First-degree burns damage the outer layer of skin, leaving a red and painful area at the burn site. Second-degree burns harm both the outer and inner skin layers. These painful burns can include swelling and oozing blisters. Third-degree burns, characterized by charred skin that turns white or creamy in color, need a physician's care. You can treat most first- and second-degree burns at home.
Rinse the burned area with cold water for 15 to 30 minutes until the pain subsides. If clothing is stuck to the burned area, run cold water directly over the clothing and see a doctor to remove the material. Before flushing a chemical burn, read the label of the product that caused the burn, as water can make some chemical burns worse.
Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen.
Cool down the burn with a room fan if the pain remains after the first 30 minutes of applying cold water and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. Aim the fan directly at the damaged area of your skin.
Wash any blisters that pop open on their own with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment.
Cleanse the burned skin gently with soap and water or a Betadine solution once per day after 24 hours elapses to help the injured skin heal. Keep the area covered with dry, clean gauze between washings. Do not use adhesive-type bandages.
Apply an over-the-counter sunburn cooling spray like Solarcaine to treat burns resulting from too much sun.
Apply an over-the-counter lotion containing aloe, or even better, break off a leaf of the aloe plant and peel back the outer leaf layer, rubbing the gel-like sap on the injury. Place the unused portion of the aloe leaf in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator to repeat as needed.
Smear on an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment containing polymyxin B sulfate or bacitracin ingredients. This will ward off infections and speed up the healing process.
Break open a Vitamin E capsule, as the damaged skin is starting to heal, and drip the oil over the burned area. This will help prevent scarring.
Any large burn (more than 3 inches in diameter), or any burn worse than second-degree, must be attended to by a physician. See a doctor, also, if the burned area is on the face, pelvic or pubic area, or in the eyes.
Do not pop blisters that can appear with second-degree burns.
Do not apply butter to burns. Butter will actually hold the heat in the burnt area of the skin, making the injury worse.
- MayoClinic: Burns: First Aid
- "The Doctors Book of Home Remedies"; Editors of Prevention Magazine; 1990
- "Dr. Koop's Self-Care Advisor"; C. Everett Koop, M.D.; 1996