If you’ve ever brushed your arm against a hot oven rack or spattered your hand with hot drops of cooking oil, you know how painful even small burns can be.
Fortunately, the most common kind of burn, called a first-degree burn, isn’t too serious. This is the short of burn you get when you accidentally touch a hot iron or the handle on a cast-iron skillet. The surface of the skin gets red and sore, and there may be a little bit of swelling. Unlike the more serious second-and the third-degree burns, most simple burns can be treated at home.
Get the water flowing . Make that a lot of water. When you’ve burned yourself, the heat quickly passes into the skin, possibly damaging tissues deeper inside. To cool the heat on the skin as well as below the surface, flood the area with cool, running water for at least fifteen minutes. Anything less and the cool temperatures won’t get to where the problem is. If you don’t have access to running water – or if the burn is in an area that’s hard to get to – you can apply a cloth that’s been soaked in cold water. Ice wrapped in a towel is also very helpful. (Don’t apply ice directly to a burn because it can cause further skin damage).
Once the burn is cool, gently pat your skin dry and apply an antibiotic ointment. In most cases, this is all you’ll need to do to prevent blisters or swelling later on.
Spread on the aloe. People have been using the juice from aloe vera plants for centuries – not only for burns, but for relief from all kinds of skin injuries. Aloe vera contains a compound called allantoin, a substance that has been shown to speed wound healing. Better yet, it’s a lot cheaper that over the counter drugs. Many people keep a plant on their windowsill – just in case!
Before using aloe vera, clean the burn thoroughly with soap and water. Then break off a piece from a leaf of the plant and cut it lengthwise. (You don’t have to pick off the leaf – it will “heal” its own cuts and can be used again another time). Squeeze out the gel and apply it liberally to the burn several times a day.
Try a milk compress . If you don’t have aloe, you can also treat a burn with a milk compress. Like water, cool milk will quickly put out a burn’s fire. In addition, the fat in milk may help the burns heal more quickly. Leave the compress in place for five to ten minutes. Then rinse your skin well and pat the area dry.
Get some vitamin C . Your body uses this power house nutrient to help repair damaged tissues, including those damaged by burns. For extra help in healing wounds, doctors often recommend getting 500 to 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day.
Put on some infection protection . Because even small burns can expose large areas of sensitive skin, there’s high risk of infection. To protect yourself, it’s a good idea to apply an antibiotic burn cream, which will add moisture to the wound and also prevent infections from taking hold. As an added benefit, antibiotic creams seal off the burn from the air, which can irritate exposed nerve endings.
Put aspirin to work. This all purpose remedy is very effective stopping the pain from burns. In addition, aspirin (as well as ibuprofen) can help stop inflammation, which will relieve pain and may help the area heal faster.
Let the burn breathe . It’s a good idea to bandage burns, but you don’t want to wrap the area so tightly that no air gets in. doctors recommend dressing burns with sterile pieces of gauze. Don’t wrap the gauze tightly in place, since this will only irritate the burn. Instead, wrap it lightly, to protect it while allowing air to circulate.
Ban the butter . For years, people “treated” burns by smearing on butter or grease. Doctors now advise that this old fashioned practice actually makes burns worse because it locks in heat rather than allowing it to escape. Plus, putting butter or grease on a burn can promote infection.