How to Treat Burns

Now that it’s summer, sunburn is probably on the top of your not-to-do list, but do you know how to treat other types of burns, including those from the oven or even chemicals? Here’s your cheat sheet for dealing with these injuries, so keep a copy of this in your first aid kit!

Aloe for BurnsHow to treat sunburn

Despite our best efforts, all of us can experience a sunburn from time to time. Maybe you missed a spot (like the tops of your feet) or you forgot to reapply on time and now your skin is seeing red. If this happens to you this summer, fret not. Here’s what you need to do to soothe the inflammation, pain and redness—and avoid long-term skin damage. As soon as you realize you got burned, take two ibuprofen (i.e. Advil) every four hours. You’ll also want to take 1000mg of vitamin C, and then 500mg twice a day after that. Topical aloe gel helps soothe burning on contact, and also keeps skin hydrated. Extra antioxidants can help prevent cell damage, so also try to drink some green tea (try it iced when it’s hot outside). Also, ask your doctor for a prescription for Xclair so you can always have a tube on hand—since it forms a protective barrier on the skin to speed healing.

How to treat heat burns

Who hasn’t burned themselves taking something out of the oven or handling a hot pan? I know, it hurts. The next time it happens, immediately submerge the burn in cold water or apply ice to lower the skin temperature as soon as possible. Then, apply fresh aloe (the sticky juice on the inside is the good stuff) or open a vitamin E capsule and apply the oil. This is another time to bust out the Xclair cream, and apply it three times a day until the wound heals. (If you don’t believe me, oncologists use it on cancer patients who experience radiation burns.)

How to treat chemical burns

Though not as common as heat burns, chemical burns can happen. (Perhaps you have a run-in with a bottle of Drano or bleach.) First things first: Submerge the area in cold water and wash with soap ASAP. Then, read the bottle. There are probably instructions—but if you’re in doubt, call poison control. From there, apply hydrocortisone or a topical steroid cream.

What to do when blisters form

Any kind of burn can lead to blisters, it’s the skin’s natural healing reaction. While you may be tempted to pick, please don’t. Instead, follow these instructions.

  1. Boil a needle in water or sterilize with a flame.
  2. Insert the needle into the side of the blister to release the fluid.
  3. Put gentle pressure on the blister top so that it releases fluid.  (Keep the roof of the blister intact.)
  4. Apply a moleskin bandage (available at drugstores) to protect tender skin until it heals. Moleskin will also save your feet when you are breaking in new shoes!

After any kind of burn…

To ensure the best healing possible and minimize scarring, always apply topical antibiotic and keep the burn covered with a bandage until it heals. You can find a product called Tegaderm at drugstores. It’s a clear plastic dressing that you leave on for three to four days to keep the healing fluids your body produces on the wound. (This fluid is rich in growth factors, and helps the healing process.)

If you start to see any yellow pus, or the area of redness begins to grow and feel hot between six and 12 hours after the burn happens, this can be a sign of infection. Don’t delay calling your doctor.

Sun exposure after any injury can cause permanent pigment changes, so make sure you keep the wound covered with clothing—or at least SPF 50 until skin color returns to normal. I like Vanicream Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin SPF 50 because it’s chemical-free and safe for use on fresh wounds.


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Dr. Baumann is the author of the New York Times best-selling book,The Skin Type Solution. Look for the new edition in bookstores  Nov 23rd 2010. 

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