Parent applying plaster to child's foot

Learn about minor burns

Minor burns, commonly referred to as first degree burns, can often happen around the home. From accidents in the kitchen to scalding water in the bathroom, there can be many causes. First degree burns can be treated at home with basic first aid, but for more severe burns you should visit a healthcare practitioner.

How to tell if a burn can be treated at home or if it’s more serious

Man with sunburnt arms

A first degree burn, while still painful, can normally be treated as a minor burn. First degree burns directly damage only the epidermis, the outermost layer of the skin, and whilst there may be pain, redness or swelling, it’s not very serious and can be treated at home. [15] It generally has a low risk of infection and scarring. [16] Most sunburns are also first degree burns and can be treated much the same way as other minor burns.

Second degree burns may include the above symptoms, as well as pink or splotchy skin and blisters. If the burn is less than 7 cm or 3 inches around, you can treat it as a minor burn. [15]

These are signs you should seek immediate medical help for a burn:

  • Any chemical and electrical burns
  • The skin in or around the burn is white or charred
  • Blistered burns on the hands, arms, feet, legs, face or genitals
  • If someone has inhaled lots of smoke and is showing symptoms such as facial burns, singed nasal hair, coughing or difficulty breathing
  • Small children and pregnant women
  • Any burn bigger than the size of your hand

Did you know the most effective way to cool down a minor burn is with cold water rather than ice? [17]

How to treat a minor burn [18] [19]

  1. Cool: Firstly, remove any clothing or jewellery near the burn and cool the burned area by running it under water between 5C and 25C for between 10-20 minutes. Don’t break any small blisters that may form. For sunburns, skip this step.
  2. Treat: Apply a cream, gel or foam that cools and hydrates. When your skin burns, it loses its ability to maintain moisture very well, making it more difficult for your skin to heal itself and extra important to keep the area moisturised. Cover the burned area with plastic wrap or gauze to protect the tender skin.
  3. Support: Keep the area clean and hydrated as it heals. Pain can be treated with a pain medicine like paracetamol or ibuprofen from your pharmacy. Pain should subside within 2-3 days.