washing hands, first aid for a burn

If you burn yourself in the kitchen, what’s the first thing you do? It is helpful to know first aid for a burn consists, first, of cold water. Here’s one reader’s experience with this essential remedy.

First Aid for a Burn–Cold Water:

Q. I read in your column about a woman who burned her hand on a curling iron. She used cold soy sauce to relieve the pain.

Many years ago, I absent-mindedly poured boiling water from the tea kettle over my hand instead of in the mug. The pain was incredible.

I grabbed a large pot and filled it with ice and water. I put my hand in the icy water to relieve the pain. When the hand got numb, I took it out of the water and when it started to hurt again I would submerge my hand again. I continued this for a couple of hours until the pain was gone. My hand never blistered or showed signs of a burn.

Ice Water as First Aid for a Burn?

A. An article in JAMA (Aug. 27, 1960) recommended ice water as first aid for burns.

The physician reported

“In each of 150 cases, pain was immediately relieved and the extent of the redness and blistering visibly reduced. Local cooling was continued for several hours, until pain no longer returned when the part was taken out of the bath… This form of treatment has advantages in emergency care for lesser burns, since it is easily available, inexpensive, humane, and promptly effective.”

More recent first-aid advice suggests cool water without ice.

An animal study showed that ice water cooling

“is associated with an increase in tissue damage” (Burns, Nov. 2007).

The temperature of cold tap water appears to be nearly ideal for use as first aid for a burn (Wound Repair and Regeneration, Sep-Oct. 2008). The scientists found that the burn will heal best if kept under cold tap water for at least 20 minutes.

We still believe that either soy sauce or yellow mustard can be applied after the cold water treatment to further reduce pain and redness. A serious burn requires immediate medical attention.

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  1. Sandie

    I burned my hand several years ago on a Corelle skillet that I used to bake a meatloaf in the toaster oven. I used pot holder to take off cover and placed on stove. Let it sit for a few minutes then I stupidly grabbed the handle to hold onto while I was going to use spatula to take out of skillet. As soon as I grabbed the handle I was done. OMG the pain. I did everything: cold water, ice, butter, etc. I walked the floors. Sooooo much pain. I looked in medicine cabinet. I reached for a tube of topical anesthetic cream. Immediately upon putting on hand the pain went away. Instantly!
    I always keep it in the kitchen now

    • Kara

      Sandie, What kind of “topical anesthetic cream”??

  2. Marie

    We have found that the best thing for a burn is flour. Just plain, white, baking flour. it is amazing. It takes away the heat of the burn immediately. There is no redness. No blister. You don’t even know you have had a burn. Just put the flour directly on the burn. Or, just plunge your hand or finger right into the container of flour. Works better than anything else we have ever tried.

    Thanks for all your hard work and research. Your information is invaluable.

  3. Jan
    Greensboro, NC

    I burned my finger with hot glue in my classroom. I could not have stood at the sink to run water on it so I put water in a plastic cup with a couple of ice cubes. I was able to hold the cup with my finger submerged. I took it out when it got to cold and put it back in when it began to hurt. Eventually, it stopped hurting.
    Also, I have taken a wash cloth and laid it on my forearm after greased popped out of a pan. Then put ice in an ice bag and put it on the cloth. It went on and came off as needed. Both burns cause no pain once the heat and inflammation left.

  4. Jennifer

    I have also used cold water, and it worked, but it takes such a long time, and pretty much puts a person “on hold” for an hour.
    I found that a thin slice of onion placed on the burn works amazing, and you can pretty much continue life as usual. The onion can be held in place with plactic wrap-or use the thin, inner peel of an onion, which is ideal-just stick it to the burn like plastic wrap, and leave it there-the pain goes away very quickly, but leave the onion on until there is no pain and no scar.
    A paste of aloe vera and onion also does wonders.

  5. Cpmt

    For me the best is and has been SOY SAUCE after cold water . Better than anything else no blisters stopped pain etc

  6. Lisa M
    Orange County CA

    I use chilled water from the fridge, since my tap water tends to be not that cool. Immediately soak in that for a couple of minutes to cool the heat of the burn. Then liberally apply soy sauce and dab some more on later as I think of it. Even a burn from the oven rack left no mark whatsoever and the pain was gone very soon after the water and soy sauce ritual.

    • nohemy
      Tsmpa, Fl

      I read that white vinegar was good to aleviate a sunburn by applying on the skin before taking a shower and it works , so one day I got burned in the kitchen while cooking, graved the vinegar bottle and pour over the burned area, amazing ! stunk for a second and no blister, no pain and no scar. I recommend to keep a bottle of white vinegar under the sink !

  7. Anne

    Best results for me have been soaking the burned area in very cold water for at least half an hour, and then covering the area with pure lavender oil. Lavender oil is amazing for burn relief and healing.

  8. Bob
    South Carolina

    Years ago when I got a burn I would immediately place it under cold water. While it reduced the pain of the burn somewhat I still ended up with burn marks/skin, redness, and pain for the next day or two. Since I’ve switched over to soy sauce I get none of the above. The pain lasts for only a few minutes and after that everything feels normal.

    There appears to be two different mechanisms with these solutions. One (water only treatment) is strictly reducing the temperature of the skin. Soy sauce not only cools the skin but I’m assuming that the salt (and maybe other chemicals) has something to do with its effectiveness. There is no question that soy sauce works significantly better than using just water as a cooling agent. Proved this many, many times as well as recently as a week ago.

  9. John

    I applied a pack of frozen vegetables to my small burn for an extended period of time. It did reduce pain and the burn eventually healed, but it appeared that the top layer of skin was damaged. The burn required more attention and took longer to heal. Next time I will do it right.

  10. Will

    The study used running water for cooling, and I wonder whether the same results could be achieved by submerging the burn in still water maintained at the 15 C or 2 C temperature. Otherwise it requires standing at a faucet for 20 minutes.

  11. Barbara

    Perhaps cold running tap water works, but with the shortage of clean tap water these days in many locations, running water for 20 minutes shouldn’t be the first thing to do. Soy sauce sounds like a better option.

  12. Judy
    Maryland (USA)

    I had this same experience. I grabbed my curling iron by the wrong end. Wow, did that hurt. It hurt so badly every time I took my hand out of the sink of cold water, that I just kept my hand submerged for about half an hour. After that, I had a small amount of redness and pain. I used an over-the-counter burn relief aid because I had to attend a ceremony. By that evening, I could not even tell that my hand had been burned.

    And to think that I considered going to an emergency care facility at first because of the pain!

  13. Felicity

    Ever since I first heard of soy sauce (thru People’s Pharmacy) as a remedy for a burn, I’ve used it with success every time. I find it much better and faster than using cold/ice water. I keep a bottle of cheap soy sauce (only for burns) near my stove and immediately wet a small piece of cotton ball and tape it on the burn. No blister, and it disappears quickly!

    • Gary
      Chicago, IL

      Keeping soy sauce near the oven is good; keeping an oven mitt near the oven is better!

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