Ouch! How to Heal a Curling Iron Burn, Stat

Updated 09/23/19
Woman with curled hair
 Rehulian Yevhen/Getty Images

Some say the pain is worth the gain. In the case of burning yourself while trying to achieve effortless beach waves? Not so much.

Unfortunately, most of us who wield a hot tool will, at some point or another, singe the skin around our face, neck, and even wrists—and you need to know exactly what to do or the burn can worsen quickly, get infected, and potentially leave behind an unsightly scar. Not to mention, it can just really, really hurt. We talked with dermatologist Dr. Kate Kleydman about how to best treat a beauty routine-induced burn.

01 of 07

Cool It Down

The moment you get the burn, sprint, don’t walk, to the nearest source of water and run cool water over the injury for as long as you can. Cool water will not only ease initial pain and discomfort by lowering the temperature of the inflamed skin, but it will help prevent skin damage and future scarring. Make sure to not run ice-cold water over the area, as this can actually make the burn worse. Even though it might be tempting, "Be sure not to apply ice, because it can further the burn," Kleydman says. This step is crucial in order to quickly heal a burn. After you run water over it, hold a cool washcloth over the area for double the cooling power. 

Be careful not to turn the water on full blast. This can be painful and the water pressure can also aid in the blistering of the burn.

02 of 07

Assess the Damage

Even if you burn a small area, it's important to check how severe the burn is. Kleydman says to look out for signs of a severe burn, like mottled or leathery skin. "If you are seeing mild to moderate redness of the skin, try managing treatment at home with a proper protocol. If the redness becomes severe, painful, blisters, oozing/discharge seen, excessive skin shedding, color change in skin from red to violaceous [purple] or blue, then seek immediate medical care," she says.

03 of 07

Disinfect and Protect the Burn

Burned skin is very susceptible to infection. After running some cool water over the burn, you should very gently wash it with a mild soap. Never rub or scrub the area, as it will only make it worse. Once it's clean, apply an antibacterial ointment, which will keep the affected area sterile and moisturized while delivering some much-needed pain relief. "I encourage my patients to mix the antibiotic ointment with a silver sulfadiazine cream (50/50) in order to provide proper occlusion to the wound. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide as it can destroy some of the healthy tissue along the wound as well as wreak havoc on already damaged skin," Kleydman says.

During the initial healing period, don’t apply any product like lotion or makeup to the burned area, especially if they have any alcohol-based components (like salicylic/glycolic acid, vitamin C, retinol, lactic acid, or lotions with fragrance ingredients, Kleydman says). Until it completely heals, it's still considered an open wound. Chemicals and fragrances in cosmetics can seriously irritate a burn and put it at risk of infection. Don’t touch the burn site with your fingers either; they can introduce harmful bacteria to the area. Always wash your hands before applying a new round of antibacterial ointment.

Cetaphil skin cleanser
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser $10
Neosporin 24 Hour Infection Protection First Aid Antibiotic Ointment $4
04 of 07

Keep it Covered

For the first few days after the burn, keep the area covered with a sterile gauze pad and medical tape (or a Band-Aid, if the area is small enough to be covered by one) to protect it from bacteria. "It is essential for the dressing (bandage) not to stick to the affected area, so as not to remove any burnt skin when changing the bandage," she says. Basically, make sure to avoid materials you know will stick to your skin, like a plain cotton cloth. Not only will a bandage protect it from bacteria, but it will keep you from accidentally scratching or bumping the area, too.

Avoid putting any kind of cotton product on the burn because it will stick to the skin.

05 of 07

Soothe and Moisturize the Area

Though it will be incredibly tempting, as burns itch—badly—avoid touching it at all costs. Feeling the area, scratching, and picking are surefire ways to slow the healing process. The best way to minimize the itch factor is to keep the area clean and moisturized. Try to wash the wound two to three times a day, applying an antibiotic ointment after each wash.

After the first few days, antibacterial ointment will take care of both protecting and moisturizing the area. Feel free to alternate applications of the first aid treatment and a soothing, healing ointment, or a concentrated skin-calming, redness-reducing aloe vera gel after a few days. These will keep the area moisturized and help it continue to heal. "Moisturizing the affected area with an occlusive, thick ointment (e.g. Aquaphor) is key to speeding up the healing process. This also prevents unnecessary scarring," she says.

Aquaphor Aquaphor $5
Jason Aloe Lotion $9
06 of 07

Treat Any Scarring

When the burned skin has closed and begun to turn a dark, purple-red color, you can focus your efforts on scar treatment. Apply a product that reduces the appearance of redness and targets the raised texture of hypertrophic scars from burns. Hypertrophic scars are dense, purple-red, itchy, and can continue to thicken for months after the moment of injury.

"Using topical agents with silica (silicone) after the wound heals (1-2 weeks) will help to prevent and minimize scarring," Kleydman says. Try a scar therapy product like Scar Away Repair Gel, a self-drying gel targeted to soften and flatten hypertrophic scars so the affected skin appears flatter and more normal in color. Or you can opt for Scar Away Silicone Daily Discs, which are even easier thanks to curling iron burn-sized silicone discs that shrink, flatten, and fade scars. Just apply the clear disc to the area for all-day healing. 

Scar Away Gel
Scar Away Scar Away Silicone Gel $12
ScarAway Discs
Scar Away Scar Away Discs $14
07 of 07

Avoid Future Burns

Most curling iron burns happen because of rushing or slippery fingers. Use extra caution when curling hair around the hairline and neck. It can be hard when you're trying to curl pieces of hair near the back of your head, but try to keep the iron a little bit further from your roots to avoid burning yourself.

If you think the grip of your curling iron could be the culprit, look for an iron with a no-slip grip. That can help you keep a firm grip on the handle, meaning it's less likely to slip out of your hands mid curl.

Are your fingers getting burned when you do your hair? Try to hold the ends of your hair farther away from the iron. Or, opt for a heat-proof glove. That way, you don't even have to worry about your hands touching the iron.

"Most importantly, take your time because it only takes a second of contact with a hot object to cause major burn. Avoid the 5 a.m. curling iron sessions," Kleydman reiterates.

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