Please select the country or location you would like to see content from.
country picker icon
condition icon



Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 23.02.2023 | 3 min read

Burns can happen in a second, and it’s important to act fast to prevent further injury and reduce the risk of scarring. Minor burns and scalds are fairly common, with hot water from pans, kettles, or the bath at the top of the list, and fireworks when celebrations come around.

Burns typically affects the hands, forearms, and face, or the lower legs or bottom when young children get in a very hot bath. Sunburn also counts as a burn, and the following advice applies.

Take burns seriously, even if there isn’t much to see initially – it can take some time for the skin to react and deep pain to set in, but the skin has been traumatized, and the process of injury continues unless it is cooled and treated.

What should I do immediately after a burn?

Taking care of your own safety first, you need to remove the person from the source of heat immediately. If there are flames, extinguish these using the ‘drop and roll’ technique or cover them with a blanket. Chemical or electrical burns will require protective equipment, so dial 911 and do not approach until you have specialist advice.

Then follow these steps:

COOL – run the area under cool running water for at least 20 minutes – remove clothes and jewelry if not stuck on – avoid ice or ice-cold water

CALL - 911 if necessary – always seek medical advice for a child or baby that has been burned, as they will lose more heat than adults, and if the burn covers a large area or is blistering or deep

COVER – layer cling film over the area once cooled to avoid infection – and elevate the area to avoid swelling

KEEP WARM – with coats or blankets, especially for children or the elderly, and especially if you are cooling a large area of skin – to avoid hypothermia

Anything I should avoid?

You should avoid the following to promote healing:

  • Avoid a whole-body shower, as this can induce hypothermia.
  • Avoid pulling clothes stuck to the burn-off, as this may cause more skin damage.
  • Avoid delaying the cooling process – you can cool the area while calling 911 if necessary, or cool first and then go to the hospital – this is to reduce pain and prevent long-term scarring.
  • Avoid putting household products – butter, toothpaste, or cream – on the burn, as these can cause further harm.
  • Avoid using ice to cool the burn, as this can deepen the burn.
  • Avoid plasters or adhesive bandages on the burn, as this can cause further damage to the skin on removal.
  • Avoid wrapping clingfilm – layer it instead to allow blood flow; if clingfilm is unavailable, use a clean cotton sheet; a clear, clean plastic bag can be helpful for hand injuries.

Caidr pharmacists' top tips

Treatment at home or with pharmacy products is generally limited only to first-degree (superficial) burns that just affect the outer layer of the skin. Anything deeper than this, or which covers the size of the skin surface larger than the affected person’s hand, will need medical attention.

Mild burns are damage to the skin typically caused by dry heat, such as a hot iron, hot oven, or a fire. A hot wet substance, such as contact with hot water or steam, cause scalds. They are both treated in the same way, and in most cases, mild burns or scalds can be treated at home and normally heal without needing further treatment.

When should I see my doctor?

For thermal burns (from a heat source), anything more than first-degree burns should be assessed in the Emergency Department. If the burn covers an area larger than the injured person's hand, it's blistering, white, or charred, or it affects the face, hands, arms, feet, legs, or genitals, these should be immediately assessed.

Other reasons for urgent medical attention include: if the injured person has long-term medical conditions that make them more vulnerable, they are over 60 or less than 5 years old, or they are pregnant, they should seek urgent medical attention.

Any electrical or chemical burns require a 911 call, even if you can't see an injury, as this can affect the heart or cause delayed damage. You must call 911 immediately if the injured person has difficulty breathing or responding if they feel unwell or are sweaty and clammy.

Was this helpful?

Was this helpful?

Newsletter icon
Subscribe to our Newsletter
to get monthly notified about our latest health and wellness topics.
By clicking Subscribe, I agree to the Healthwords Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of the newsletter subscription at any time.