Do's and Don'ts of Treating a Burn at Home

May 7th 2016

Do Assess the Severity

Burns can be first, second or third degree. First- and second-degree burns can usually safely be treated at home. First-degree burns are painful and involve reddening and swelling of the skin, while second-degree burns may exhibit some white splotches of skin as well as small blisters. Third-degree burns involve multiple layers of skin, and the skin may appear charred. The affected area may feel numb due to nerve damage. These burns always need medical attention.

Vulnerable people, such as small children, elderly people or those with compromised immune systems, should also see a doctor for even fairly minor burns. Large burns, as well as burns located on the face, neck, feet or genitals, also need professional medical treatment.

Do Cool the Burn

The best way to cool a burned area is to run it under lukewarm or slightly cool water. Avoid very cold water, and never apply ice to a burned area, as it can further damage the skin. If the area is too large or difficult to run under a faucet, make a cool compress with towels or other materials and gently apply it to the burn.

Don't Use Folk Remedies

There are many types of folk remedies for burns. Butter is commonly suggested, as are other greasy substances. However, these can cause infection and be difficult to clean off the burn. Mild burns can be treated with over-the-counter products designed for that purpose, but if those are not available, the burn should simply be kept clean.

Don't Make It Worse

Second-degree burns often include blisters, which can be tempting to pop. However, doing so can introduce infection into the damaged skin and cause serious complications. Never intentionally break a blister, but if one does break, keep the area clean and apply an antibiotic ointment. Talk to your doctor about getting a tetanus shot after a bad burn as well. If any clothing or other material has melted to the skin, never try to remove it at home; instead, seek medical help. If the burn is on a hand, remove any rings as soon as possible to prevent the skin from swelling around them.


Burns are a common injury, and most of them are mild enough to treat at home. However, some old myths persist about home treatment options for burns. Be sure you identify the best way to safely and effectively treat minor burns, and never hesitate to call a doctor if you're not sure what to do.

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