How to Treat a Curling Iron Burn and Prevent Scarring in 2022

I’m so not a person who likes to show up early to something—so much so that even if I have a minute to spare, I’ll fill it by doing something (what! I can’t help it! I’m a Gemini). It’s shocking that I haven’t learned my lesson by now, because I always seem to find myself in really regretful situations (karma? Probably). See: the time I got a round brush stuck in my hair before a school party and spent the day in a hair salon instead. Oooor the time I tried a new face mask before a big event and broke out into an allergic reaction. Oooor, my most least favorite, the time I got a curling iron burn on the side of my face, right before heading to a photoshoot.

That incident, by far, was the most painful of them all. I had been getting ready for family photos a couple of months ago, decided to curl my hair last minute, and accidentally dropped the scorching-hot barrel of the curling iron against my face. Want to know what I learned from this experience? (1) That’s what I get for making people wait on me instead of showing up early like a normal person, and (2) how to treat and heal a curling iron burn as fast as possible, without leaving a scar.

And now, I’m here to share with you all the best advice and dermatologist-recommended products for the next time you have a burn from your curling iron, hair straightener, or whatever heat-styling tool. Keep reading.

Meet the experts

    What happens when you get a curling iron burn?

    A curling iron burn, aka a thermal burn, is physical trauma to the outer skin layer caused by a super-hot temp (just another reason not to set the dial so freakin’ high). “This causes damage to the skin cells, which, in many cases, leads to something called programmed cell death,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the board-certified dermatologist who helped me when I fried my face, as seen below:

    curling iron burn

    My face two days after I burned it.

    Brooke Shunatona

    curling iron burn

    My face after the burn healed.

    Brooke Shunatona

    There are three types of burns: first-, second-, and third-degree burns. Dr. Zeichner breaks them down:

    Types of burns

    • First-degree burn: a mild burn that may lead to minimal redness.
    • Second-degree burn: a more severe burn that involves both the outer skin layer and also some of the deeper skin layer (known as the dermis). Second-degree burns can cause more severe irritation and/or the formation of a blister.
    • Third-degree burn: the most severe and serious burn that affects all layers (both superficial and deep) of skin. Third-degree burns can cause severe pain, unless the nerve endings are damaged.

      If you have a second- or third-degree burn, close out of this article and get yourself to a doctor immediately. Dr. Zeichner says the quicker you treat the burn, the better outcome you’ll have, so you’ll want to make sure to jump on it with fast treatment but also the right treatment. If you have a mild, first-degree curling iron burn, keep reading for the next steps to take.

      How to heal a curling iron burn:

      “If you get a burn, treatment should involve reducing inflammation and maintaining a healthy skin barrier,” Dr. Zeichner says. Your skin barrier, reminder, is a combo of cells and lipids that creates the protective barrier for your skin. “The cells, also known as corneocytes, are the bricks in your skin barrier, while the mortar is made of various lipids, like cholesterol and ceramides,” board-certified dermatologist Dana Stern, MD, previously told Cosmo. Here’s what to do to help your skin barrier and heal your curling iron burn as fast as possible:

      1. Cool down the burn.

      Immediately after scorching yourself, Dr. Zeichner says to apply a cool compress to help bring down the temperature of the skin and reduce inflammation. Instead of using ice cubes to ice the burn, which could make matters worse, keep it to cold water until the area has cooled down.

      2. Take an NSAID.

      While you’ve got that cool compress pressed against your curling iron burn, walk yourself over to the medicine cabinet and find ibuprofen. Dr. Zeichner says an NSAID (stands for non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce the pain and inflammation.

      3. Apply Vaseline.

      After using a cold compress for about 10 minutes or so (always do this first; do not just jump to Vaseline!), it’s time to address the skin barrier. You can get a prescription ointment from your dermatologist, but a quick, inexpensive, and effective way to treat the skin is with good ol’ Vaseline petroleum jelly.

      Board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, previously told Cosmo that Vaseline is “a really good protective barrier, so it will help the skin heal,” and Dr. Zeichner agrees. “It contains triple purified petrolatum to form a protective shield over the burnt outer skin layer,” Dr. Zeichner explains. “This seal will help the skin heal up, optimally, from the inside out.”

      4. Cover the area with a bandage.

      How you respond immediately after getting burned will affect how the skin heals, so to be extra safe, Dr. Zeichner says to then cover the curling iron burn with a bandage to keep the petroleum jelly in place.

      5. Continue to apply petroleum jelly.

      Now you wait for the skin to heal. And as you do that, Dr. Zeichner suggests reapplying the Vaseline around the clock. “Keeping the wound covered with petroleum jelly keeps the oxygen concentration within the wound lower,” Dr. Zeichner explains. “This allows for better healing.” I continued to apply ointment on my curling iron burn for a at least a week, but it was worth it in the end when it healed and the burn was virtually undetectable.

      How do you treat a curling iron burn scar?

      Dr. Zeichner says it’s pretty typical for most mild burns to heal with a pink or brown blotch, but the good news is that these are temporary and will fade with time. “Think of them as stains in the skin, or your skin’s way of remembering that there previously was inflammation there,” Dr. Zeichner explains.

      As you might guess, burns that are more severe and affect the deeper layers of the skin are more likely to leave behind a permanent scar. The ointment did the trick for me, but if you’re left with long-lasting redness or pigmentation, touch base with your dermatologist to discuss treatments options, such as laser, to even both the tone and texture of the skin.

      The takeaway

      The moral of the story is to always be in a rush so you don’t have time to get burned (jokes, I’ve learned my lesson). But if you do end up with a curling iron burn, treat the area with a cold compress, ibuprofen, and petroleum jelly as quickly as possible. One last suggestion—take it easy on the super-freakin’-hot styling tools (both your hair and skin will thank you). Might I suggest velcro rollers, hot rollers, and blow dryer brushes instead?

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