How to Treat a Burn
You can typically treat first-degree burns yourself, says C. Scott Hultman, MD, director of the John Hopkins Burn Center in Baltimore. Here’s how.
How Bad Is the Burn?
First degree: These affect only the outer layer of skin (like if you accidentally brush your hand on a hot pan) and usually don’t require emergency treatment.
Second degree: Your daughter grabbed the wrong end of her curling iron and now her hand’s blistering—a telltale sign of a second-degree burn, which should be looked at by a doc.
Third degree: These super-serious burns reach the fat layer underneath your skin and can appear leathery and black, brown or white. Call 911 or go to the ER immediately.
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Treat a Minor Burn at Home
Use a cold washcloth to cool down the burn for at least five minutes. Avoid ice—it constricts circulation and makes the skin susceptible to frostbite. Carefully wash the burn with soap and water. Use antibiotic ointment or a moisturizing lotion to disinfect and calm the wound, then cover with a non-stick bandage and secure it tightly (but don’t cut off circulation) with medical tape. Continue this protocol until the wound fully heals. For a full year after the burn heals, be extra vigilant about applying sunscreen to prevent scarring. (Stash a small stick, like Coppertone WaterBabies Pure & Simple Mineral Based Stick, in your bag.)
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Prevent Burns in the Kitchen
These tips from Chris Scott, chef with the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, will help keep you safe in a busy kitchen: Turn pot handles in to prevent them from being knocked off the stove. Don’t hover your hands over boiling water or use wet towels, since both can cause steam burns. Pour hot liquids slowly, and use long tongs to place ingredients in hot water or oil. Designate a cool-off zone for hot pots and pans (like the back half of the stove).
Stock the Medicine Cabinet
Topical ointments: Petroleum jelly (try Aquaphor Healing Ointment) or an unscented moisturizer (we like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Body Gel Cream) can help your burn heal, Hultman says. Bonus points if they have SPF.
Pain relievers: Advil or Aleve can help with painful burns.
Non-stick bandages: To help protect the wound from pain and infection, wrap Telfa Ouchless Non-Adherent Dressing around the burn and secure with Nexcare Sensitive Skin Tape.
When to See a Doc
If you have a second-degree burn or worse, call 911 (or at the very least, seek attention from a burn center, ER or dermatologist). Also get help if:
- The burn covers 5% or more of your body (your palm is roughly 1%)
- It’s on your face, hands, feet or genitals
- The skin is open
- The burn has blisters that are large or that don’t heal after two weeks
- You have other medical problems, like diabetes or high blood pressure
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