Cigarette burns occur when the lit end of a cigarette is in contact with your skin. They can occur accidentally but are also a common form of abuse.
A common accidental way to develop a cigarette burn is by brushing against a cigarette in a crowded area, such as at a dance club or bar. Children sometimes burn themselves when they’re left unattended and pick up lit cigarettes or cigars.
Cigarette burns may leave a scar, depending on how deep the burn is. First degree burns that only affect your top layer of skin often heal completely, but wounds that penetrate deeper are more likely to leave a permanent mark.
The best way to manage cigarette burns is by taking steps to prevent them in the first place. If you do get burned, it’s important to properly treat the wound to lessen the chance of a scar forming. If you develop a scar, you may be able to help it fade using home remedies.
Smoking cigarettes poses numerous health risks
Smoking cigarettes is linked to many health risks and can negatively affect almost every aspect of your health. Some ways smoking affects your body include:
- slowing wound healing
- increasing risk of heart disease
- increasing risk of lung cancer
- weakening immune system
Although it can be incredibly difficult, the surest way to prevent cigarette burns is to quit smoking. Many people who quit smoking experience noticeable improvements in their health soon after quitting. A doctor can help you develop a plan for quitting smoking. You can also find information and resources from Smokefree.gov.
To prevent cigarette burns in yourself or others, you can:
- avoid smoking or minimize the amount you smoke
- avoid keeping cigarettes in areas where children can reach them
- avoid smoking when you’re in bed, drowsy, or in places you may fall asleep
- avoid smoking while driving
- keep your distance from people holding cigarettes in crowded spaces
The best way to minimize your chance of developing a scar is to treat your wound as soon as possible. The best treatment depends on the depth of your wound.
First degree burn
First degree burns are usually red and painful to touch. Your skin may have mild swelling. First degree cigarette burns tend to heal without scarring after several days.
If you have a first degree cigarette burn, the
- applying a cold, wet compress or soaking your injury in clean, cool water until the pain goes fades
- covering your wound with a clean cloth or sterile, nonadhesive bandage
- avoiding ointments
- taking over-the-counter pain medication, if needed
Second degree burns
Second degree burns may:
- blister over
- have a glossy appearance
- leak fluid
A second degree burn may take 2 to 3 weeks to heal and may lead to a scar.
To treat a second degree burn:
- soak your wound in clean, cool water or apply a cold compress for 10 to 15 minutes
- dry with a fresh cloth and cover with sterile gauze
- avoid breaking blisters
- avoid ointment
- seek medical attention if you have signs of infection
Third degree burns are a medical emergency
Third degree burns completely penetrate your skin and cause permanent damage and scarring. Healing can take more than 6 weeks. These burns require immediate medical attention. It’s important to:
- cover the wound with a sterile gauze or fresh cloth that won’t leave lint
- avoid applying ointments to the wound
- go the nearest emergency room
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, applying sunscreen after your wound is healed may help prevent redness or brownness and help the scar fade quicker. They recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 or higher.
Applying home remedies may help fade scars, but research backing their effectiveness is limited. Some options include:
Minor cigarette burns are unlikely to require medical attention if they’re treated properly. It’s a good idea to seek medical attention if any of the following are true:
- Your burn is on your face, feet, or groin.
- Your burn crosses a joint.
- There are areas of whiteness in your burn.
- Your pain is not manageable with over-the-counter pain medications.
- You have signs of infection, such as oozing from the burn site.
Scars are permanent, but they generally fade with time. Your scar may fade for up to 2 years, but it’s unlikely to fade significantly beyond that time. You’re likely to notice the most fading in the first 6 months.
Cigarette scars can be a sign of abuse
Cigarette burns are a common form of child abuse, but they can also be a sign of abuse in adults, regardless of gender. A
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When cigarette burns are intentional, they often leave circular wounds with a clearly defined shape of the head of a cigarette. They also often coincide with other suspicious injuries or signs of abuse.
If you suspect child abuse, you should call the National Child Abuse Hotline or your local child protective agency. The national hotline number is 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453) and is open 24/7 in the United States, its territories, and Canada.
For domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233).
Cigarette burns can leave a scar, especially if they’re deep. Immediately treating your wound after the injury can help minimize the chances of scarring or developing an infection.