First Aid: Burns

Call 911

Call 911 right away if the person has any of the following:

  • Symptoms of shock

  • Trouble breathing

  • Second- or third-degree burns over a large area, like an entire leg or back.

While you wait for help:

  1. Reassure the person.

  2. Treat for shock or provide rescue breathing or CPR, if needed.


1st degree burn (superficial): The injury may look and feel like a mild sunburn.

2nd degree burn (partial thickness): Outer and some of the inner skin layers are burned and usually blister. The injury may be very painful.

3rd degree burn (full thickness): All skin layers are destroyed. Injury looks charred or white. May cause little or no pain.

When to seek medical help

Seek medical help if any of the following is true:

  • Third-degree burns are present, or blistered second-degree burns cover an area larger than the victim's palm.

  • The head or neck is burned. The airway or lungs may also be damaged.

  • The burn is on the hands, feet, or groin. These areas have little fat to protect them, making damage to muscles and ligaments more likely.

  • The victim is over age 60 or under age 5. People of these ages are less able to fight infection.

Step 1. Break contact between heat source and skin

  • If clothes are drenched with hot liquid, remove them right away. Or stand the person—clothes and all—in a cool shower.

  • To smother flames, drop the victim to the ground and roll the body.

Step 2. Cool the burn right away

The body holds heat and continues to burn until the skin cools.

  • Hold the burn under cold running water. Or submerge the burn in a sinkful of water. Or place water-soaked cloths, towels, or sheets over the burn. Add more cold water to the cloth as it absorbs heat from the burn.

  • Don't use butter on a burn. Oil seals in heat and may cause infection.

Step 3. Clean the burn

  • Lift or cut away any clothing covering the burn. Any cloth fibers sticking to the injury should be removed by a healthcare provider.

  • Gently wash small first- or second-degree burns with mild soap and water.

  • Don't break any blisters. They protect the burn from infection.

Step 4. Bandage the burn

  • Protect the burn with a clean, dry dressing loosely bandaged in place.

  • Place a clean, dry sheet or fabric tablecloth over burns covering a large area.