Skip to main content

How to Treat a Second-Degree Burn

I received a second-degree burn when I spilled a bowl of piping-hot of grits all over my arm.

Nine months after my second-degree burn, I still have an unsightly scar.

Nine months after my second-degree burn, I still have an unsightly scar.

My Second-Degree Burn

I reached inside the microwave to grab a bowl of grits. The bowl was much hotter than I expected. I lost my grip and spilled piping-hot grits on my forearm. They clung to the skin, burning in place. I finally managed to wipe the grits off and was immediately transfixed at the sight of my skin peeling away to reveal raw, red flesh underneath. Needless to say, ouch.

I did my best to treat the burn immediately, but I should have done more. I made a serious mistake by applying something to my burn that only made it worse. Don't make the same mistakes I did. Educate yourself and follow proper treatment protocol when you suffer a second-degree burn.

What Is a Second Degree Burn?

Second-degree burns are those in which the first layer of skin has been burned through and the second layer of skin, or dermis, is also burned. Signs of second-degree burns include blisters, reddened, splotchy skin, severe pain, and swelling.

The less serious first-degree burn occurs when the outer layer of skin is burned but not all the way through. First and second-degree burns can be treated as minor burns, as long as they are smaller than 3 inches in diameter and do not occur on the face, hands, feet, groin, or buttocks or on a major joint. Burns that meet these criteria should be treated as major and need medical attention.

Third-degree burns are the most serious and cause permanent tissue damage, even affecting fat, muscle, and bone. The burned area may be black or dry and white. Get medical attention right away if you suspect you have suffered a third-degree burn; do not try to treat it yourself. Do not take off clothing stuck to the burn and do not apply any ointments or medications or run the burn under water. Cover the burn with a clean cloth or bandage, raise the burned area above heart level and get to the hospital, or call 911.

Treating a Second-Degree Burn

If you have a minor second-degree burn, follow these treatment tips for optimum healing. These treatments can be applied to minor first-degree burns as well.

  • Cool the burn by running cool, not cold, water over it for about 10 minutes to reduce pain and swelling. Do not put ice on the burn, as this could cause the wound to become too cold and result in additional damage.
  • Put antibiotic cream on the burned area for several days. If antibiotic cream is not immediately available, use aloe vera gel or pure aloe straight from an aloe vera plant to cool the affected area and take away the redness and soreness. Consult with a doctor or pharmacist about other ointments to use - antibiotic ointment can typically only be used for a limited of days, as specified on the package.
  • Use a sterile gauze bandage, to cover and protect the burn. Don't use cotton balls or other materials that might stick to or get inside the wound. Wrap the gauze loosely so that it does not put too much pressure on the burn, causing additional pain. Change the dressing daily. Wash your hands first, then gently with soap and water wash the burned area, reapply the ointment and wrap the burn in a fresh, dry gauze bandage.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if the pain is too bothersome, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Basic Tylenol and Advil work well. A pain relief medication should only be needed for the first couple of days.
  • If pain persists, the wound is oozing, swelling a lot, turning odd colors, or not healing, or if you are running a fever, see a medical doctor for treatment. These symptoms could indicate infection.
  • Don't break blisters or else they will become more prone to infection.
  • Don't apply butter, egg whites, or olive oil to burns, despite those old wives' tales you may have heard.

Electrical and Chemical Burns

Don't attempt to treat electrical and chemical burns by yourself. Seek professional medical help at once. Electrical burns could create damage to internal organs that might not be visible on the skin. Flush chemical burns with cool water. Take off clothes and jewelry that have the chemical on them and don't apply any medication or ointment to the burn, because a chemical reaction could occur. Wrap the burn with a dry, clean cloth and call 911 or a local poison control center or go to the hospital or your doctor's office.

How to Reduce and Treat Scarring

  • Vitamin E oil has long been purported by users to aid in tissue healing when applied topically, although doctors and dermatologists, in general, say it has no benefit. The vitamin oil should be harmless but consult with a medical professional to make sure before using it. Never apply the oil to an open wound. Wait until the wound has closed and new tissue is growing
  • If the burn scabs, let the scab fall off on its own time. I was impatient with my ghastly-looking green scab. It was half attached, half detached and I decided to dab witch hazel on it, a natural astringent, to expedite the process. Big surprise, there was a reason the scab hadn't fallen off on its own; it was very much attached to my flesh. I wound up making the wound worse and prolonged the healing process, and now I've got a much nastier scar than I likely would have had otherwise. Don't rush the healing process.
  • Don't scratch burned skin, even though it will itch as it heals.
  • Burns change color when they are healing - many months after my accident, I still have a reddish nickel-sized raised scar that turns purple when I'm cold. Don't tan for up to a year after the burn, as this could result in further discoloration of the affected area. Cover the area or use sunscreen when out in the sun.
  • To treat raised scars, resulting from burns, rub petroleum jelly or another lubricant on the affected area for 15 to 30 seconds several times a day, using firm, but not painful, pressure to promote healing of the scar tissue. Silicone gel sheets, which can be purchased at pharmacies and online, at sites such as, can also reduce scarring. Creams like Mederma, sold at pharmacies, can also be applied to reduce the appearance of scars, once the wound has closed. Dermatologists can also shrink scars with injections of cortisone or laser treatments.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Doris on May 06, 2018:

I burned my foot with olive oil,across my foot half way and 3 of my toes,the pain was the pain is gone ,I have a large blister,even when drained it fills up me I don't know what to do!

Rita on May 09, 2017:

I woke up with a stiff neck. I promptly put my rice bag in microwave and put on sore spot. I unknowingly burned my skin in a 6x4 inch area. It's starting to blister and burn.. what do I do???

sushant on December 12, 2016:

i have burnt on my thigh by hot tea..that too a full cup n went to a doc n he provided me a cream usiderm...but its not getting the effect its still like swolling..i need it to get dry wat should i do please suggest me something simple..!!plz

Nikki on December 07, 2016:

My Hubby had a horrible accident at his work from a propane tank explosion. This left him with mostly 3rd degree burns on 50% of his upper body. They were able to use skin grafts from his legs and other downers. Its been a long 4 year recovery. physically. mentally and mostly emotionally. He has been dealing with excruciating pain on his chest.The hair is trying to push through the skin and cant, so it causes painful boils. Please help with any advice as to what to do. Whether it be lazar treatment or a new medication but there has to be something to help him. Thank you

Eli on September 03, 2016:

I have a burn that I got for accidentally touching my skin to the hot metal of the exhaust engine for like a split second. I was learning to ride a bike then and the weather was hot. I didn't immediately treat the burn and continued riding the bike for a few rounds before my lesson ended. I thought it was just a normal first degree burn. So when I checked he burn after the lesson, I saw that my a small circle of my skin had its first layer of skin unpeeled and like a crescent moon, on top of it, there is a light brown tan. I couldn't do anything to treat it because we were outside so I just poured some cool water on the burn. When I got back home, I immediately let cold water run over my burn for a few minutes or so. Then I spread over the burn some toothpaste to reduce the stinging pain of the burn. I left it there for a few hours and when I washed it off, my burn wasn't red anymore. The circle area of skin that had been peeled off was damp, though But then two days later, the circle area is starting to scab but the crescent moon tan became really soft and slowly became a dark brown tan with red tinge surrounding it. It stings sometimes when I stand too long because the burn site is located a few centimetres just above my Achilles heel. I got a feeling there's water inside the crescent moon tan but it still looks really flat but with some really small bumps. It looks like I have old skin basically. Should I go to the doctor for treatment if it sound serious? Or can I do something about it at home by myself?

Robert on August 27, 2016:

I burned my lower leg and I am treating as per doc to but if I lower my leg or try to walk it's not happening . When I massage the upper part of the leg the pain subsides long enough for me to go to the bathroom. Then I have to massage to plant the foot to get back .

Bill on August 17, 2016:

Question? My wife has a three day old second burn on her arm, although the healing process has started the soft blister broke from the gauze in two spots, we have been to the Doctor and gave her an antibiotic cream but the broken skin is very raw and painful, what can I do to help her?

Carina on August 13, 2016:

I burned my arm the other day at work from a frier basket. I was in the restaruant kitchen where I work. I passed behind my coworker just as she turned around with the basket. The rim of the basket lightly tapped my arm. Even though it was light, it was soaked with super hot fry oil. About 3 1/2 in, pink scab.

I scar like you wouldn't believe. A bicycle accident when I was 14 left me with a 6 in scrape for 2 years. (Yes you read that right- 2 YEARS). So bottom line- I'm wondering what are the chances that the burn on my arm will scar into a pink strip after the scab itself goes away? Any thoughts?

Crystal Tatum (author) from Georgia on February 15, 2014:

Thanks for sharing that Sarah!

Sarah on February 14, 2014:

My Dermatologist recommended Aquaphor (over the counter) during the healing process-it worked great

Crystal Tatum (author) from Georgia on May 29, 2013:

Maria, I would suggest you see a doctor immediately.

Maria on May 24, 2013:

I got burned in ny hand for like a week now and my hand is getting bo better, its swollen and purple its really paibf from the inside what can I do for it sometimes I can't even take the pain help!!!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on July 26, 2012:

Ouch! Did you know that you can actually get a second degree burn from the sun also? I have known a couple of cases, and it was not a pretty sight. Thanks for this great information!

Crystal Tatum (author) from Georgia on July 23, 2012:

Thanks for stopping by jcevans2009 and for the share!

Crystal Tatum (author) from Georgia on July 23, 2012:

Thanks for reading tierlesstraveler. Great suggestion about the aloe. It is very soothing when taken directly from the plant.

Judy Specht from California on July 22, 2012:

Excellent hub. After going through radiation I burned rather badly. My doctor told me to do most of what you suggested. Neosporine antibiotic cream with pain relief is amazingly wonderful. I found that near the worst of the burn Aloe Vera stung pretty badly. Make sure you use pure Aloe because some of it has alcohol. Voted up and useful

Judith C Evans from Boise, ID on July 21, 2012:

Thank you for explaining about the different kinds of burns and how to treat them. I learned so much from this hub, especially about treating scars. Voted up and sharing!

Crystal Tatum (author) from Georgia on July 18, 2012:

Thanks for reading Redberry Sky. I had a horrible experience when I was about 15 - I was making fudge and the boiling hot ingredients popped out of a saucepan onto my hand. That burn took a long time to heal. I expect this latest one will too. Wish I had done more research on how to treat it properly when the burn happened, but I hope I've saved others the trouble.

Redberry Sky on July 17, 2012:

So easy to burn yourself - I can't tell you how many times I've caught my arm on the hot oven door, and I've done exactly what you did with a hot bowl of food from the microwave! Good advice, Crystal, thanks for sharing, voted up and (very) useful :)

Crystal Tatum (author) from Georgia on July 09, 2012:

Glad you found the article helpful noel autor. Thanks for reading! I hope you never have to follow these instructions!

Crystal Tatum (author) from Georgia on July 09, 2012:

Hey Billy, no worries. I thank you for reading, as always. Don't feel obligated to read every hub, if you can't. I can't keep up with you, you are so prolific!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 07, 2012:

Something is screwy; I'm not getting notified when some people write hubs. I"m sorry I'm so late to get here on this; great info on burns. I've been pretty lucky over the years but now I know thanks to you.

Crystal Tatum (author) from Georgia on July 05, 2012:

Interesting! I've never tried honey. I did try the aloe vera and it has worked well for me, although this time, I think the burn was too serious. I treated only with aloe vera gel for weeks and should have been using an antibiotic cream long before I did. Thanks for reading and your helpful comment!

moonlake from America on July 03, 2012:

I burn myself all the time. Either in the oven or with the curling iron. Believe me curling iron burns can be bad. Great hub lots of good information.

teacherjoe52 on July 03, 2012:

Personally I use either honey or aloe vera for burns,

In my experience (and I have had plenty working in tree planting and forest forest fighting ) it prevents infection,heals quicker and leaves little if any scars.