This article appears in Healthy Living Winter 2018.
Who hasn’t suffered a minor burn at home? Touching a hot stove is probably just as common as it is surprisingly painful.
Curling and straight irons are also a major causes of first-degree burns, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Sunburn can also be a first-degree burn.
Unlike second- or third-degree burns, which are more severe, 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. Though not as serious, they can hurt quite a bit and leave a scar if not properly treated, said Dr. Darrell S. Rigel, clinical professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University.
“First-degree burns usually heal on their own without treatment from a doctor. 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,” Rigel said.
Most first-degree burns can be treated at home as long as you know a few basic tips:
— 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 and 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.
“Burns, even first-degree, are unique in that the injury goes beyond the site of heat contact as heat is a form of energy that can transfer throughout the skin. Often burn wounds expand beyond the initial injury over the first couple days, so treating the area broadly is important,” said Dr. Adam Friedman, associate professor of dermatology, George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, D.C. “Wounds heal best when kept moist, especially in the burn setting as there is a predilection for drying out and loss of epidermal water loss.”
First-degree burns may even blister “due to the thermal injury or resulting inflammatory response to said injury, which could cause flaccid, weak blisters that easily rupture,” Friedman said.
Old wives’ tales and internet searches will yield a range of products supposed to help burns heal. Take caution before using honey, coconut oil or aloe vera because of lack of product purity, no oversight by the Food and Drug Administration and potential for allergic contact sensitization, Friedman said. It’s a definite “no” to the healing power of vinegar for burns, he added.