First Aid: Burns

Call 911 immediately if the person has any of the following:

  • Symptoms of shock

  • Trouble breathing

  • Second- or third-degree burns over a large area, like an entire leg or back.

While you wait for help:

  1. Reassure the person.

  2. Treat for shock or provide rescue breathing or CPR, if needed.


1st degree burn (superficial): The injury may look and feel like a mild sunburn.

2nd degree burn (partial thickness): Outer and some of the inner skin layers are burned and usually blister. The injury may be very painful.

3rd degree burn (full thickness): All skin layers are destroyed. Injury looks charred or white. May cause little or no pain.

Seek medical help if any of the following is true:

  • Third-degree burns are present, or blistered second-degree burns cover an area larger than the victim's palm.

  • The head or neck is burned. The airway or lungs may also be damaged.

  • The burn is on the hands, feet, or groin. These areas have little fat to protect them, making damage to muscles and ligaments more likely.

  • The victim is over age 60 or under age 5. People of these ages are less able to fight infection.

Step 1. Break contact between heat source and skin

  • If clothes are drenched with hot liquid, remove them immediately. Or, stand the person — clothes and all — in a cool shower.

  • To smother flames, drop the victim to the ground and roll the body.

Step 2. Cool the burn immediately

The body holds heat and continues to burn until the skin cools.

  • Hold the burn under cold running water; submerge the burn in a sinkful of water; or place water-soaked cloths, towels, or sheets over the burn. Add more cold water to the cloth as it absorbs heat from the burn.

  • Don't use butter on a burn. Oil seals in heat and may cause infection.

Step 3. Clean the burn

  • Lift or cut away any clothing covering the burn. Any cloth fibers sticking to the injury should be removed by a healthcare provider.

  • Gently wash small first- or second-degree burns with mild soap and water.

  • Don't break any blisters. They protect the burn from infection.

Step 4. Bandage the burn

  • Protect the burn with a clean, dry dressing loosely bandaged in place.

  • Place a clean, dry sheet or fabric tablecloth over burns covering a large area.

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© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.