Hey, accidents happen. Whether you forgot to re-up your SPF—and earned yourself a nasty sunburn—or had a very painful run-in with a heated curling iron, you’ve probably experienced a burn at some point in your life. Just a few moments in contact with a heat source can cause longer-term consequences, like scarring and, of course, general discomfort.
While there is no known way to make burn scars fully disappear, they do gradually fade over time. We’ve got plenty of tips and tricks to speed up this process, as well as advice on how to make burn scars less prominent.
How to Treat a Burn
Note: In order to treat a burn properly, we first need to consider its severity. The advice that we give here is for first-degree burns only. For anything more severe, you should see a doctor for treatment (which goes for chemical burns, too, which typically require medical attention).
If you’re unsure which category the burn you’ve sustained falls into—don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. “Minor first-degree burns leave the skin pink or red but don’t cause blistering, oozing or crusting,” says Jennifer Hermann, MD, a dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at MFC Dermatology in Beverly Hills, CA. “If redness lasts more than two weeks or any crusting or blistering develops, this may be a sign of a deeper burn that needs attention.”
How to Treat Sunburn
If you’ve gotten sunburned, your best bet for treating it is a cool compress paired with a thick, bland emollient, such as Aquaphor. As for protecting your new sunburn from the sun, either stay in the shade or use a physical (or mineral) sunscreen. “Many sunscreens, especially those that are chemical-based, may be too irritating to injured skin at this early stage of healing,” explains Dr. Hermann. Dermstore suggests SkinCeuticals Ultimate UV Defense SPF 30.
Once it begins peeling, it’s hands off. “Flaking is part of the natural healing process as your body sheds the injured skin,” says Dr. Hermann. “I typically don’t recommend patients pick or peel the skin as this can remove too many layers and cause additional injury.” That injury can cause irritation or, worse, potentially increase your risk of scarring, so it’s best to avoid it altogether.
How to Treat Other Burns
As for other minor burns—and by minor, we mean first-degree burns or milder—the treatment is similar to that of a sunburn. Immediately apply a cool compress, and then follow up with a layer of a thick, fragrance-free emollient. “Because the skin barrier is damaged, skin products with many preservatives or fragrances can be too irritating, sting and cause prolonged redness,” says Dr. Hermann. She recommends protecting skin with physical sunscreen to mitigate irritation.
How to Fade Burn Scars
Minor burns or sunburns typically won’t leave a scar, since they don’t damage the deeper layers of skin. But anything more severe can—and probably will—create a scar, though its severity depends on the extent of damage.
While not every scar will respond well to at-home treatment, there are some things that you can try to help lighten your scar in its early phases. Dr. Hermann suggests using a scar cream as soon as the top layers of your skin have healed. “Many scar creams contain silicone, which acts to hydrate the skin,” she says. She’s a fan of DNA EGF Renewal DNA Scar Therapy since it also contains DNA enzymes, which target healing microscopically and more efficiently. In fact, we’ve compiled a whole list of our favorite scar creams further on in this article.
Ultimately, scars remodel for a year, so patience is key if you’re still unhappy. Once it stops changing, you can explore more intensive options. “If texture changes result after the burn, we can use precise resurfacing lasers to smooth skin, and if redness persists, we can use vascular lasers to fade this away more quickly,” Dr. Hermann says.
A final thing to note is while we may love the glowing effect the sun can have on our skin, it doesn’t work the same when it comes to scars. The exposure tends to make scars darker and more pronounced, sometimes culminating in skin discoloration. If this is something you’re wary of, Dr. Hermann recommends using a zinc-based sunscreen, preventing scars from hyper-pigmenting or turning brown.