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Your favorite tube of toothpaste contains cooling, refreshing ingredients like sodium fluoride, baking soda, and menthol. That’s why lots of people swear by it as a DIY first-aid remedy for everything from acne to first-degree burns.

However, while toothpaste can scrub off plaque, protect tooth enamel, and prevent gum disease, it’s not an effective remedy for burns (or acne, for that matter).

In fact, everything we know about the active ingredients in toothpaste suggests that applying it to a burn will seal in heat underneath your skin layers, causing more damage in the long run.

Keep reading to find out why it’s not a good idea to use toothpaste to soothe a fresh burn, even if others swear by it. We’ll also review alternative home remedies that you can use on burns.

Once you understand a little bit about burn injuries, it becomes a lot more obvious why toothpaste wouldn’t be a good home remedy for healing them.

Third-degree burns

Third-degree burns are injuries where all layers of skin (dermis) have been burned away by heat. No home remedy or DIY solution is going to help soothe a third-degree burn.

Burns that look or feel leathery or charred, extend more than 3 inches in diameter, or have brown or white patches in the affected area are likely third-degree burns.

Immediate medical attention from a professional is the only acceptable treatment for third-degree burns.

Immediate medical attention from a professional is the only acceptable treatment for third-degree burns.

Second-degree burns

Second-degree burns are less serious burns, but they still extend underneath the top layer of your skin.

Second-degree burns may blister, pus, or bleed, and can take several weeks to heal. Deep redness, skin that’s sensitive to the touch, patches of whiteness or irregular pigment, and skin that appears wet and shiny may all be signs of a second-degree burn.

While second-degree burns can heal if you take care of them, questionable home remedies and ingredients that scour your skin (like the ones found in toothpaste) can increase your risk of infection and complication.

First-degree burns

First-degree burns are by far the most common. These are the burns people get every day from sun exposure, a hot curling iron, or accidentally touching a hot pot or oven — just to name a few examples.

First-degree burns should be treated with first aid. Toothpaste is not an effective home remedy for these.

Sodium fluoride in toothpaste works to coat and prevent tooth decay. But when you apply it to your skin, it can seal in heat as well as bad bacteria.

Even fluoride-free toothpaste formulas that contain baking soda or other “natural” whitening agents will only prolong the healing process of your burn.

“Toothpaste on a burn” isn’t the only potentially harmful home remedy for burns. Stay away from these other popular DIY forms of burn treatment:

  • butter
  • oils (such as coconut oil and olive oil)
  • egg whites
  • ice
  • mud

Immediate first aid tips for burns

If you find yourself with a burn, first aid is your first line of defense. Minor burns no more than 3 inches in diameter can be treated at home. For more severe burns, contact a doctor.

  1. Cool the burn with a cold compress or washcloth. If possible, run it under cool water. This will remove heat trapped under your skin and start to soothe the burn. You might also apply aloe vera.
  2. Apply any other home remedies once the burn has cooled. You can apply antibacterial ointments before you bandage the wound.
  3. To protect against infection, you should cover the burn loosely with a sterile, nonstick bandage. Don’t use gauze or any other linty material that could become stuck to the burn.
  4. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin (Bufferin) or ibuprofen (Advil), if you’re in pain.

If you’ve got a first-degree burn, these are research-backed home remedies you can apply to soothe the pain.

Cool water

While you should avoid ice, soaking your wound in cool water is actually recommended. The key is to draw the heat from your burn out of your skin.

Cold compress

A cold compress made with cool water or a water bottle can draw heat that’s trapped in your skin out of your skin. Make sure the surface of the compress is lubricated with cool water to prevent it sticking to the burn.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera has actually been shown to promote healing of your burns while soothing your pain by reducing inflammation. Pure aloe gel products are best, or simply snap an aloe plant leaf in two and apply the plant’s gel directly to your burn.

Shop for pure aloe gel online.

Antibiotic ointments

Antibiotic ointments from your first aid kit, such as Neosporin or bacitracin, clear the burn area of bacteria while working to help you heal. Some of these products have pain-reducing medications that will help take away the sting.

Browse a selection of antibiotic ointments online.

Honey

Honey is a natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. It’s been used by many cultures as a home remedy, and researchers are now finding it may promote healing.

Home remedies you can use for burnsHome remedies to avoid
cool watertoothpaste
cold compressbutter
aloe veraoils (such as coconut oil and olive oil)
antibiotic ointmentsegg whites
honeyice
mud

Only minor burns should be treated at home. Any burn that extends more than 3 inches in diameter should be treated by a doctor. Smaller burns can also be severe, however.

Signs you need to see a doctor for your burn include:

  • white, splotchy skin at the burn site
  • pus or oozing at the site of the burn
  • increasing redness around a burn
  • leathery, brown, or charred skin
  • burns caused by chemicals or electrical burns
  • burns that cover your hands, feet, or major joints
  • burns that affect your groin, genitals, or mucous membranes
  • difficulty breathing after a burn
  • fever or swelling after a burn

In some cases, fluids may need to be administered after a burn to prevent dehydration. Doctors can usually treat burns by dressing them properly, prescribing strong antibiotics, and monitoring your healing progress.

Sometimes burns require a skin graft procedure or other surgical intervention.

Treating a minor burn at home can be fairly simple and straightforward. But using unproven home remedies, like toothpaste, can damage your skin and introduce bacteria. It might even lead to complications like infection.

If you’re concerned about a burn, notice signs of an infection, or have a wound that doesn’t heal, talk with a healthcare provider.