How should I treat a burn?

Some burns are preventable (sideburns and sunburns), some burns are accidental (friggin' curling iron?), and some burns are downright dumb (leave the fireworks to the pros, Smart Guy). No matter what the cause, you can take steps to soothe the pain - and prevent scarring or further damage.

First, you'll want to cool the burn with water or ice as soon as you can to reduce the prostaglandin response and limit the damage. Clean the area with water and a simple soap like Ivory, Neutrogena, Dove, or Cetaphil to remove dirt and bacteria, and don't pop any blisters that form. For the small blisters, apply a sterile moisturizer like bacitracin or neosporin twice a day and leave them intact. They serve as the ideal sterile biologic dressing over the nascent skin that is quickly growing to cover the injured area. Scarring is always worse if this new skin is hindered. Cover the burn with a fine gauze like Vaseline gauze or Adaptic. The small blisters will dry up and flake off by two weeks.

Note: If the burn is on your hands, face, or genitals (we won't ask) and is bigger than a nickel, it's a good idea to let a doc look at it. She may want to treat with an antibiotic cream called Silvadene that kills bacteria and keeps the wound moist. Also, if a new burn hurts, that's good. It means you didn't fry the full thickness of the skin. A deep burn through the dermis kills the nerves so you don't actually feel it. But an old wound that starts hurting is your body's message for you to see a doctor.

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Continue Learning about Burn Treatment

Why shouldn't I treat a burn with ice?
Learn why you shouldn't treat a burn with ice, and what you should use instead.
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When should I see a doctor about a burn?
When a burn exceeds 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter, seek medical assistance. Learn more from our expe...
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How can I clean a burn wound?
In general, burn wounds should be cleaned using antibacterial soap and sterile saline or water. Lear...
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.