Minor burns don't always require a doctor's visit if you know how to treat them yourself.

By Claudia Fisher
Updated August 27, 2018
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A lot of us–accident prone or not–have sustained minor burns while going about our routines. Whether with a curling iron or a stove rack, a lot of common ways we've burned ourselves don't call for a doctor's visit if you know what to do in the immediate aftermath. So the next time you touch something before it's cooled down completely, here's how to treat a burn at home.

How to Treat a First Degree Burn

You can treat first degree burns–which are the most superficial burns on just the top layer of skin and can even include sunburns–at home. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), a group of over 20,000 practicing dermatologists, lays out five steps for how to treat burns. First, you need to cool the burn ASAP using water or a cold compress. After 10 minutes or when the pain is gone, you should coat the burned area in petroleum jelly and continue applying it two to three times a day until the skin heals.

How to treat burns with petroleum jelly

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Next, wrap a non-stick, sterile bandage over the wound and take over-the-counter pain medication, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, if you think it's necessary. These medications aren't only for pain but can also help reduce inflammation.

The last step extends beyond the immediate aftermath of sustaining a burn and will help reduce your chances of scarring: sun protection. If you're going out in the sun, make sure you're paying particular attention to the wounded area and using a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 or covering the burn up with your clothes. Consumer Reports' list of the best sunscreens in 2018 ranked one of La Roche-Posay's the most effective.

How to Treat a Burn Blister

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While first degree burns are considered minor for most of the population, dermatologists recommend infants and elderly people go to an emergency room to be treated.

How to Treat Second or Third Degree Burns

Second and third degree burns are more serious and deeper than the first degree burns you can treat by yourself at home. If you burn yourself more severely, you should call 911 or head to the ER immediately.

The Mayo Clinic defines major burns as having a diameter bigger than 3-inches or those that cover the hands, feet, face, groin, butt, or a major joint. Common signs your burn is major include white, brown, or black patches, dry and leathery textures, and a charred appearance.

Medical News Today points out that second degree burns will form blisters right away while first degree, minor burns blister a few days after the initial incident.

How to Treat a Burn Blister

The AAD warns against popping blisters, which form to protect the injured skin from infection, and instead urges you to be patient and let the blister heal on its own. Putting a Band-Aid over a blister can help protect it while it heals. If a blister pops on its own, you should wash away any fluids with mild soap.