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What’s the best first aid treatment for a burn?

There are a lot of myths out there on what to do if burn yourself, but the truth is really quite simple.

There is one single treatment, that will do more for a burn than anything else you try. It will not only help reduce the pain of a burn but it will help the burn heal faster and reduce the likelihood of scarring.

It’s so simple, most people downplay its importance, but more and more scientific research is showing us that it is indeed the most effective treatment to help you or someone else recover from a burn.

What is it? Run cool water over the burn for at least 20 minutes non-stop. Believe it or not, this simple action helps the body work to prevent the burn causing deeper damage to the skin, so the burn will heal faster with less scarring.

Some key points to recognise:

  • Use a timer or something to ensure you do keep it up for 20 minutes. It can feel like a long time and many people think ‘that’s enough’ after just 5 minutes, but 20 minutes is the ideal time that does the most good

  • The ideal temperature for the water is anywhere between 2-15° Celsius, so that’s COOL not freezing cold.

  • The water should be RUNNING, not still. (Don’t for example, immerse the person’s whole arm or leg in a bath of ice water, that can lead to other complications.) Evidence suggests it’s the fact the water is running over the burn that does as much good as the temperature of the water.

  • Cool running water is effective on a burn, even if it’s done up to 3 hours AFTER the burn!

  • Do not, under any circumstances use ICE on the burn as this can freeze the skin and kill it worse than the burn

  • If you don’t have access to running water, pouring the same water over a burn, over and over again using a jug or cup is also effective.

  • If all you have is a damp cloth but nothing to pour water from, that is also effective if you place it above the burn and let gravity make the water trickle over the burn. (If you have access to water, say a lake or something, just keep soaking the cloth and placing it above the wound to keep the trickle going.)

NOTE: Burn gels that can FEEL like they are cooling the burn are not as effective as actual running water, but they can be applied AFTER the 20 minutes of running water.

Do not apply butter, Vaseline or other creams to the wound. The best thing to do is cover the burn in Cling Wrap. This keeps it sterile but allows medical or ambulance personnel to view the burn without pulling it off and doing further damage.

If you would like to know more about treating burns, get trained in First Aid at


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