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Skin problems health centre

First aid for minor burns and scalds

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Here are some dos and don'ts to help limit the damage after a burn or scald.

  • Cool the burn or scald immediately, by putting it under a cool, running tap for at least 20 minutes. [9] You can also put it in a bowl of water, or use a spray or a sponge. Wet towels don't work as well, because they warm up when next to your skin. The water you use should be tepid, not too cold. Do not use ice. [10] Ice could cause more damage to your skin.

  • If you have burnt your arm or leg, keeping it raised will help prevent swelling.

  • Take off any rings, bracelets, or watches near the burnt area. They could get too tight if the area swells up.

  • Take off any clothing on the burnt area after you have cooled it down. But don't pull off clothing that is stuck to your skin.

  • If you need to see a doctor, cover your burn before you go. Cling film works well. But don't wrap it around your arm or leg. It will get too tight if the area swells up. Layer the cling film on piece by piece and hold it in place. [11]

  • Don't cover your burn with anything sticky (such as a sticking plaster) or fluffy (such as cotton wool).

  • Don't put any cream or ointment on your burn. These won't help your wound heal. And if you need medical attention they can stop your doctor seeing the wound clearly.

  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen can help the pain of minor burns. Some over-the-counter medicines are only suitable for children over certain ages. Ask your pharmacist for advice, or check the packaging.

  • Don't burst any blisters at home.

  • Check that your tetanus vaccinations are up to date.

Always see a doctor if you or your child has a deep or big burn, or a burn on the face, hands, feet, or genital area.



Tetanus is a serious illness that causes muscles to tighten, most often in your neck and jaw. It is caused by bacteria, which usually enter your body through an injury. Another name for tetanus is lockjaw.

For more terms related to Burns and scalds


For references related to Burns and scalds click here.
Last Updated: March 13, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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