How to prevent and care for burns and scalds

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Burns and scalds are among the most common, yet distressing, injuries that we can encounter in our daily lives. Whether caused by an accident in the kitchen or a mishap with a curling iron, these injuries can not only cause serious pain but can also lead to long-term health complications if not properly treated.

However, through expert advice and practical tips in this article, you can gain the confidence to manage burns and scalds, ensuring the best possible outcomes for skin health and recovery. 

What’s the difference between a burn and a scald?

Burns and scalds are both injuries caused by exposure to heat but the primary difference between the two lies in the source of heat.

Burns are caused by direct contact with dry heat, for example, touching an iron or fire. Scalds are caused by wet heat, for example, boiling water or steam.

Both burns and scalds can cause swelling, blistering, scarring, and sometimes infection.

Different degrees of burns

Burns are classified by degree depending on how severely they injure the skin and how deeply the skin is penetrated. It is important to determine what degree burn you may have, to receive the most appropriate care as different burn degrees require different treatment.

First-degree burns

Microscopic diagram of a first degree burn on the skin
First-degree burns affect the most superficial layer of skin

Also known as superficial burns, first-degree burns are the least severe type of burn and can usually be treated at home. They only affect the outer layer of skin (the epidermis) and are characterised by pain, redness, and minor swelling. These burns do not blister tend to heal in three to six days without any scarring. 

Second-degree burns

Microscopic diagram of a second-degree burn on the skin
Second-degree burns cause blistering

Second-degree burns are also called ‘partial thickness burns’ because they extend through the first layer of skin into the second layer (the dermis). Symptoms of second-degree burns include intense redness, pain, swelling and blistering. The burn blisters can also pop open, increasing the risk of infection.

Second-degree burns typically heal within 7 to 21 days and can often be treated with basic first aid but depending on their location or size, may also require medical attention. 

Third-degree burns

Third-degree burns, or ‘full thickness burns’, extend through both layers of the skin and may affect underlying tissues such as fat, muscle and bone. The affected area might appear white, brown or charred and there may be little to no pain initially due to nerve damage. Healing from third-degree burns can take months and often requires medical treatment such as surgery and skin grafts.

Fourth-degree burns

Fourth-degree burns go through both layers of the skin and underlying tissue, affecting muscle and bone. The damage is so extensive to the burn area that it may be numb due to nerve destruction. Fourth-degree burns require urgent and extensive medical care, often involving multiple surgeries and long-term rehabilitation.

How to treat burns and scalds

Home first aid for minor burns involves several crucial steps aimed at promoting healing and preventing infection.

Treating first-degree burns

Sunburn is a common form of first-degree burn

Typically, first-degree burns recover on their own and do not require special treatment. 

  • Cool the affected area under running water to relieve the pain.
  • If you have a sunburn, wear loose-fitting clothing for a few days.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.

Treating second-degree burns

Second-degree burns can be more serious and thus require more care than first-degree burns.

  • Move away from the heat source and secure the danger area first. Switch off electrical appliances, fight flames or remove the source before treating the burn. 
  • Remove any clothing or jewellery near the affected area but don't remove anything stuck to the skin. 
  • Immediately cool the burn to reduce swelling by running cool (not ice cold) water over the burn area for 10 to 15 minutes or until the pain eases. Doing this can reduce pain and reduce the extent of the burn. Do not place ice directly on the burnt skin as this can cause ice burns
  • Once cooled, cover the burn by placing a layer of cling film over it.
  • Do not apply supposed home remedies such as butter, toothpaste or egg, as these can do more harm than good and lead to complications such as infection

Should you cover a burn blister or let it breathe?

Benefits of Elastoplast Sensitive XL Dressing
Elastoplast Sensitive Dressings are suitable for burns and larger wounds.

You should keep your burn covered for the first few days as you let your skin heal and try to make sure burn blisters stay closed on your skin. If a blister breaks open, you should keep your wound covered with a burn dressing to prevent infection.

If your burn blister has burst, don't peel off the detached skin. Allow the fluid inside to drain and wash it with mild soap and water. Cover the blister and the area around it with a dry, sterile burn dressing to protect it from infection until it heals.

We recommend Elastoplast dressings to provide a sterile barrier against bacteria and other contaminants, reducing the risk of infection in the open wound left by a burn blister. These dressings create an optimal healing environment by maintaining the right level of moisture around the wound, which speeds up the healing process. They are designed to be comfortable to wear and minimise pain by cushioning the wound and providing protection from friction and pressure.

Elastoplast Waterproof Dressings are available to allow you to carry out everyday activities involving water without having to worry about your wound. Their waterproof film makes them ideal for washing, showering, bathing and swimming.

Elastoplast Sensitive Dressings are available for extra skin-friendly wound protection. They are very gentle on the skin and painless to remove. 

Elastoplast Dressings

How long should you keep a burn covered?

Check the burn for signs of infection when changing dressings

This depends on how fast the burn heals. Change the burn dressing daily and check the burn for signs of infection. If the burn is healing well after a few days, dressing changes may only be needed every three to five days.

Burn dressings should be changed immediately if the wound starts to smell or become painful. 

When to go to the hospital

While home first aid can be enough to soothe minor burns and scalds and burn dressings can help heal them, more severe injuries will require medical attention. You should see a doctor if your burn has any of the following characteristics: 

  • Large burns bigger than the size of the affected person’s hand.  
  • Deep burns of any size that have caused white or charred skin.  
  • Burns in critical parts of the body such as the face, neck and groin. 
  • Shows signs of infection such as redness, swelling, bad odour and discharge. 

How to prevent burns and scalds

Fortunately, many burns can be prevented. Most of them happen in the heart of the home – the kitchen. These simple tips can protect you and your family:

  • Always stay in the kitchen while food is cooking. Don’t get distracted by phone calls, someone calling from another room, etc.
  • Wear protective oven gloves when taking something out of a hot oven.
  • Turn pot and pan handles toward the back or centre of the oven so that they cannot be knocked over, because steam can easily scald your wrists and hands.
  • Place hot liquids like soup, coffee or tea away from the edges of worktops and tables so that children cannot tip them over.
  • Keep items such as dish towels, plastic bags, and long sleeves away from the heating surface.Never cook while holding a child or pet.
  • Keep small children and pets away from the front of the oven.
  • Never warm baby bottles in the microwave; they may heat unevenly and can burn your baby’s mouth.
  • Place a fire extinguisher in or near the kitchen.
  • Test smoke detectors once a month.

Learn more about safety in the kitchen.

Always see a doctor if the wound is deep, bleeds heavily or shows signs of infection like reddening, swelling or warmth. Please note that, although they were compiled with great care, the tips and advice given on this website by no means substitute medical advice and treatment. If you have or suspect a health problem, consult a doctor and follow medical advice, regardless of what you have learned on this website. Always read carefully and follow the instructions for use or the leaflets of our products.

For further information about Elastoplast products, please contact us at

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