According to dermatologists from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), first-degree burns are very common and frequently occur after accidentally touching a hot stove, curling iron or hair straightener. Sunburn can also be a first-degree burn. Burns can easily happen during summer firework and campfire season; However, unlike the more severe second or third-degree burns, first-degree burns only involve the top layer of the skin. If you have a first-degree burn, your skin may be red and painful, and you may experience mild swelling.
“Most first-degree burns can be treated at home, however, it’s important to know what to do,” says boardcertified dermatologist Darrell S. Rigel, MD, a clinical professor at New York University. “Although first-degree burns aren’t as serious as higher-degree burns, they can hurt quite a bit and can leave a scar if not properly treated.”
To treat a first-degree burn, Dr. Rigel recommends the following:
- Cool the burn. Immediately immerse the burn in cool tap water or apply cold, wet compresses. Do this for about 10 minutes or until the pain subsides.
- Apply petroleum jelly two to three times daily. Do not apply ointments, toothpaste or butter to the burn, as these may cause an infection. Do not apply topical antibiotics.
- Cover the burn with a nonstick, sterile bandage. If blisters form, let them heal on their own while keeping the area covered. Do not pop the blisters.
- Consider taking over-the-counter pain medication. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve the pain and reduce inflammation.
- Protect the area from the sun. Once the burn heals, protect it from the sun by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, or applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. This will help minimize scarring, as the redness from a burn sometimes persists for weeks, especially in those with darker skin tones.
“First-degree burns usually heal on their own without treatment from a doctor,” says Dr. Rigel. “However, if your first-degree burn is very large, if the victim is an infant or elderly person, or if you think your burn is more severe, go to an emergency room immediately.”