On the long list of beauty mishaps, curling iron burns are perhaps the most painful. And, they're especially concerning as they can lead to long-term damage and scarring. And they're common—even those most adept at wielding wands and styling swiftly can have an accidental slip of the wrist. For those of us (raises hand) less dexterous with a hot tool, curling iron burns are a real threat every time we take on the task of styling our hair.
In the event you do end up in this unfortunate situation (I've been there more than I'd like to admit), it's important you treat the wound properly to avoid infection and minimize your chance of scarring. We had two nurses (who specialize in wound care and plastic surgery) and a board-certified dermatologist weigh in on the matter, providing step-by-step advice on how to heal a curling iron burn at home. So the next time you happen to singe your face, neck, or wrists during your styling efforts, you'll know exactly what to do. Keep scrolling to read their instructions.
Meet the Expert
- Meghan Brown, RN, is the nurse manager for the wound center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.
- Donna Sieffert, RN, is the nurse manager for plastic surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
- Anna Guanche, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and celebrity skin care expert.
Cool It Down
Your first instinct in this situation might be to ice the area or run ice-cold water over it, but that can actually worsen the burn. "Immediately after a burn, you should cool down the skin with a cool compress for several minutes," explains Brown. "Do not use ice, as it could potentially damage your skin further."
Assess the Damage
Once you've cooled down the burn, assess the damage. "Most curling iron burns are first-degree and treated at home without medical intervention," assures Sieffert. However, if the burn results in blisters, discharge, or severe color change, immediately seek medical care.
Disinfect and Protect the Burn
Once you've assessed the damage, it's important to disinfect and protect the burn to prevent infection. "After you cool the burn with a compress, clean it with soap and water and coat it with an antibiotic ointment and cover if possible," advises Brown. Always wash your hands thoroughly before cleaning and applying ointment. Do not use hydrogen peroxide, as this can destroy the healthy tissue along the wound and further damage the skin. Avoid using cosmetics or any products with fragrances or active ingredients near the area as this could irritate the burn.
Soothe and Moisturize the Area
"There is a saying amongst us nurses: 'A dry cell is a dead cell,'" notes Brown. "So keeping a wound moist aids the healing process." In the first few days of recovery, the antibacterial ointment you apply should pull double duty, not only disinfecting and protecting your wound but also keeping it moisturized. After those initial days, you can continue moisturizing with a thick ointment like Aquaphor to speed up the healing process and reduce the risk of scarring.
Minimize Your Risk of Scarring
"You can't prevent scarring, but after it heals, you can massage the wound with coconut oil every day to help break up the scar tissue," suggests Sieffert.
"If blisters form, do not lift off the skin as it can remain as a bandage to site until it re-epithelializes (regrows new layers of skin underneath)," notes Guanche.
To minimize your risk of scarring, Sieffert insists it's important to "stay out of the sun and wear sunscreen to lessen the appearance of the scar." Guanche agrees, "Keep the area covered and protected. Keep out of the sun and apply SPF to the affected area to reduce hyperpigmentation, or dark coloration, which is exacerbated by sun exposure during the healing process."
Once your scar has started to heal, you'll probably want to reduce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (or PIH, for short) as much as possible. "If the site is healed you must continue to practice sun protection. Use of brightening topical creams that contain arbutin, kojic acid, hydroquinone, or licorice extract will help to lighten the pigmentation," says Guanche. "A visit to the dermatologist for a series of mild superficial peels and prescription-strength retinoids with hydroquinone might be necessary."
If you're looking for a brightening cream, our editors love the Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream ($22) or the Peter Thomas Roth PRO Strength Niacinamide Discoloration Treatment ($88).
As tempting as it might be, avoid picking at or popping your blister. They are actually there to protect you. Guanche advises, "Do not pop them! If they pop naturally, leave on the remaining skin. The skin acts as protection. If the blister is tense, it can be released with a clean sharp pin and drained, but ideally by your dermatologist. Do not unroof the blister as the skin will be raw and more likely to scar or hyperpigment."
Avoid Future Burns
Most curling iron burns happen because we're rushing or not giving the process our full attention. Be sure to use caution when styling your hair, especially when using a hot tool close to your hairline or neck. It's also a good idea to wear some sort of glove or protective hand gear when using hot tools to avoid burns on the hands. Some curling rods, like the Hot Tools Nano Ceramic Tapered Curling Iron ($58) come with a heat-resistant glove to protect you and your skin. Minimize distractions and avoid styling when you're very tired if you can. And lastly, try to begin styling further from your roots when possible.
Can you cover the burn with makeup?
You can, but Guanche advises, "It is important to ensure that it is healed and not raw. If applying makeup to a fresh burn you are at risk of causing infection."
Why shouldn't you apply ice to a burn?
Ice is too cold and can damage your skin even further.
Should I apply sunscreen on the burn only, or all over the skin?
To reduce the risk of skin damage, you should apply sunscreen all over the skin, including the areas that have been burned. This will not only help decrease the chance of hyperpigmentation at the burn site but help protect your skin.