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How to treat minor burns and cuts

Dermatologist shares tips on caring for minor kitchen and holiday accidents

ROSEMONT, Ill. (December 6, 2022) — With the holidays upon us, kitchen accidents can become more common as we cook meals for large gatherings of friends and family. In preparation for the holiday season, a board-certified dermatologist from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is sharing tips on how to treat minor burns and cuts and apply proper wound care.

“If you get a minor, first-degree burn, it’s important to treat it right away,” said board-certified dermatologist Lindsay Strowd, MD, FAAD, associate professor and interim chair of dermatology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. “Not only can a first-degree burn be very painful, but it can leave a scar if not properly treated.”

First-degree burns are very common and can frequently occur after accidentally touching a hot stove or oven, electrical burns from holiday decorations, or hot water from washing dishes after your meal. Unlike second- or third-degree burns, which are more severe, first-degree burns only involve the top layer of the skin. If you have a first-degree burn, your skin may be red and painful, and you may experience mild swelling.

To treat a first-degree burn, Dr. Strowd and the AAD recommend the following tips:

  1. Cool the burn. Immediately immerse the burn in cool tap water or apply cold, wet compresses. Do this until the pain subsides.

  2. Apply petroleum jelly two to three times daily. Do not apply ointments, toothpaste or butter to the burn, as these may cause an infection. Do not apply topical antibiotics as these may irritate your skin or cause allergic reactions.

  3. Cover the burn with a nonstick, sterile bandage. If blisters form, let them heal on their own while keeping the area covered. Do not pop the blisters.

  4. Consider taking over-the-counter pain medication. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help relieve the pain and reduce inflammation.

  5. Protect the area from the sun. While the burn is healing, keep the area moist and covered with a non-stick bandage or gauze with paper tape. Once the burn heals, protect it by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing or applying a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher as this will help minimize scarring. Since sun exposure can cause additional skin redness or darkening, especially in people with darker skin tones, it’s important to keep the area covered and away from the sun.

First-degree burns usually heal on their own without treatment from a doctor. However, if the first-degree burn is very large or severe, or if the person is an infant or an older adult, go to an emergency room immediately.

Burns aren’t the only injuries that are common during the holiday season.

“Cuts from a sharp knife or a piece of glass are very common and often occur while people are preparing food, washing dishes, or even crafting,” said Dr. Strowd. “All it takes is a slip of the knife or a dish breaking. While these types of cuts are startling, most can be safely treated at home.”

To treat a minor cut, Dr. Strowd recommends the following tips:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.

  2. Wash the cut to prevent infection. Use cool or warm water and a mild soap or cleanser to gently remove dirt or debris.

  3. Stop the bleeding. Apply pressure to the cut using a clean washcloth or gauze. Maintain pressure for one to two minutes or until the bleeding stops.

  4. Apply petroleum jelly. This will help keep the wound moist for faster healing. Make sure you apply it continuously until the cut heals. To help prevent the spread of dirt and bacteria, consider using petroleum jelly from a tube instead of a jar. Do not apply topical antibiotics.

  5. Cover the cut with a sterile bandage. This will help protect the cut and prevent it from reopening. Change the bandage daily, and keep the cut covered until it heals.

  6. Consider taking over-the-counter pain medication. Acetaminophen can help relieve pain from cuts.

  7. Make sure your tetanus vaccination is up to date if your cut is from a dirty or rusty object. If you aren’t sure, contact your primary care doctor.

If your cut is longer than three-fourths of an inch, more than a quarter inch deep, or won’t stop bleeding, seek immediate medical attention.

“Whenever your skin is injured—whether by accident or from surgery—your body works to repair the wound. As your skin heals, a scar may form, as this is a natural part of the healing process,” said Dr. Strowd. “The appearance of a scar often depends on how well the wound heals. If you have minor cuts or scrapes, you can help reduce the appearance of a scar by properly treating the injury at home.”

No one understands your skin better than a board-certified dermatologist. To find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/findaderm.

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Angela Panateri, apanateri@aad.org

Rhys Saunders, rsaunders@aad.org

Media Relations, mediarelations@aad.org

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About the AAD

As a follow-up to our conversation, please use the following boilerplate on your news releases moving forward as we will no longer be promoting Twitter and we have streamlined the language: Headquartered in Rosemont, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology, founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 20,000 physicians worldwide, the AAD is committed to advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care because skin, hair, and nail conditions can have a serious impact on your health and well-being. For more information, contact the AAD at (888) 462-DERM (3376) or aad.org. Follow @AADskin on Facebook, Pinterest and YouTube and @AADskin1 on Instagram.

Editor’s note: The AAD does not promote or endorse any products or services. This content is intended as editorial content and should not be embedded with any paid, sponsored or advertorial content as it could be perceived as an AAD endorsement.