How Do You Soothe a Burn at Home?

Reviewed on 6/13/2022

What Are the Burn Types?

A man swirling honey into a cup of hot tea. Honey is sometimes used topically for healing wounds and burns.
Minor burns can be treated at home with remedies such as cleaning the burn, cooling the burn, using a cool compress or cloth, avoiding the use of ice on the burned skin, keeping the burn clean, and pain relievers. Medical treatments for severe burns may include intravenous (IV) fluids, topical burn creams and ointments, wound dressings, antibiotics for infection, pain medications, anti-anxiety medications, and others.

Burns are a type of skin injury that result from exposure to a number of different sources, such as flames or hot objects, steam, hot water, electricity, chemicals, and overexposure to the sun.

Burns were previously classified as first, second, third, or fourth degree, but the categorization now used better describes which burns require surgical treatment.

The classification of a burn may also change over several days. A burn may appear to be superficial at first, but it can develop into a deeper burn over time. 

  • Superficial skin burn (formerly “first-degree burn”): affects only on the top layer of skin
  • Superficial partial-thickness burn (formerly “second-degree burn”): affects the top 2 layers of skin, but does not go deep into the second layer
  • Deep partial-thickness burn (formerly “third-degree burn”): also affects the top 2 layers of skin, but is deeper than a superficial partial-thickness burn 
  • Full-thickness burn (formerly “fourth-degree burn”): affects all the layers of the skin and often the fat and muscle underneath

How Do You Treat Burns by Degree?

Treatments for Minor Burns

For minor superficial skin burns (formerly, first-degree burn) that do not require a doctor visit, home remedies may be all that is needed to soothe a burn, relieve pain, treat infection, and help the burn heal faster.

  • Clean the burn 
    • Remove clothing that is covering the area; if clothing sticks to a burn, see a doctor 
    • Cleanse the burned area gently with plain soap and cool water 
    • Disinfecting the skin with alcohol, iodine, or other cleansers is not necessary
  • Cool the burn
  • After cleaning, use a cool compress or cloth on the skin or immerse the area in cool tap water to soothe a burn
  • Keep the cool compress or water on the skin for about 10 minutes or until the pain decreases
  • Do not use ice on burned skin
  • Prevent infection 
    • Wash the burned area daily with plain soap and cool water 
    • If a burn is deeper than the top layer of skin, to help prevent infection, apply topical aloe vera, petroleum jelly, or an antibiotic such as bacitracin
      • The American Academy of Dermatology does not recommend applying any type of ointment to a burn due to the risk of infection
      • Do not apply home remedies such as butter, mayonnaise, lavender oil, egg whites, mustard, or toothpaste to skin burns because these may cause infection
    • If a burn blisters, cover it with a clean, non-stick bandage and change the bandage once or twice daily as needed
    • Do not pop blisters because this increases the risk of infection
  • Do not scratch the burn
    • Scratching increases the risk of infection
    • Use moisturizing lotion or petroleum jelly to hydrate skin, retain moisture, and prevent dryness that can cause itching
    • Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help soothe itch
  • Treat pain 
    • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help relieve pain and inflammation
    • If you are cannot manage pain with OTC pain relievers, contact your doctor
    • Topical numbing medications (anesthetics) should not be used regularly on burns, because they can irritate skin
  • Tetanus prevention 
    • If you have not had a tetanus shot in the past five years and the burn is superficial partial-thickness (formerly, a second-degree burn) or deeper, get a tetanus booster

Treatments for Serious Burns

More serious burns should be treated by a doctor, and severe burns may require hospitalization or treatment at a burn center. 

Medical treatments for severe burns may include: 

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids
  • Topical burn creams and ointments 
  • Wound dressings 
  • Antibiotics for infection
  • Pain medications
  • Anti-anxiety medications 
  • Ultrasound mist therapy to clean wound tissue
  • Physical therapy if burns cover a large area or a joint
  • Skin grafts
  • Plastic surgery

Seek medical attention immediately for a burn if you are not sure how bad it is, if you think it might be serious, or if the burn:

  • Goes deep into the skin
  • Is accompanied by fever of at least 100.4° F (38° C) or other signs of infection 
    • Infected skin is more red, painful, and may leak pus
  • Is on the face, hands, feet, or genitals
  • Is on or near a joint
  • Goes all the way around a part of the body 
  • Measures more than three inches across 
  • Goes deeper than the top layer of skin and you have not had a tetanus shot in more than 5 years
  • Occurs on a person with a compromised immune system (such HIV or cancer)
  • Occurs on a person younger than 5 years or older than 70 years 

What Are Symptoms of a Burn?

Symptoms of a burn depend on how badly the skin is burned. 

Symptoms of a superficial skin burn (formerly a first-degree burn) include: 

  • Skin pain, redness, and dryness
  • When the burned area is pressed, it turns white
  • Heals in three to six days and do not leave a scar

Symptoms of a superficial partial-thickness burn (formerly a second-degree burn) include:

  • Skin is painful to a light touch or air temperature changes
  • Skin redness 
  • Skin leaks fluid
  • Blisters may occur
  • When the burned area is pressed, it turns white
  • Takes one to three weeks to heal, and the area of skin that was burned might be darker or lighter than it used to be when it heals
  • May or may not scar

Symptoms of a deep partial-thickness burn (formerly a third-degree burn) include:

  • Hurts when pressed hard
  • Does not turn white when pressed 
  • Blisters
  • Takes more than three weeks to heal
  • Area will probably scar

Symptoms of a full-thickness burn (formerly a fourth-degree burn) include:

  • Does not usually hurt because the nerves in the skin that send pain signals to the brain are damaged
  • Skin may be white, gray, or black
  • Skin dryness
  • Treated with possible hospitalization, surgery, and medications 
Reviewed on 6/13/2022
Image source: iStock Images