Not all burns require a hospital visit, and sometimes, a person can treat a burn or scald at home.

While a burn or scald can be extremely painful, people can help relieve the pain, reduce the burn damage, and limit the risk of infection by using items already in the home.

Doctors measure burns on a scale from first to fourth degree. People can typically treat first and second degree burns at home. However, a person with third and fourth degree burns should seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

In this article, we explain which home remedies are suitable and which are not. We also provide guidance on recognizing when a burn requires medical treatment.

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Running cool water over a first- or second-degree burn for 20 minutes can cool the skin down, soothe the burn, and prevent further injury.

This remedy has two beneficial effects. It reduces or stops the pain and prevents the burn from worsening and damaging deeper layers of skin.

After running the burn under cool water, it is essential to clean the burn thoroughly. People should use a mild antibacterial soap and avoid scrubbing.

Gently cleaning the burn will help prevent infection. If an infection develops in the burn, it may compromise the healing process. If the burn does not heal correctly, a person may require medical attention.

A person may not need to cover minor first or second degree burns with a bandage if the burn blisters are not open.

However, if the burn position means that chafing is likely, if dirt can easily enter the skin, or if any blisters have started oozing, a bandage may provide a barrier against infection.

It is important to wrap the bandage loosely and avoid applying sticky bandages directly onto the wound.

When a burn has open blisters, a person may want to use antibiotic creams and ointments. Antibiotic creams can help prevent infection in the wound and help the burn heal faster. Some topical creams also contain pain-relieving ingredients that may ease discomfort.

After applying an antibiotic cream, cover up any exposed blisters to protect the wound from infection.

First degree and second degree burns cause pain until they heal. A person may wish to take medication to help reduce pain and swelling.

Ibuprofen is a safe and effective choice as a pain-reliever. It is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can decrease inflammation.

Keeping a burn in the shade when outside in hot or sunny weather can help reduce both pain and the risk of increasing or deepening the burn.

If avoiding the sun is not possible, a person should wear loose-fitting clothing covering the wound.

Aloe vera is a common ingredient in many creams, sunscreens, and moisturizers. Its gel form is a topical remedy for treating burns and promoting wound healing.

The aloe plant is a natural anti-inflammatory, promoting good circulation. It also has antibacterial properties that stop bacteria from growing.

A review from 2018 found that honey may provide some clinical benefit when a person applies it to burns.

Applying honey to a bandage then placing it over the burn can help sterilize the area and prevent infection. It may also soothe burned skin, easing some of the pain.

However, the review advised that the evidence was of limited quality.

Household plastic wrap is also a potential home remedy for treating burns. It is best to layer the film over the burn instead of wrapping the limb. For hand burns, a see-through plastic bag is a good alternative.

A person should action some home remedies immediately after the burn happens. For example, running the burn under cool water will be most effective in the minutes after the burn. A person can then clean and dress the wound.

Once the burn is clean, people can apply other home remedies, including aloe vera, antibiotic creams, or honey.

A person should wash their hands before applying any treatment or bandage. If another person is helping, they should also clean their hands. This helps reduce the chances of infection.

In the case where topical treatments are necessary, people may need to reapply them two or three times each day until the burn heals.

If the remedy appears to be irritating the burn or skin near the burn, a person should remove it from the burn area and stop using it.

Many home remedies are anecdotal, and there is no evidence to support their effectiveness. Some suggestions are ineffective, but they could also make a burn worse.

A person should avoid the following remedies when looking to soothe a burn.

Butter

Many people think that rubbing butter over a burn will promote faster healing. However, butter can trap heat, which may make the burn worse.

No scientific evidence supports butter as a burn treatment, and people should not use it as such.

Egg whites

Limited studies report that topical solutions containing egg whites may help burn healing. However, people should not apply egg whites to burn wounds at home.

It is likely that the egg will spread more bacteria into the burn, which may increase the risk of infection.

Ice

Many people turn to ice before cool water to help with a burn, thinking that the cold temperature of the ice will do a more effective job in cooling the burned skin.

However, ice can cause more harm than good and may further irritate burned skin. A person can experience a cold burn after exposing their skin to ice.

Toothpaste

Some people believe applying toothpaste to a burn site can help. However, this is not the case. Toothpaste is not sterile and may encourage bacteria to spread into the burn.

Burns fall into four categories:

  • First degree burn: This is the least severe type of burn. It only damages the outer layer of skin.
  • Second degree burn: This is more severe than a first-degree burn, affecting deeper layers of skin.
  • Third degree burn: A burn in this category affects all layers of the skin and requires hospital treatment.
  • Fourth degree burn: This is the most severe type of burn, which causes damage to bones and joints.

Home treatment for first and second degree burns is often enough to resolve initial pain and inflammation. Usually, there are no complications, and healing will occur without active medical treatment.

Scalds are burns that occur due to hot liquid, and doctors measure them similarly.

A first degree burn will typically heal within 7­–10 days. A second degree burn usually takes 2–3 weeks to heal. A person should monitor the burn for signs of infection that may require medical attention.

Typical symptoms of first degree burns include:

  • skin discoloration
  • tenderness or pain
  • minor swelling
  • peeling as the burn heals

Typical symptoms of second degree burns include:

  • extreme skin discoloration
  • very sore or painful skin
  • blisters that may break and ooze

Although first and second degree burns do not typically require medical attention, people should monitor the burn for signs that it is getting worse.

First degree burns may develop into second degree burns. The skin can display symptoms of deeper damage after a few hours.

If a person experiences a second degree burn that is not improving or worse, they should seek medical treatment.

Things to look out for include:

  • a burn that covers an area of skin larger than 3 inches
  • burns around joints, such as the knees and elbows
  • a burn that affects the face, groin, feet, hands, or buttocks

Third and fourth degree burns require immediate medical attention. Doctors typically consider these burns to be life-threatening. A person should not try home remedies when the burn is this severe.

Most people with first degree and second degree burns will make a full recovery in a short time.

During this period, a person should take care to keep the burn clean. A person should seek medical treatment if they suspect an infection, if the wound covers a large area, or if it does not heal within a reasonable amount of time.