For voluminous and sexy locks, a curling iron is probably your ride or die styling tool, but the tables can quickly turn when it comes to working with heat. Taking care of a yucky curling iron burn can be a tedious (and painful) process. When crazy amounts of heat make contact with the skin, the cells in that area shrivel up and die. The area will then see a big immune response, which causes redness, swelling, and tenderness.
These gnarly “Oh my gosh, that looks so painful” burns prove that the curling iron is nothing to mess with:
Usually, burns from hair tools are first-degree, meaning they can heal in three to seven days because only the first layer of skin is damaged. If blisters occur and the burn remains painful and swollen past a week, you may be dealing with a second-degree burn, which takes up to three weeks to heal because it has reached past that first layer of skin, says Francesca Fusco, M.D., a medical and cosmetic dermatologist in New York.
Even if some damage is done, don’t panic. Here are the best ways to deal with a curling iron burn (#beentheredonethat):
Do: Cool It Down
Right after the burn happens, apply a compress to the area using a cold towel to take away some of the heat and calm the inflammation. If the skin is tender and red for the next day or two, take an OTC ibuprofen to minimize swelling and pain.
Don’t: Use Ice or Run It Under Water
“You don’t want to necessarily put ice on it because ice can actually stick to skin and remove it,” says Valerie Goldburt, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon and dermatologist in New York. "The last thing you want to do is remove skin that’s been burned." Running broken skin under cold water can also cause the skin to slough off, which can prolong the healing period and increase the chances of permanent scarring.
Do: Keep It Clean, Covered, and Moist While Your Skin Heals
To prevent any risk of infection, apply antibiotic ointment like Neosporin Dual Action Ointment ($4, target.com), and keep the burned area covered with loose gauze. “Keeping a burn moist allows new skin cells to fill in more quickly and keeps skin flexible, preventing cracking, scabbing, and scarring,” says Fusco. “Burns that occur in flexural areas like elbows and knees take longer to heal and require diligent application of ointment so that the constant flexing doesn't pull on the wound.” Vaseline works, but a dermatologist can also prescribe stronger creams for more serious cases.
Don’t: Peel or Pick the Skin
While they may look super-gross, scabs are actually really crucial during the healing process. They allow the skin underneath to grow faster, and picking at them will only irritate and damage skin cells, which can leave a mark after it’s healed.
Do: Keep Treating the Area After the Burn Has Healed
Scarring may happen, so keeping the affected area hydrated will do wonders at minimizing that possibility. “It takes up to three months for that area to really heal,” says Goldburt. If the skin is still dark and discolored at that time, a dermatologist can recommend scar treatment options. One we like: ScarAway Silicone Daily Discs ($21, drugstore.com).
Don’t: Forget Sunscreen
Goldburt sees curling iron burns affecting the neck and ears of her patients the most, which are areas normally exposed to sunlight. A burn should be covered during the healing stages, but if it is repaired enough to be exposed, be sure to apply SPF to avoid further damage. “The moment you have a little bit of sun on top of an area that’s been burned, it can cause a persistent discoloration,” says Goldburt. “It’s really important to keep sunscreen on it, even if it’s the dead of winter. If you see daylight, there is sun, and that little amount of sunlight can keep it discolored for so much longer.”