How to Treat a Burn: The Best and Worst Home Remedies

Burns are among the most common household injuries in the United States. Every year, almost 500,000 people seek medical attention for burns with about 10 percent of them ending up in hospital. While some burns are so severe that they require hospitalization, many can be safely treated at home. These include first-degree burns, which only affect the external layer of the skin and cause minor redness and pain, as well as blister-causing second-degree burns up to three inches in diameter.

There are many home remedies for burns, but not all of them are as safe as they’re made out to be. In this article, you’ll find tips on how to treat a burn safely in your own home. You will also learn which burn remedies you should steer clear from.

What Types of Burns Can You Treat at Home?

Based on their severity, there are three main types of burns:

  • First-degree burns are superficial and affect only the top layer of the skin. The burn site will typically be red and painful, with some minor swelling and peeling as the burn starts to heal.
  • Second-degree burns are deeper and affect the first two layers of the skin. In addition to redness, swelling, and pain, they also cause blisters that ooze clear or yellow-colored fluid.
  • Third-degree burns affect not just the first two layers of the skin but also the tissue underneath. The burn site appears charred and isn’t usually painful because the burn has destroyed the nerve endings. However, the pain in the surrounding areas can be very severe. In some cases, third-degree burns can be so deep that they may damage the muscle or bone underneath the tissue.

Only first-degree and second-degree burns can be treated at home. Because they’re not so deep, they typically don’t cause any complications and will heal in normal time. For first-degree burns, the average healing time is between 7 and 10 days, while second-degree burns may take up to three weeks to heal.

As a rule, all third-degree burns are considered medical emergencies and require immediate attention. They should not be treated at home because improper treatment can result in permanent damage to the skin. What’s more, people with third-degree burns are more at risk of sepsis and infection.

How to Treat a Burn: The 9 Best Home Remedies

If you’re looking for ways how to treat a burn at home, the following 9 home remedies may help.

1. Cool Water

As soon as you burn your skin, you should cool it down by running cool water over it. Depending on the severity of the burn you should keep the water running for approximately 20 minutes. This will help relieve the pain from the burn and stop it from progressing to deeper layers of the skin.

2. Cold Compress

Whether you’ve sustained a sunburn or burnt your skin with hot water, a cool compress can provide immediate pain relief and prevent the affected area of the skin from swelling. Take a ready-made cold compress or make one yourself and apply it to the burn site for between 5 and 15 minutes and then let your skin breathe a little before repeating the process. Make sure that the compress you’re using is cool rather than excessively cold. Otherwise, it may irritate the burn and create unnecessary complications.

3. Antibacterial Soap

After you have cooled down the burn – whether by running cool water over it or by using a cold compress – you need to wash the burn thoroughly to prevent infections from occurring. Use a mild antibacterial soap and rinse it off with cool water. Don’t use hand scrubs, as they can irritate the skin.

4. Petroleum Jelly

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying petroleum jelly to the burn site two to three times a day until the burn has healed. Although petroleum jelly can cause some redness and swelling, it will seal the burn and prevent bacteria and other harmful agents from causing infections.

5. Antibiotic Ointment

If the burn has left you with open blisters, the best way to protect your skin from infection and speed up the healing process is to use antibiotic ointments. Some of the popular choices include Neosporin and Bacitracin. Apply the ointment to your skin and cover with a sterile dressing or cling film.

6. Bandages

While most first-degree and second-degree burns don’t require you to wear bandages, you should still consider it. If the burn is in such a position that allows dirt to get in easily or if it is likely to cause chafing, you should cover it with bandages to allow it to heal faster and more safely. Similarly, if you have oozing blisters, wearing a bandage over them will prevent dirt and bacteria from affecting the burn site.

7. Honey

Honey is a superfood known for its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows that topically applied honey can help sterilize the burn, relieve pain, and prevent infection.

8. Aloe Vera

Often referred to as the “burn plant”, aloe vera stimulates circulation, stops the growth of bacteria, and has a strong anti-inflammatory effect. It also helps heal first-degree and second-degree burns when applied directly to the affected area of the skin.

9. Black Tea Bags

Black tea is rich in tannic acid, a substance that draws heat from first-degree burns and helps relieve pain. Take two black tea bags, soak them in cool water, and apply them wet to the burn site. Use gauze, cling film, or a sterile dressing to hold them in place.

How Not to Treat a Burn: 5 Remedies to Avoid

Not all home remedies for burns are as effective as you may think. In fact, some of them may cause an adverse effect and make your burn worse instead of providing relief. Here are the five home remedies for burns that you should avoid.

1. Ice

Although your first instinct might be to apply ice to the burn site, you shouldn’t do that. Due to the large difference in temperature, ice can irritate your burned skin and cause even more pain and redness. The same applies to very cold water. In some cases, ice can give you a cold burn and damage your skin.

2. Oils

Despite what you may have heard, you shouldn’t apply oils – essential or cooking – to burned skin. Not only is there no evidence that they can help treat burns but they also tend to trap heat inside the skin, which could potentially make your problems a lot worse.

3. Butter

Rubbing butter over a burn is also unlikely to bring any positive results. Like oil, butter also retains heat, which could make your burn more severe. What’s more, butter contains bacteria that could infect your skin and cause additional complications.

4. Toothpaste

Some people believe that applying toothpaste to a burn can help relieve pain and speed up the healing process, but there’s no evidence to back up the claim. In fact, the minty properties of toothpaste may irritate the burn even further. Toothpaste is also unsterile and doesn’t protect your skin from bacteria.

5. Egg Whites

Applying uncooked egg whites to your skin won’t do anything to treat your burn. On the contrary, raw egg whites may contain potentially harmful bacteria that can make your burn a lot worse than it already is. Worse yet, egg whites can trigger an allergic reaction on the skin.

The Final Word

The tried and proven home remedies described in this article will only help you with superficial and second-degree burns up to three inches in diameter. If your burn covers a larger area of the skin, if it’s affecting your face or your intimate region, or if it’s accompanied by a fever, you should seek help from your doctor. The same applies if you haven’t received a tetanus shot within the past five years.

If you believe you may have sustained a third-degree burn, it is important to have it examined by a certified medical professional. Call 911 as soon as possible and don’t use any remedies without consulting with your doctor first.