How to Treat Minor Burns: Basic First Aid

Posted on 28 Dec 2010 21:22

There are three types of burns, categorized by the degree of injury to the body's tissues. First-degree burns are burns that result in injury to the outside layer of skin only. These types of burns are commonly caused by very brief contact with hot surfaces, such as cooking pans, hot water, steam, and mild sunburn. No blistering occurs. These burns are minor and should heal within a week

First-Degree Burn Symptoms

  • Redness
  • Mild Swelling
  • Pain
  • Skin is unbroken (no blisters)

Second-degree Burns are burns that cause injury to the layers of skin beneath the top surface. Deep sunburn, with blistering, hot liquids such as boiling water or hot cooking oil, and flash burns from gasoline fires are common causes of these types of burns. Healing can take up the three weeks depending on the area the burn covers.

Symptoms of Second-Degree Burns and Self-Diagnosis of Minor Burns

  • Redness or blotchy/streaky appearance
  • Blistering
  • Swelling that lasts for several days
  • Moist Oozy appearance
  • Pain

This explanation is meant to provide a basic overview of MINOR burns. Minor burns are first degree burns or small second degree burns (burns to a small area). When in doubt about the severity of a burn, seek emergency medical care. Second-degree burns that cover more than 20% of an adult's body surface area or 10 to 20% of a child or elderly person's BSA need immediate medical care.

Remember that what a physician might call a minor burn and what you should consider yourself qualified to deem "minor" may be two different things. For instance, even a third-degree burn, if it only covers a very small area, might be called "minor" by a physician, but you yourself should never consider a third-degree burn minor. If in doubt, let a doctor decide!

What TO DO and NOT DO for Minor Burn Treatment

Do stop the burning process immediately by running cold water over the affected area or gently applying a wet cool cloth to the burn. Seconds count. The faster you can cool the skin the more damage you can prevent, thus limiting the severity of the burn and speeding the healing process. Allow contact with the water for up to ten minutes. Gently blot dry with a clean soft towel or cloth.

Do not use ice on a burn. Ice can damage the skin just like heat can.

Do not immerse large areas of the body that have suffered second-degree burns in cool water. Large second-degree burns require immediate medical care and soaking in water could expose you to potential infection or cause you to rapidly lose body heat. The rule of thumb is to not apply cold water to more than 20% of an adults body surface or 10% of a child's body.

First degree burn on arm from cooking

First degree burn on arm
image by Bejinhan via wikimedia

First degree burn on arm from cooking

First degree burn on arm
image by Bejinhan via wikimedia

Do not use commercial cold-packs unless there is no other source of cold available. Cold-packs are too cold and may damage the skin while at the same time being ineffective at removing the heat of the burn quickly. Although some advise the use of "cool-packs" cold water will cool the burn much more quickly. Remember, the goal is not only to relieve pain but also quick heat removal and stopping the burn process.

Do apply a non-fluffy sterile gauze or bandage. Use nonstick bandaging as regular gauze will stick to the wound, causing severe pain when removing and potentially causing further damage to the tissues.

Do not cover a first-degree burn.

Neosporin For Burns

Do apply a triple-antibiotic ointment minor first and second degree burns. Or apply aloe vera gel to first degree burns. Neomycin, which is a part of the standard triple-antibiotic ointment (such as Neosporin, can cause contact dermatitis in some people. If you notice a rash after applying a triple-antibiotic, discontinue. If you know that you are sensitive to neomycin, you can keep a bacitracin ointment on hand, which is available over the counter in several generic preparations.

2 day old second degree burn from hot soup

2 Day Old Second Degree Burn from Soup
image by Cjr80 via wikimedia

2 day old second degree burn from hot soup

2 Day Old Second Degree Burn from Soup
image by Cjr80 via wikimedia

For second-degree burns physicians may prescribe a sliver based antibiotic ointment called Silvadene, which is the ointment of choice for these burns. Keep in mind that minor burns rarely become infected.1

If you have a minor burn and you do not have any kind of antibiotic ointment on hand, you do not have to rush out and buy one. Your burn will most likely heal fine on its own. An ointment is more of a "better safe than sorry" option than a necessity. If you are unsure as to whether your burn can be considered minor, however, it probably isn't! See a doctor.

Do not apply butter, margarine, or oil to a burn. Also do not apply any of the many "home remedies" that are anecdotally reported such as mustard2, soy sauce3, etc. Do not use spray on antiseptics.

Do not break blisters!

Do not tear away any loose or shredded skin.

Do take ibuprofen to relieve pain and reduce inflammation but only if you are ok with taking ibuprofen in general.

Aloe Vera Gel for Minor Burns

Aloe vera gel is recommended by some physicians as an alternative to antibiotic ointment on minor burns. It is perfectly acceptable and there has been found to be no difference in healing time or would colonization between patients treated with aloe vera gel compared to a sliver based ointment. Aloe vera gel has exhibited some antibacterial activity against organisms that commonly colonize burn wounds, such as Pseudomona areuginosa, Enterobacter aerogenes, S. aureas, and Klebsiella pneumoniae.

Immediate Care for Third-Degree Burns

Third degree burns are burns that destroy all the layers of the skin. Third degree burns require prompt medical treatment in all cases! Here are the basic steps to take:

1. Cover the burned area with a sterile non-stick dressing or clean cloth.

2. Treat the victim for shock. Elevate his or her legs and keep the victim warm with a sheet or blanket. keep the victim comfortable.

3. Seek medical care as soon as possible.

Ground Up Strength has provided this page, "How to Treat Minor Burns: Basic First Aid " for your information. It is not intended to substitute for the medical expertise and advice of your primary health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any decisions about treatment or care with your health care provider. The mention of any product, service, or therapy at Ground Up Strength is not an endorsement by Ground Up Strength unless otherwise indicated.


1. Thygerson, Alton L., Benjamin Gulli, and Jon R. Krohmer. "Chapter 11: Burns." First Aid, CPR, and AED. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2007. 132-34.

2. Subbarao, Italo, Jim Lyznicki, and James J. James. "Burns." American Medical Association Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care. New York: Random House Reference, 2009. 84-86.

3. Roberts, James R., and Jerris R. Hedges. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1998.

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