The best first-aid step for minor burns to avoid scarring or worse

What do you do when you’re taking that hot bowl of soup out of the microwave and it splashes on your hand, blistering your skin and bringing you to tears?

Do you run for the kitchen faucet to flush the burn, head for your freezer to grab an ice cube, or break off a leaf from the Aloe Vera plant sitting in your kitchen window?

Everyone has their own ideas on how to treat burns.

I remember that my grandmother always swore by the power of butter rubbed into the damaged skin to heal it, while my mom has always gone for the water method. Some people apply toothpaste to their burns and others use egg whites, burn gels, sprays, and a multitude of other options.

But, how do you know which is best? And, do any of them prevent scarring better than the others?

Well, new research published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine has the answer…

Reduces the odds of skin grafting by more than 40 percent

The study analyzed the treatment of over 2,400 children at a children’s hospital following scalds, liquid and steam burns, on or close to their arms or legs. These types of burns, which range from mild to moderate, often occur at home — like that example of hot soup.

And, the researchers found that burns cooled with running water fared far better than those that received no first aid or an alternative treatment — like all of those remedies we talked about at the beginning… even aloe and burn gels.

In fact, the results showed that 20 minutes of cool running water following a burn can:

  • Reduce the odds of needing a skin graft
  • Expedite healing
  • Lessen the chance that a burn victim requires admission to the hospital or surgery

Yup, plain, simple cool running water was the clear winner in burn treatment.

It reduced the odds of a skin graft by a whopping 40 percent, lowered the chance of hospital admission by almost 36 percent, and reduced the risk of needing surgery by over 42 percent!

And, if that’s not enough to make cool water your go-to burn care, there’s more…

Related: This ancient first aid staple heals wounds and fights superbugs

For the patients who didn’t require skin grafting, those who had been treated with cool water first healed faster. This is big news since faster healing reduces the risk of scarring.

According to Bronwyn R. Griffin, Ph.D., an honorary senior fellow at the University of Queensland Child Health Research Centre (Australia) and study co-author, “Cool running water is most effective immediately after a burn occurs, but evidence suggests it remains beneficial for up to three hours following an injury.”

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Caring for yourself or a loved one after a burn

So, if you or a loved one suffers a burn, the first step you take should to be to apply that cool, running water to the area for 20 minutes.

Next, decide if you need to seek care. Look for:

  • The location of the burn – Burns of your face, hands, feet, eyes, ears, and genitals mean an immediate trip to the emergency room.
  • Degree of burn – 3rd- and 4th-degree burns require emergency care, but it can be difficult to determine the degree of your burn in the early stages. This means that for anything other than a small, 1st-degree burn (that is mildly painful and red like a sunburn), it’s better to be safe than sorry and head to the ER or your doctor’s office.
  • Size of burn – If your burn is larger than your palm, you need emergency care.
  • Infection – If you see signs of infection such as increasing pain, foul odor, redness, or swelling, your injury needs to be checked.
  • Worsening symptoms – A burn that continues to get worse means it’s time to get medical attention.

Burns are dangerous issues and nothing to play with but at least now we have the definitive answer of how to treat a burn immediately to lessen the risk of scarring, skin grafts, and hospitalization.


  1. To best treat a burn, first cool with running water, study shows — EurekAlert
  2. Burn Appearance Can Worsen Over The First 48 Hours — HCA Midwest Health
Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.