You can care for minor burns at home with simple first aid. There are different levels of burns.
First-degree burns are only on the top layer of the skin. The skin can:
- Turn red
- Be painful
Second-degree burns go one layer deeper than first-degree burns. The skin will:
- Turn red
- Usually swell
- Usually be painful
Treat a burn like a major burn (call your doctor) if it is:
- From a fire, an electrical wire or socket, or chemicals
- Larger than 2 inches (5 centimeters)
- On the hand, foot, face, groin, buttocks, hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or wrist
First aid for Minor Burns
First, calm and reassure the person who is burned.
If clothing is not stuck to the burn, remove it. If the burn is caused by chemicals, take off all clothes that have the chemical on them.
Cool the burn:
- Use cool water, not ice. The extreme cold from ice can injure the tissue even more.
- If possible, particularly if the burn is caused by chemicals, hold the burned skin under cool running water for 10 to 15 minutes until it does not hurt as much. Use a sink, shower, or garden hose.
- If this is not possible, put a cool, clean wet cloth on the burn, or soak the burn in a cool water bath for 5 minutes.
Caring for Burns
After the burn is cooled, make sure it is a minor burn. If it is deeper, larger, or on the hand, foot, face, groin, buttocks, hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or wrist, seek medical care right away.
If it is a minor burn:
- Clean the burn gently with soap and water.
- DO NOT break blisters. An opened blister can get infected.
- You may put a thin layer of ointment, such as petroleum jelly or aloe vera, on the burn. The ointment does not need to have antibiotics in it. Some antibiotic ointments can cause an allergic reaction. DO NOT use cream, lotion, oil, cortisone, butter, or egg white.
- If needed, protect the burn from rubbing and pressure with a sterile non-stick gauze (petrolatum or Adaptic-type) lightly taped or wrapped over it. DO NOT use a dressing that can shed fibers, because they can get caught in the burn. Change the dressing once a day.
- For pain, take an over-the-counter pain medicine. These include acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), naproxen (such as Aleve), and aspirin. Follow the directions on the bottle. DO NOT give aspirin to children under age 2 years, or anyone 18 or younger who has or is recovering from chickenpox or flu symptoms.
What to Expect
Minor burns could take up to 3 weeks to heal.
A burn can itch as it heals. DO NOT scratch it.
The deeper the burn, the more likely it is to scar. If the burn appears to be developing a scar, call your health care provider for advice.
When to Call the Doctor
Burns are susceptible to tetanus. This means tetanus bacteria can enter your body through the burn. If your last tetanus shot was more than 5 years ago, call your provider. You may need a booster shot.
Call your provider if you have signs of infection:
- Increased pain
- Oozing or pus
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Red streak from the burn
Partial thickness burns - aftercare; Minor burns - self-care
Mazzeo AS. Burn care procedures. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 38.
Singer AJ, Lee CC. Thermal burns. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 56.
Review Date 8/4/2018
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.