How to Cure a Small Bad Burn

Three Parts:Distinguishing BurnsProviding Immediate TreatmentCaring For the Wound

Although it may be scary and painful to deal with a small burn at home, minor burns are in fact fairly easy to care for. You just need some understanding of burns so that you can know how to assess your burn and the treatment it requires, plus knowledge of basic first aid.[1]

Part 1
Distinguishing Burns

  1. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 1
    Identify a minor burn. Burns are categorized by depth and size and percent of total body surface area. A minor burn, typically called a first-degree burn, is characterized by redness to the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis. With this type of burn, there is damage to this epithelial (top) layer without blistering. A minor burn should not cover more than 10% of your body surface.[2]
    • Identifiers of a first-degree burn include redness and pain. An example of such a burn is a sunburn.
    • A first-degree burn is typically painful but does not cover a large area (less than 10%) and is not life-threatening.
  2. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 2
    Distinguish first-degree burns from more serious burns. There are other burns, however, that are more serious and it's important that you know how to tell these apart from minor burns. Even if your burn is small, if it shows the following symptoms, this suggests that it is not a minor burn but a bad burn and should be seen by a doctor.
    • Second-degree burns: There are two types of second-degree burns, superficial and deep. With superficial burns, you'll experience redness and damage of the complete epithelial layer and into the second layer of your skin, the dermis. Other symptoms include blistering, pain, redness, and, potentially, bleeding. With deep burns, there is complete epithelial damage as well as deeper destruction of the dermis. The area will appear white, indicating damage to the blood vessels due to impaired circulation. This type of burn may not cause pain as the nerves may be damaged. There may or may not be blisters.[3]
    • Third-degree burn: This burn affects the the epidermis and dermis but also extends through to the subcutaneous tissue. This tissue will be dry and appear like leather. You must seek medical attention if you have a third-degree burn, and should go as soon as possible to the nearest emergency room as this type of burn will require surgical intervention.
  3. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 3
    Be aware of when to get medical assistance. Consider the following factors as you determine whether to treat a small burn yourself or get medical assistance:
    • Degree — Most first-degree burns do not require medical attention, whereas deep second-degree and third-degree burns do need immediate medical attention. In addition, if you experience any blistering, even for a small burn, you should consult a physician for appropriate evaluation and antibiotic treatment.
    • Type — If you have experienced a chemical burn, seek medical attention after first irrigating the wound with flowing cool water to dilute the chemical agent.
    • Size — Consider how much of your body surface area (BSA) is affected by the burn(s). If you have burns over 10% of your BSA, you should seek medical attention. Follow the "rule of nines," which breaks down the body as such: each leg represents 18%, each arm represents 9%, front and back of the trunk represent 18%, and the face represents 9% of total body surface area. You can use this formula to quickly add up how much surface area the burn covers.
    • Location — If you have experienced a burn in the genital region (even a first-degree burn), get medical assistance. Burns to the eyes should also be seen by a physician after copious irrigation with flowing cool water for at least five minutes. Further, burns on the hands, typically if they overlay a joint, often require medical attention.
    • Note that if you are ever uncertain or have questions about your burn, go the emergency room or consult your primary care physician.

Part 2
Providing Immediate Treatment

  1. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 4
    Cool the affected area with water. The first thing you want to do to treat a small burn is sooth the skin with cool (not cold) water to decrease its temperature. You can do this by running cool water over the burned area from a flowing source or soaking it in cool water. Allow for a least five minutes of soaking to decrease the temperature, so the skin will stop the burning process.[4]
    • Be sure to remove any rings or other tight items from the burned area, as the affected region will swell very quickly.
    • If the area is too large to be soaked, then go to the shower and run cool water over it for at least five minutes.
    • Rather than use flowing water, you could also place a clean towel soaked with cool tap water on the burn.
  2. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 5
    Assess the burn. Once the cooling has taken place, you will feel more comfortable and better able to examine and assess the burned area. You'll need to determine the degree of the burn as well as consider other factors, such as size, location, and type of burn. Assessing these factors will help you determine whether or not you can treat the burn yourself at home or whether you should seek medical attention.[5]
    • In most cases, if the wound is a small first-degree burn that is not on your genitals, hands, face, or joints, you can treat and care for the burn at home.
  3. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 6
    Pat the area dry. Use a soft cloth and take care not to use anything abrasive. Be gentle and pat, don't rub, especially if there is any blistering or outer skin damage, as you don't want to pull off any of the skin.
  4. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 7
    Apply some ointment. Once the affected area is dry, obtain an ointment and apply a generous amount so that you are covering the burn but not rubbing it in. The ointment can have antibiotics in it, but does not need to. Other options include petroleum jelly or aloe vera gel. If using aloe vera, make sure to use only 100% pure aloe vera gel and not a lotion or other formula.[6]
    • Neosporin is a good over-the-counter choice for an antibiotic ointment. If you are allergic to Neosporin, you can go to the doctor and obtain a prescription for bacitracin or bactroban.
  5. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 8
    Apply a protective dressing. A protective dressing is a made from rolled gauze that you can purchase at any drugstore or pharmacy. After applying the antibiotic ointment, wrap the area in a circular fashion with the rolled gauze. Secure the dressing with surgical adhesive tape, also available at the drugstore.[7]
    • This protective dressing will do two functions. First, it will provide a protective barrier against re-injury. Second, the covering will also provide protection from infection, given that your skin’s natural barrier from infection has been compromised due to the burn.
    • This may not always be necessary, but keep it protected with dressings if you wish.

Part 3
Caring For the Wound

  1. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 9
    Cleanse and change the dressing daily. Wash the wound daily with soap and water and re-apply neosporin and the gauze dressing. Continue to wash and change the dressing each day until the skin has healed. This is typically less than two weeks. Doing this routine every day can help prevent scarring of the burned tissue.[8]
    • Your skin may slough off, meaning it will cast or flake off. This is especially true for any blistered areas, and you should see the skin flake and cast itself off naturally. Do not pick at your skin or break blisters. This will only aggravate, irritate and further inflame the wounded area.[9]
  2. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 10
    Watch daily for signs of infection. If you notice any symptoms of infection, you should go to the emergency room or seek other immediate medical attention. If you are diabetic or on steroids or undertaking chemotherapy or have a weakened immune system for any reason, you are at risk for infection and should be especially vigilant in monitoring for these signs of infection. Signs that the wound has become infected include:[10]
    • Fever greater than 100°F or 38°C (orally).
    • Increasing erythema or redness of the wound site. Consider drawing a circle around the area of redness with a magic marker, if you are uncertain whether the redness is expanding. This can help you see whether an infection might be spreading.
    • Drainage of the wound. Look for any pus or greenish fluid seeping out of the wound.
  3. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 11
    Do not apply any creams, lotions, or oils to the wound. Simply apply petroleum jelly, 100% aloe vera gel, or antibiotic ointment or any prescription cream, such as Silvadene burn cream, that is prescribed specifically for you by your physician.[11]
    • If you are tempted to spray Solarcaine or any other topical numbing agent on the burned area, you should consult your physician before doing so. In general, small burns should not be very painful, unless it is infected or you have encountered some complication. Continuing pain is an indication that you should seek medical attention.
  4. Image titled Cure a Small Bad Burn Step 12
    Get pain relief. If the pain of the burn is bothering you, you can take anti-inflammatory analgesic oral medication, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin. Discuss these options with your doctor if you have any doubt about their usage and whether the medications are right for you.[12][13]
    • Ibuprofen (Advil) is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body. It also reduces hormones that trigger fever.
    • Aspirin (Acetylsalicylic Acid)is a drug that works as an analgesic, relieving pain by inhibiting pain signals in the brain. It is also an antipyretic, a drug that reduces fever.
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is safer than aspirin for children but has many of the same effects as aspirin.


  • If you are ever uncertain about the severity of your burn or how to treat it, go the emergency room or consult your primary care physician.

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Stings Bites and Burns