Wednesday, February 27, 2013

First-Aid Tip #2: Treatment of Minor Burns (First Degree & Some Second Degree Burns)

First Aid for Minor Burns

To continue with this week's theme of first-aid tips, lets discuss the steps to treating a minor burn. Minor burns are so commonplace when using a hot curling iron, cooking with hot pans/dishware, or tanning on the beach. My tips will make you feel more comfortable in dealing with most minor burns and knowing when to seek medical attention.

Firstly - let's differentiate a minor burn from all other types of burns. There are 3 classifications for burns: 1st degree (aka "minor burn"), 2nd degree, and 3rd degree (aka "major burn").

Our skin has 3 layers. The top most layer is called the "epidermis", the middle layer is called the "dermis" , and the bottom layer is called the "subcutaneous tissue". The "degree" of a burn refers to how many layers of the skin have been burnt through. This is demonstrated in the image below:

(photo courtesy of

1st degree burns: (think of what a sun burn might look like)
-only the outer layer of skin (the epidermis) is affected
-there is redness of the skin
-usually has minor swelling
-may or may not be painful
-generally NOT a medical emergency and can be treated at home unless substantial portions of the hands, feet, face, or a major joint (ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and spine) are affected which requires seeking medical attention!

Here is an example of a 1st degree burn:

courtesy of

2nd degree burns: 
-the 1st layer (the epidermis) and 2nd layer (the dermis) of the skin are affected
-blisters develop
-skin is very red
-it is severely painful
-there is significant swelling
-if the 2nd degree burn is smaller than 3 inches in diameter, it can be treated the same way you treat a minor burn
- if the 2nd degree burn is larger than 3 inches in diameter, you need to seek medical attention
- if the burn is on the hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or over a major joint (ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and spine) you must seek medical help

Here is a photo of a 2nd degree burn (notice the large blisters in the center of the hand):

(Photo courtesy of

Now that we have identified what 1st and 2nd degree burns look like, let's focus on how to treat them. Remember minor burns refer to 1st degree burns and 2nd degree burns which are LESS THAN 3 inches in diameter. All other burns require medical attention!

First Aid Tips for Minor Burns at Home

1. Cool the burn: 
This will provide some pain relief and decrease swelling
- Run cool water over the burned area for 10 minutes or until your pain improves
- You can also fill a small bucket with cool water and place the burned area inside the bucket for 10 minutes or until the pain improves
- Do NOT put ice on the burn
- Do NOT use ice-cold water to cool the burn

2. Wrap the burn:
This will protect the skin which has been damaged and is very weak and fragile 
-Put a sterile gauze dressing or clean cloth over the burn
-Avoid applying any ointments over the burn
-Wrap the burn loosely,not too tight, so that you do not accidentally break a blister or peel off skin

3. Pain relief:
As your burn heals, the pain will slowly improve over time
-Treat your pain with non-prescription pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
-If the pain is unbearable despite these medications, seek medical attention

4. Do not break blisters
This can lead to an infection. Allow the blisters to heal on their own!

5. If your skin itches as it heals, you can use Aloe-vera for some relief 1-2 days after initial injury

6. Watch for signs of infection
If your burn appears to be getting worse over time with increased redness, tenderness, or drainage of pus -- these may represent signs of an infection, and you should seek medical attention right away

Your burn should heal naturally over time, and may result in the healed skin being slightly darker than the surrounding skin (this is normal).

Here's a mythbuster for some fun--

True or False:

Toothpaste helps treat burns and allows it to heal faster.

Answer: False

Toothpaste is believed to be home remedy for burns because some varieties contain baking soda. Baking soda is thought to cool down the skin, thus "cooling off the burn". Baking soda is actually used in the initial treatment of some CHEMICAL BURNS (especially those caused by hydrochloric acid), which is why people might believe that it can treat ALL burns.
Despite this possible cooling effect of baking soda -- nothing is as cheap and convenient as cool water! Running cool water over your burn should always be your first step in treatment!
There are no great studies to compare baking soda/toothpaste versus cool water to treat burns.... but what I can tell you is that any lotions/ointments/creams that are put on top of a burn initially increases the risk of infection and delays healing time!

I hope you found this information helpful today. Check back tomorrow for more first-aid tips!

Please feel free to leave comments below, and email me at with any questions that you may have.



  1. thank you for your helpful informations,First Degree & Some Second Degree Burns

  2. During the process of providing first aid burn treatment, the aim must be to cool the burn, provide relief from pain, and cover the burn. First, remove clothing from the burned area as clothing can retain heat, even in a scald burn.

  3. Well, it appears that I have 2nd degree burns. I already made 1 mistake. I used ice water. Everybody told me to break the blisters. Thank goodness. I didn't do that.