Chemical burns: First aid

If a chemical burns the skin, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the cause of the burn by first brushing any remaining dry chemical and then rinsing the chemical off the skin surface with cool, gently running water for 10 to 20 minutes or more.
  2. Remove clothing or jewelry that has been contaminated by the chemical.
  3. Wrap the burned area loosely with a dry, sterile dressing (if available) or a clean cloth.
  4. Rewash the burned area for several more minutes if the person experiences increased burning after the initial washing.
  5. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if needed for pain. These include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Get a tetanus shot. All burns are susceptible to tetanus. Doctors recommend you get a tetanus shot every 10 years. If your last shot was more than five years ago, your doctor may recommend a tetanus shot booster.

Minor chemical burns usually heal without further treatment.

Seek emergency medical assistance if:

  • The person shows signs of shock, such as fainting, pale complexion or breathing in a notably shallow manner
  • The chemical burn penetrated through the first layer of skin, and the resulting second-degree burn covers an area more than 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) in diameter
  • The chemical burn occurred on the eye, hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or over a major joint
  • The person has pain that cannot be controlled with over-the-counter pain relievers

If you're unsure whether a substance is toxic, call the poison control center at 800-222-1222. If you seek emergency assistance, take the chemical container or a complete description of the substance with you for identification.

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