How to treat a burn


Do you know what to do if you're burned by direct heat, like from a stove top or a fire? Here's vital information from dermatologist and author Dr. Doris Day, who explains how to treat minor burns at home, and how to tell whether you need to get professional help.

How to treat a burn
Follow these steps to treat a minor burn from a grill or a stove. If you react in time, you may be able to avoid blisters and scars.
  • If you suffer a burn, get a cool pack – not an ice pack. Apply it for 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Take an anti-inflammatory right away, like aspirin or ibuprofen. They will reduce redness and swelling.
  • A hydrocortisone cream also reduces redness and swelling.
  • An aloe vera plant (or gel) soothes the skin and helps to numb the pain.
  • Grind up some oatmeal, milk, honey, and aloe vera gel into a paste. Apply it directly to the burn. Let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes. It acts as a cool pack and can help prevent blisters.
  • If the skin immediately peels off or if the pain in unbearable, it is an indication of a deep burn. Call your doctor or visit the ER right away.

While Dr. Day's tips for treating a minor burn should help reduce the pain and swelling and perhaps blistering, be sure to monitor the burn area closely and seek medical expert medical help if you believe it to be infected or if you have skin immediately peeling in the area.

Cynthia: Hi, I’m Cynthia Guaba for Do you know what to do if you or someone you’re with suffers a burn from a grill or stove? Treating it immediately is important. So let’s get right to dermatologist and author Dr. Doris Day for some answers. Dr. Day, welcome.

Doris: Thank you.

Cynthia: What if someone watching right now has suffered one of these types of burns? What should they do right away?

Doris: The next thing you do is get a cool pack, not an ice pack, but a cool pack. And you can just put it right on top of the burn to help keep that skin cool for the next ten to fifteen minutes.

Cynthia: Cool water. What’s next?

Doris: The next thing you need to do is take aspirin or ibuprofen right away. Again, that will help minimize the redness and swelling and pain that goes with the burn, and you’ll feel better so much more quickly. Also right afterwards, you can use some hydrocortisone cream, and this will take away some of the redness and swelling and may even prevent a blister from occurring altogether. The other thing that you can do right away is take an aloe vera plant, if you happen to have one right at home, and just break a piece off the end, and rub it right onto the burn. And this does several things. One is it's very soothing, it takes away some of that redness as well, and also it helps numb the area to make it less painful, because they can be very painful. If you don’t have an aloe vera plant, you can just use some aloe vera gel.

Cynthia: So I see that you have oatmeal here. How is this going to help?

Doris: I love to make recipes from what you have around the house. So what you can do is if you have oatmeal around, you can take some oatmeal, grind it up, add about a quarter cup of milk, and some honey, and some aloe vera gel. And make a paste out of it. It should be a thick, gooey paste. If you have time, you can even put some of it in the refrigerator to use later, but you’ll take some of this oatmeal paste and you’ll put it directly on top of the burn. And you can just rub it in and let is sit there for ten to fifteen minutes. If it's really cool, you can leave on for a little bit longer, when it warms up you can then go ahead and replace it. I use this as a modified cool pack. The honey is very soothing and it's also an antiseptic, which helps prevent infection from occurring. And honey has a lot of really great qualities to it, so I like that. The oatmeal’s also very soothing, as are the proteins from the milk. And the aloe, again, adds some numbing qualities, some anesthetic qualities and also helps prevent infection from forming. So with this paste, you might even avoid having a blister or a scar at the site. And you can apply this every hour for about five to ten minutes at a time.

Cynthia: How would you know if your burn is bad enough and you need to seek a doctor?

Doris: Depending on how you achieve the burn. So if you really had longstanding contact with the heat source. If you see the skin peeling off immediately, if the pain is severe and you can’t tolerate it. That’s a sign of a very deep burn, and you should call your doctor or go to the emergency room right away.

Cynthia: Dr. Day, thank you.

Doris: Thank you.

Cynthia: I’m Cynthia Guaba for

meet theexpert
  • Dr. Doris Day

    Dr. Doris Day Dermatologist Doris Day is a board certified dermatologist who specializes in laser, cosmetic and surgical dermatology. She's clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the NYU Medical Center and author of the book Forget the Facelift (Penguin/Avery). more about this expert »

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