Chemical burns can be caused by many substances, such as strong acids, drain cleaners (lye), paint thinner and gasoline. Usually, you are aware of the burn and its cause. But sometimes you may not immediately recognize a burn caused by a milder chemical. As with some sunburns, the pain and redness may develop hours after the exposure.

If you have an immediately recognized chemical burn

  • Remove the chemical causing the burn while protecting yourself. For dry chemicals, brush off any remaining material. Wear gloves or use a towel or other suitable object, such as a brush.
  • Remove contaminated clothing or jewelry to prevent further burning.
  • Rinse the burn immediately. Run a gentle, steady stream of cool tap water over the burn for 10 or more minutes. A shower may be an effective way to do this. Always protect your eyes.
  • Loosely apply a bandage or gauze.
  • If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
  • Consider a tetanus shot. Make sure that your tetanus booster is up to date. Doctors recommend people get a tetanus shot at least every 10 years.

If you have a possible chemical burn

  • Make sure that any contaminated clothing or jewelry is no longer in contact with your skin.
  • Rinse the burn if you think some of the chemical is still on your skin.
  • Loosely apply a bandage or gauze.
  • If needed, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
  • Consider a tetanus shot. Make sure that your tetanus booster is up to date.

When to seek emergency care

  • The person shows signs of shock, such as fainting, pale complexion or very shallow breathing.
  • The chemical burn penetrated through the first layer of skin and the burn covers an area more than 3 inches (about 8 centimeters) in diameter.
  • The chemical burn encircles a limb or involves the eyes, hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or a major joint.

If you're unsure whether a substance is toxic, call Poison Help at 800-222-1222 in the United States. If you seek emergency medical help, take the chemical container or the name of the chemical with you to the emergency department.

Jan. 27, 2015