How to Take the Sting out of a Burn

Four Parts:Determining the Severity of the BurnSoaking or Rinsing the BurnsMinimizing the Pain with MedicationTaking the Sting Away with Natural Remedies

There are many ways to get a burn, from touching a hot pan or laying out in the sun to splashing yourself with a chemical. Third-degree burns are the most severe, and should always be treated by medical professionals. First and some second-degree burns, though, can be treated at home, depending on size and location.

Part 1
Determining the Severity of the Burn

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    Look for the signs of a first-degree burn. A first-degree burn is usually a thermal burn caused by contact with a hot object or environment. [1] It may result from sun exposure (sunburn), oil splatter from a hot pan, or accidentally touching a hot oven rack. A first-degree burn is painful, and will leave a deep red color on the top layer of skin (epidermis). But despite the stinging redness, there is no blistering in a first-degree burn. The skin will remain dry and intact.[2]
    • First-degree burns are quite common, and very rarely require professional medical treatment.
    • Healing occurs in three to five days.
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    Take note of blistering in a superficial second-degree burn.[3] A superficial second-degree burn will present with redness, like a first-degree burn. But the skin damage will go beyond the top layer (epidermis) down into the top of the second layer (dermis). And unlike a first-degree burn, you will see blistering in a second-degree burn. Pain and bleeding are both good signs, as they suggest that there is no significant damage to nerves or blood vessels.
    • Superficial second-degree burns usually heal without scarring within two weeks, and do not require medical attention.[4]
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    Examine a second-degree burn for symptoms that call for medical attention. A superficial second-degree burn can heal on its own, but a deep second-degree burn needs to be seen by a doctor. Look for spots of pale skin interspersed between the blisters. The blisters will bleed easily and may ooze a straw-colored material. If left untreated, deep second-degree burns can become third degree burns within a few days.[5] Always seek treatment for a second degree burn if:
    • You are not sure what level of burn you have
    • Have diabetes or a compromised immune system
    • Were injured by a chemical burn, especially alkaline burns like from Drano.
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    Consider the size of second-degree burns. A first degree burn can always heal on its own at home, but large second-degree burns should be seen by a doctor. Whether superficial or deep, a second-degree burn that affects more than 10-15% of your skin needs medical attention. The doctor will both assess the burn and treat possible dehydration. You lose a lot of fluid through your damaged skin when you have large burns. Tell the doctor if you feel thirsty, weak, dizzy, or are having trouble urinating. If he suspects dehydration, your doctor may give you IV fluids.[6]
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    Seek immediate medical attention for a third-degree burn.[7] A third-degree burn affects both the epidermis and the deep layers of the dermis. Untreated third degree burns can become septic and cause death. They are distinguished from a second-degree burn by the presence of nerve, vein, and muscle damage.
    • Because of the nerve damage, the burn site will feel numb rather than painful, though the edges may still hurt.
    • Skin will both look and feel dry and thick/leathery. You will likely experience swelling.
    • Rather than redness, you may see white, yellow, brown, purple, or even black skin.
    • You may feel thirsty, dizzy, or weak. Dehydration may cause trouble urinating.
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    Seek medical attention if necessary.[8] First-degree burns and most superficial second-degree burns can be treated at home and heal fairly quickly. However, you should consider seeing a doctor if the burn doesn’t heal within several weeks, or if new, unexplained symptoms emerge. Any increase in pain, swelling, redness, or discharge that becomes unmanageable should be examined as well. Seek immediate emergency attention if you experience the following:
    • Burns to the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or major joints
    • Chemical or electrical burns
    • Third-degree burns
    • Trouble breathing or burns to the airway

Part 2
Soaking or Rinsing the Burns

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    Flush chemicals out of eyes to prevent burns.[9] Ocular chemical burns can be very serious, so you need to take immediate action. If a chemical gets into your eyes, flush your eyes with water for at least five full minutes. You should always see a doctor for examination after a potential chemical burn to the eyes. He may add a 1% calcium gluconate solution to your eye-flushing routine. The doctor can also prescribe anesthetic eye drops to control your pain.
    • If you wear contacts, remove them carefully when flushing out your eyes.
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    Soak chemical burns in water. Chemicals powerful enough to burn the skin can continue to work their way into deeper layers if left untreated. Thus, all chemical burns require medical attention. However, while waiting to see the doctor, the best thing you can do is hold the burn under cool (not cold) running water or soak it in a water bath.
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    Soak thermal burns in cold water.[10] Remember that thermal burns are caused by heat, not chemicals — whether from the sun, steam, or a hot object. The first order of business in a first or superficial second-degree thermal burn is to lower the skin temperature at the burn site. Place the burned skin in cool (not cold) water for 10 minutes. If you don't want to waste running water, fill a sink or bathtub to submerge the skin. Either refill with cold water as the water warms up, or use ice cubes to keep the water temperature low.
    • Just make sure that all the burned skin is either submerged in or under the flow of running cold water.
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    Consider applying ice if cold water doesn't work. Note that many experts advise against applying ice to a burn, as the dramatic temperature change can cause frostbite.[11] Always cool the skin in water for at least 20 minutes if you want to apply ice to it. Simply seal the ice into a Ziploc bag with some water and wrap a rag or paper towel around it to create a barrier between you skin and the extreme cold. You can also use a bag of frozen vegetables out of your freezer if you don't have ice. Apply the ice for about ten minutes, rotating it around the burn site if it gets too cold.
    • Always make sure to use a cloth or paper towel barrier.

Part 3
Minimizing the Pain with Medication

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    Do not apply burn ointments for the first 24 hours. Ointments seal the burn, and may actually prevent healing if you apply them too soon. For first-degree burns, wait 24 hours before you apply any burn care or other ointments.[12]
    • If you are not near a medical facility and you have a second-degree burn, apply bacitracin ointment (an antibiotic) to the burn to prevent infection as you get to treatment. This is the only situation in which you should apply bacitracin to burned skin.
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    Find over-the-counter benzocaine products.[13] Benzocaine is a local anesthetic that numbs nerve endings in the skin, providing relief from burn pain. The pharmacy may have any of a variety of benzocaine brands such as Anacaine, Chiggerex, Mandelay, Medicone, Outgro, or Solarcaine. Furthermore, these products are available in a wide variety of applications: cream, spray, liquid, gel, ointment, or wax. Read the instructions on the package to learn the correct application method and dosage.
    • Make sure not to overuse benzocaine, as it soaks into the skin more easily than some other local anesthetics.
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    Take an over-the-counter pain reliever. You can relieve some of the pain from a minor burn by taking an over-the-counter pain reliever. An oral NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug) such as ibuprofen or naproxen will help relieve pain and inflammation from the burn.[14]
    • Follow all dosing instructions on the packaging. Take the smallest dose that is effective at relieving your pain.
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    Spread shaving cream over the burn site. If cold water doesn't make the pain diminish, shaving cream is a surprisingly effective solution! Shaving creams like Barbasol contain a chemical called triethanolamine. Triethanolamine is an active ingredient in Biatine, a prescription cream used to treat even severe burns in hospital settings.[15] Just spread it over the affected skin and leave it alone until the pain goes down.
    • Avoid mentholated shaving creams, as they may cause further irritation.[16]
    • This should only be considered when you have a first-degree burn. Do not attempt this method with a burn that is any more severe than a sunburn.

Part 4
Taking the Sting Away with Natural Remedies

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    Be aware of the limitations of natural remedies. While you may prefer the idea of home or natural remedies, many of these methods are untested, relying on anecdotal and not scientific evidence. Without medical backing, these methods can be risky and are likely not recommended by your doctor. If you wish to use a natural remedy, talk to your doctor first.
    • If you choose to utilize these methods, you must still cool and clean the burn first. You should also seek immediate medical attention for anything more severe than a first-degree or superficial second-degree burn.
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    Apply aloe to minor burns and sunburns.[17] The skincare aisle at any grocery store or pharmacy will have many products that include aloe. The chemicals in the aloe plant's leaves do more than just minimize pain and inflammation. They actually encourage faster healing and the growth of fresh, healthy skin. Treat the burn with aloe lotion several times a day, as necessary.
    • Never apply aloe products to an open wound.
    • You can use pure aloe from an aloe plant. Alternatively, look for 100% pure aloe vera gel at the store.
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    Look for St John's wort cream products.[18] Just like the aloe plant, the St. John's wort has anti-inflammatory properties. However, lotions with St. John's wort may be a little harder to find than aloe lotions. You can find them easily online, though, or in many health food stores.
    • Do not apply St. John's wort essential oil to burns, though, as it can prevent the skin from cooling.
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    Use essential oils to treat minor burns.[19] Essential oils known to soothe pain and prevent blistering include lavender, Roman and German chamomile, and yarrow. If you have a large burn area — from sunburn, for example — you might add a few drops of the oil to your bath and soak in it. Smaller areas may benefit from more focused treatment.
    • Make sure to cool the burned skin with cold water for at least ten minutes.
    • Soak a clean gauze or rag in ice-cold water.
    • To this gauze/rag, add one drop of essential oil for every square inch of burned skin.
    • Apply the rag to the burned area.
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    Treat minor burns with honey.[20] Natural healers have been singing the praises of honey for centuries, and modern science agrees. Honey has antibacterial properties that promote faster healing in a wide variety of injuries.[21] Instead of running for your pantry, though, look for medicinal grade honey for best results. It's not usually available in regular grocery stores, so look for health food stores or providers of ayurvedic medicine. You can also find medicinal grade honey easily online.
    • Do not apply honey to broken skin, or burns that are worse than first-degree burns.
    • The only exception is if you are far away from a medical care facility. If you cannot get to treatment quickly, use an antibiotic ointment or honey on the burn to help prevent infection as you wait to get treatment.[22]
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    Brew a calendula tea.[23] Calendula is also known as pot marigold, and is a useful herbal treatment for minor, first-degree burns. Simply steep one teaspoon of calendula flowers in a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes. Once it's been strained and cooled, you can either soak the burned area in it or apply a cloth soaked in the tea to the skin. If you have calendula oil instead of leaves, dilute 1/2 to one teaspoon in 1/4 cup of water. You may be able to find calendula creams in naturopathic stores or practices. Apply calendula four times daily until the burn has healed.
    • Studies also suggest that green tea can be helpful for treating burns.[24]
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    Soothe a burn with raw onion juice. Though the smell is unpleasant and it might make your eyes water, onions have been shown to sooth burns.[25] Simply cut up some onion and gently rub it against the burn, working the juice into the wound without causing pain. Do this several times a day until the wound heals, making sure to use fresh onions every time.
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    Protect the burned area. When you're not using these treatments, you must protect the damaged skin from infection. Pat the burned area dry, then cover it with clean gauze. Tape or wrap it into place, then change the dressing daily until the skin appears normal. Check for signs of infection every day: fever, increased redness, and pus.[26] If you see such symptoms, notify your doctor immediately.


  • If you are unsure of the burn's severity, always see a doctor just in case.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Stings Bites and Burns