Back to News

How to Treat and Recognise a Burn – Effective First Aid for Burns

Burning Match

Did you know that winter is the most dangerous time of the year when it comes to the heightened risk of burns within the home? Or that burns and scalds are the leading cause of injury to young children, with toddlers being most at risk because their increased mobility and natural curiosity?

Each year, at least 5000 Victorians are treated for burn injuries in emergency departments and hospitals across the state. Approximately 400 people will be transferred to Victoria’s two designated Burn Services, however, only 8% of these injuries are considered severe.

Burn injuries often occur in the home, most often in kitchens and bathrooms, but other high-risk places include fireplaces and camping sites.

Common Causes of Burns and Scalds

The most common causes of injury come from hot water, heaters, oven doors/stove tops, frying pans, sunburn, straightening irons, fireplaces, hot water bottles and candle wax.

Burns can be caused by four ways: Friction (flame), ultraviolet (UV) radiation, hot liquids, electricity, and certain chemicals. All burns require immediate First Aid treatment.

Fortunately, the majority of burns are preventable and by taking a few minutes to make your home and environment as safe as possible, you could prevent a life-changing injury.  

Types of Burns

There is three types of burns that can occur:

  • Superficial burns (First degree burns)

These burns cause damage to the first or top layer of skin only. The burn area will be red and painful. E.g. sunburn.

  • Partial thickness burns (Second degree burns)

These burns cause damage to the first and second skin layers. The burn area will be red, peeling, blistered and swelling with clear or yellow-coloured fluid leaking from the skin.

  • Full thickness burns (Third degree burns)

This involves damage to both the first and second skin layers, plus the underlying tissue. The burn site generally appears black or charred with white exposed fatty tissue. The nerves are destroyed and the pain will not be as strong with a full thickness burn.

First Aid for Burns

The management of burns can depend on the type and extent of the injury. While most minor burns can be treated at home using cool running water for 20 minutes, more serious burns may require medical treatment and medication. The main aim when managing a burn is to control pain, remove dead tissue, prevent infection and reduce scarring.

If a burn or scald does occur and requires treatment, First Aid for burns is the same for all types:

  1. REMOVE all jewellery from around the burn area. Remove any clothing and nappies around the burn area unless stuck to the skin
  2. COOL the burn under cool running water for no more and no less than 20 minutes.
    DO NOT use ice or creams as this can further damage the skin
  3. COVER the burn loosely with cling wrap or a clean, damp lint-free cloth
  4. SEEK immediate medical advice is the burn is:
    • larger than a 20-cent coin
    • on the face, hands, groin or feet
    • deep or infected
    • caused by chemicals or, electricity

Do not use ice to cool the burn as this may make the burn worse. Never apply any lotions, creams or food items (including egg whites, butter, toothpaste, potato). Cool running water is best.

Group of first aid training participants socially distanced


Learn how to manage a range of common first aid scenarios.

3 St John first aid kits stacked on a table in a room


St John has a range of First Aid products to suit any situation. 

Person washing hands with soap


Workplace infection control course completed online within 45 minutes.