in the management of superficial and partial thickness burns. This benefit relates to time to wound healing, the number of dressing changes and the level of pain experienced. The use of biosynthetic dressings is associated with a decrease in time to healing and reduction in pain during dressing changes. The use of silver sulphadiazine (SSD) as a comparator on burn wounds for the full duration of treatment needs to be reconsidered, as a number of studies showed delays in time to wound healing and increased number of dressing applications in patients treated with SSD dressings. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS:There is a paucity of high quality RCTs on dressings for superficial and partial thickness burn injury. The studies summarised in this review evaluated a variety of interventions, comparators and clinical endpoints. Despite some potentially positive findings, the evidence, which largely derives from trials with methodological shortcomings, is of limited usefulness in aiding clinicians in choosing suitable treatments.