How to Treat a Burn (Plus, How to Fade Burn Scars)

BY Deanna Pai · November 13, 2017

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Hey, accidents happen. Whether you forgot to re-up your SPF—and earned yourself a nasty sunburn—or had a very painful run-in with a heated curling iron, you’ve probably experienced a burn at some point in your life. Just a few moments in contact with a heat source can cause longer-term consequences, like scarring and, of course, general discomfort.

Here’s how to treat burns—and how to fade burn scars that appear afterward.

How to Treat a Burn

Note: This advice is only for first-degree burns. For anything more severe, you should see a doctor for treatment (which goes for chemical burns, too, which typically require medical attention).

How to tell the difference? “Minor first-degree burns leave the skin pink or red but don’t cause blistering, oozing or crusting,” says Jennifer Hermann, MD, a dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at MFC Dermatology in Beverly Hills, CA. “If redness lasts more than two weeks or any crusting or blistering develops, this may be a sign of a deeper burn that needs attention.”

If you’ve gotten sunburned, your best bet for treating it is a cool compress paired with a thick, bland emollient, such as Aquaphor. As for protecting your new sunburn from the sun, either stay in the shade or use a physical (or mineral) sunscreen. “Many sunscreens, especially those that are chemical-based, may be too irritating to injured skin at this early stage of healing,” explains Dr. Hermann. Dermstore suggests SkinCeuticals Ultimate UV Defense SPF 30.

Once it begins peeling, it’s hands off. “Flaking is part of the natural healing process as your body sheds the injured skin,” says Dr. Hermann. “I typically don’t recommend patients pick or peel the skin as this can remove too many layers and cause additional injury.” That injury can cause irritation or, worse, potentially increase your risk of scarring, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.

As for other minor burns—and by minor, we mean first-degree burns or milder—the treatment is similar to that of a sunburn. Immediately apply a cool compress, and then follow up with a layer of a thick, fragrance-free emollient. “Because the skin barrier is damaged, skin products with many preservatives or fragrances can be too irritating, sting and cause prolonged redness,” says Dr. Hermann. She recommends protecting skin with physical sunscreen to mitigate irritation.

How to Fade Burn Scars

Minor burns or sunburns typically won’t leave a scar, since they don’t damage the deeper layers of skin. But anything more severe can—and probably will—create a scar, though its severity depends on the extent of damage. Dr. Hermann suggests using a scar cream as soon as the top layers of your skin have healed. “Many scar creams contain silicone, which acts to hydrate the skin,” she says. She’s a fan of DNA EGF Renewal DNA Scar Therapy since it also contains DNA enzymes, which target healing microscopically and more efficiently.

Along with that, Dr. Hermann recommends using a zinc-based sunscreen, which will prevent scars from hyper-pigmenting or turning brown. Scars remodel for a year, so patience is key if you’re unhappy. Once it stops changing, you can explore more intensive options. “If texture changes result after the burn, we can use precise resurfacing lasers to smooth skin, and if redness persists, we can use vascular lasers to fade this away more quickly,” she says.

Most burns can be avoided with care and, of course, ample sunscreen. But if you do happen to find yourself on the receiving end of a minor burn or sunburn, these tricks will help alleviate the effects and fade burn scars.

Deanna Pai

Deanna Pai is a freelance beauty writer in New York, NY. She's written for Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Glamour, Women's Health and Refinery29 (among others). You can learn more about he... Read More >