Minor burns

Burns are caused when your skin comes into contact with something too hot or too cold causing damage to one or more layers of skin. They may be caused by liquids (generally called scalds) or by being exposed to radiation, such as sunburn, as well as by electricity or chemicals.

The type of burn referred to as a minor burn generally only affects the top layer of skin and may be effectively treated without needing to see your doctor, provided the area affected is not large and the skin is not broken.

Minor burns are painful, they cause reddening and swelling of the affected area, but generally heal within a week, with the correct treatment.

The first think you need to do when the skin is burned is to cool the skin (or in the case of a freezer burn, to gently return the area to body temperature), so use tepid, not icy cold water, for at least ten minutes, to cool the area affected as soon as possible after the injury occurs.  A cool bath or shower is also effective to return the area to body temperature and limit the damage to surrounding tissue.

Do not use butter, oil or any greasy substance to soothe the area as this will keep the heat in and make it worse. After two or three hours and the affected area has cooled, a moisturiser could be used if the skin is not broken. The burn can also then be covered with a clean dry bandage or cloth, if on arms, legs, hands or feet. Minor burns to the body may be covered with light cool clothing. Small, minor burns to the face should be left uncovered if the skin is not broken so that further cool compresses may be applied if needed.

If the burn is painful, then taking a mild pain reliever such as paracetamol is often helpful, ensuring that the correct dose is given for that person.

If blisters develop then do not break the blister, but consult your community pharmacist, who will be able to advise you on either an appropriate treatment or advice, or may refer you to your doctor if required.

It is helpful to have simple first aid preparations available to treat minor burns and scalds on hand at all times, particularly in areas where burns often occur; such as the kitchen or when on holiday in the sun.  Consult your community pharmacist for the essential burn preparations to have in your first aid kit.