In most cases, you can treat a small first-degree burn at home. First, make absolutely sure you have a first-degree burn and not something more serious. A first-degree burn will be red, painful, and likely swollen, but will only affect the first layer of skin. If your burn goes deeper than the first layer, you do not have a first-degree burn.
Note: If your burn is large, on your face, or is a second-, third-, or fourth-degree burn, seek immediate medical help.
Once you have determined your burn is minor, do the following:
Ensure Your Safety
Remove yourself from the source of the burn — sunlight, flames, steam, hot water, or chemicals.
Rinse and Clean the Burn Wound
Hold the burned area under cool, clean running water for 15 to 20 minutes. If you have a chemical burn, call the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) to determine the best course of action.
Note: Do not use ice or ice water. This can damage the tissue or send you into shock.
Evaluate the Wound
After you have cleaned the burn, check it again to make sure it is a first-degree, not a second-degree burn. If blisters develop or if it appears to affect more than the first layer of skin, you have a second-degree burn. However, remember it can take a day or more for blisters to develop. Check regularly to ensure your burn has not worsened.
Let the Burn Wound Cool
Before applying an ointment or dressing, give sufficient time for all the surface heat in the burn to subside. If you cover the burn too soon with an ointment or dressing, you will hold the heat in, which could make the burn more severe.
Determine Whether You Want to Apply a Cream or Ointment
If you have a first-degree burn, you can apply a cream or ointment without first speaking to your doctor. However, before you do so, consider the pros and cons of using ointments before taking any action:
Pros of Ointments
Ointments can promote healing by:
- Providing pain relief
- Hydrating the wound
- Preventing infection
Cons of Ointments
Ointments can also negatively affect your burn if:
- You have an allergic reaction (to active or inactive ingredients)
- You use an ointment or cream to early and trap heat in the burn
You May Apply Dressings
In most cases, you will not need a dressing as the wound is not open. However, if you are concerned that it might develop into a second-degree burn, you might consider applying a dressing.
Remember that if you apply a dressing, you need to change the dressing twice a day. You also need to change it if it becomes wet or soiled. For this reason, some burn victims consider wrapping their burns loosely in plastic wrap. This protects the burn, repels water and dirt, and keeps it visible for inspection.
Plastic is also sterile, as long as you tear off the first layer from the roll.
Change the plastic every few hours; do not wrap it too tightly.
Is there anything I should not do with my first-degree burn?
There are a lot of old wives’ tales about what you should put on a burn to cool it down or treat it. Never use any of the following on a burn:
- Butter or oil
- Egg whites
- Raw potatoes
If you want to try any home remedies, ask your doctor first.
Allow the burn to cool on its own. Do not blow on it or submerge it in cold water. If your burn is not cooling down quickly enough, place it under cool running water for another 15-20 minutes.
Will my burn scar?
Most likely not. However, there are things you can do to prevent scarring:
- Keep your skin moisturized.
- Keep your burn out of the sun. This can worsen your scar or cause hyperpigmentation.
If your burn does scar, you can apply a scar cream like Mederma® and use makeup to hide your scars.
For more information on first-degree burns, check out these related pages:
Should I use a first-degree burn ointment?
What does a first-degree burn look like?