Appropriate first aid must be used to treat any burns or scalds as soon as possible. This will limit the amount of damage to your skin.
You can apply the following first aid techniques to yourself or another person who's been burnt.
First aid for burns
- Stop the burning process as soon as possible. This may mean removing the person from the area, dousing flames with water, or smothering flames with a blanket. Do not put yourself at risk of getting burnt as well.
- Remove any clothing or jewellery near the burnt area of skin, including babies' nappies. But do not try to remove anything that's stuck to the burnt skin, as this could cause more damage.
- Cool the burn with cool or lukewarm running water for 20 minutes as soon as possible after the injury. Never use ice, iced water, or any creams or greasy substances like butter.
- Keep yourself or the person warm. Use a blanket or layers of clothing, but avoid putting them on the injured area. Keeping warm will prevent hypothermia, where a person's body temperature drops below 35C (95F). This is a risk if you're cooling a large burnt area, particularly in young children and elderly people.
- Cover the burn with cling film. Lay the cling film over the burn, rather than wrapping it around a limb. A clean, clear plastic bag can be used for burns on your hand.
- Treat the pain from a burn with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always check the manufacturer's instructions when using over-the-counter medication. Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin.
- Raise the affected area, if possible. This will hep to reduce swelling.
When to go to hospital
Once you have taken these steps, you'll need to decide whether further medical treatment is necessary.
Go to a hospital accident and emergency (A&E) department for:
- large burns bigger than the size of the affected person's hand
- deep burns of any size that cause white or charred skin
- burns on the face, neck, hands, feet, any joints, or genitals
- all chemical and electrical burns
- any other injuries that need treating
- any signs of shock – symptoms include cold, clammy skin, sweating, rapid, shallow breathing, and weakness or dizziness
You should also go to hospital if you or the person who has been burned:
- is under the age of 10
- has a medical condition, such as heart, lung or liver disease, or diabetes
- has a weakened immune system (the body's defence system) – for example, because of HIV or AIDS, or because they're having chemotherapy for cancer
If someone has breathed in smoke or fumes, they should also get medical attention at hospital.
Some symptoms may be delayed, and can include:
- a sore throat
- difficulty breathing
- singed nasal hair
- facial burns
You should also go to A&E if you have been injured intentionally, or think someone has been injured intentionally.
See recovering from burns and scalds for information on how serious burns are treated.
Electrical burns may not look serious, but they can be very damaging. Someone who has an electrical burn should seek immediate medical attention at an A&E department.
If the person has been injured by a low-voltage source (up to 220 to 240 volts), such as a domestic electricity supply, safely switch off the power supply or remove the person from the electrical source using a material that doesn't conduct electricity, such as a wooden stick or a wooden chair.
Do not approach a person who's connected to a high-voltage source (1,000 volts or more).
Acid and chemical burns
Acid and chemical burns can be very damaging and require immediate medical attention at an A&E department.
If possible, find out what chemical caused the burn and tell the healthcare professionals at A&E.
If you're helping someone else, put on appropriate protective clothing, such as gloves, and then:
- remove any contaminated clothing on the person
- if the chemical is dry, brush it off their skin
- use running water to remove any traces of the chemical from the burnt area
Follow this advice for sunburn:
- If you notice any signs of sunburn, such as hot, red and painful skin, move into the shade or preferably inside.
- Take a cool bath or shower for 10 minutes to cool down the burnt area of skin.
- Apply aftersun lotion to the affected area to moisturise, cool and soothe it. Don't use greasy or oily products.
- If you have any pain, paracetamol or ibuprofen should help relieve it. Always read the manufacturer's instructions and do not give aspirin to children under the age of 16.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- Watch out for signs of heat exhaustion or heatstroke, where the temperature inside your body rises to 37 to 40C (98.6 to 104F) or above. Symptoms include dizziness, a rapid pulse or vomiting.
If a person with heat exhaustion is taken to a cool place quickly, given water to drink and has their clothing loosened, they should start to feel better within half an hour.
If they don't, they could develop heatstroke. This is a medical emergency and you'll need to call 999 for an ambulance.
Read more about what to do if someone has heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
Page last reviewed: 23 June 2022
Next review due: 23 June 2025