The severity of a burn or scald will dictate whether a person needs to seek emergency treatment. 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 to relieve the pain, reduce the burn damage, and limit the risk of infection of first- and second-degree burns by using items already in the house, in a food cupboard, or on the shelf of a local store.
There are also a variety of remedies that people should not use. Many of these do not work effectively and might even increase the possibility of infection.
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 who has 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 how to recognize when a burn requires medical treatment.
There are a range of home remedies for burns that people can try.
The following home remedies can help a person safely and effectively treat first-degree and second-degree burns.
1. Running the burn under cool water
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 also prevents the burn from worsening and damaging deeper layers of skin.
2. Clean the burn
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 position of the burn 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.
4. Antibiotic creams
When a burn has open blisters, a person may want to use antibiotic creams and ointments.
Antibiotic creams might help prevent infection in the wound and help the burn heal faster.
After applying an antibiotic cream, cover up any exposed blisters to protect the wound from infection.
5. Over-the-counter pain medications
First-degree and second-degree burns cause pain until they heal. A person may wish to take medication to help reduce pain and swelling.
6. Stay out of the sun
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 that covers the wound.
7. Aloe vera
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 systematic review from 2018 found that honey might provide some clinical benefit when a person applies it to burns.
Applying honey to a bandage, then placing it over the burn may help sterilize the area and prevent infection. It can also soothe burned skin, easing some of the pain.
However, the review advised that the evidence was of "limited quality."
9. Plastic wrap
The United Kingdom's National Health Service recommend using household plastic wrap as a potential home remedy for treating burns. It is best to layer the sterile film over the burn instead of wrapping the limb. For hand burns, a sterile, see-through plastic bag is a good alternative.
A 2014 study on the risk of infection when applying plastic wrap to a burn concluded that infection was extremely unlikely to develop.
People have passed down burn treatment tips for generations. However, there is no evidence to support the effectiveness of many of the following remedies.
Some of these suggestions are not only ineffective, but they could also make a burn worse.
Avoid the following remedies when looking to soothe a burn.
Many people claim that essential oils, as well as some common cooking oils, such as coconut and olive oil, may help treat burns.
However, oils trap heat, preventing it from escaping the burn. Trapping the heat can cause the burn to get worse instead of heal.
Some manufacturers of essential oils claim that their product can help to heal a wide range of skin problems and wounds.
Some research supports the use of essential oils, but this comes from small-scale studies. No large-scale human studies have taken place to examine the association between using essential oils and burn healing.
Many people think that rubbing butter over a burn will promote faster healing. However, butter acts in a similar way to other oils and traps heat, which may make the burn worse.
No scientific evidence supports the use of butter as a burn treatment.
Another remedy to avoid is spreading an uncooked egg white on a burn to help relieve the pain. There is no evidence that uncooked egg helps.
It is more likely that the egg will spread more bacteria into the burn, which may increase the risk of infection.
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 can cause further irritation to burned skin. A person may experience a cold burn after exposing their skin to ice.
Some people believe applying toothpaste to a burn site can help. Toothpaste is not sterile, however, 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 on a similar scale.
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:
- tenderness or pain
- minor swelling
- peeling as the burn heals
Typical symptoms of second-degree burns include:
- extreme redness
- 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 might 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 time, 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.
Some of the home remedies listed in this article are available for purchase online.