First Aid for Burns - Top Tips for treating Burns

The pain and damage caused by a burn can be devastating. Giving immediate and appropriate first aid following a burn makes a massive difference in reducing the amount of physical and emotional pain and scarring experienced and can avoid the casualty having any tissue damage at all.

How to Treat a Burn

The ideal treatment for a burn is to get it under cool, running water as quickly as possible.

Being extremely careful, remove any loose clothing covering the burn. NEVER remove clothing if there is any risk the clothes are stuck to the skin.

Immediately put the affected area under cool running water for at least 20 minutes, but ideally longer. Remember you are cooling the burn and not the casualty, so try and keep the water running over just the burnt area and keep the rest of the casualty as warm and dry as possible. Monitor them closely for any signs of shock. Shock is made worse when someone is cold, in pain or scared – therefore remain as calm and reassuring as you can.

Phone an ambulance, particularly if a large area is affected, or if the skin is broken or blistered. Keep the area under the water while you wait for the ambulance to arrive.

A burn is measured using the size of your hand, which is roughly equivalent to 1% of your body. Therefore, a burn measuring just the size of a 50p piece or a postage stamp can be very serious for a baby or small child. Burns to the hands, face, feet, genitals, airways, or a burn that extends all the way round a limb are particularly serious.

If an elderly person is burnt and it is more than a very minor burn, phone an ambulance. Skin becomes thinner and more friable as we get older and an elderly person can be more susceptible to shock and a systemic deterioration following a burn.

Wear sterile gloves when giving first aid for a burn


  • Remove anything that has stuck to a burn
  • Touch a burn
  • Burst blisters
  • Apply any creams, lotions or fats
  • Apply tight dressings, tapes or use anything fluffy

Always get burns assessed by a medical professional.

Dressing a Burn

A dressing such as cling film or encasing a burnt hand in a plastic bag will cover the damaged nerve endings and can reduce the pain experienced by the casualty. It will also reduce the risk of infection.

A burn shouldn’t be dressed until it has been properly cooled under running water for at least 15 minutes. Covering a burn reduces the risk of infection and can reduce pain by covering exposed nerve endings. If a child or elderly person is burnt and the burn is so bad you need to dress it; phone an ambulance and continue to cool the burn under running water whilst waiting for them to arrive.

For adults, cling film can be a good temporary dressing. Discard the first couple of turns of cling film and place an inner piece loosely over the burn. Plastic bags and sterile non-fluffy dressings can also be used to dress a burn.

A proper sealed burn gel dressing is extremely effective at continuing to cool the burn whilst the casualty is transferred to hospital or to a health professional for them to assess the burn. Burn gel dressings should ideally not be applied until the burn has been cooled under running water for 10 minutes.


It is highly recommended that you attend a practical or online first aid course to learn how to help in a medical emergency.

First Aid for Life and provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. The best way to be prepared for action in an emergency is to attend a practical first aid course.

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