Skin first aid

Small accidents can happen all the time in the home, at school and while you’re out and about. A cut that is bleeding might look alarming but don’t panic. Keep a clear head, find the first aid equipment (make sure your household has an essential first aid kit) and follow our basic advice.

Cuts, grazes and scrapes

  • clean the wound with water (tap water is fine) or use alcohol-free wipes
  • pat dry with clean gauze or a piece of kitchen towel (do not use cotton wool as this can snag on broken skin) then cover with a sterile dressing – a plaster will do if it’s a small cut. You do not need to cover scrapes or grazes.
  • keep the wound raised (lift arms up or raise legs/feet off the ground) to slow blood flow and stop bleeding
  • if the bleeding does not stop or you think there is a foreign body in the wound, visit your nearest walk-in centre or minor injuries unit.

Bruises and bumps

  • hold something cold (a bag of frozen peas will do) over the affected area for a few minutes (no more than 10 minutes)
  • if a bump continues to swell or becomes more painful, seek medical advice.

Blisters

  • don’t burst blisters as this can lead to infection
  • clean the area and gently pat dry with a clean cloth
  • if the blister is on your foot and caused by shoes, either wear different shoes that don’t rub or use a blister plaster to stop it rubbing
  • if blisters keep coming back or look infected, seek medical advice.

Burns

  • it is important to treat burns as soon as possible and reduce the heat in the skin quickly. First remove the heat source immediately (or the person from the heat)
  • run the affected area under cold water for at least 10 minutes
  • NEVER use gels, ointments, milk or ice as these can cause more skin damage
  • if a burn is larger than the size of your (or the person’s) hand, or it is on the face, hands or feet and seems to be a deep burn, get medical help as soon as possible and cover the burn with cling film to prevent infection in the meantime.

Insect bites/stings

  • if the sting is stuck into the skin, brush it off sideways (pulling out with tweezers can squeeze more poison into the skin)
  • use an ice pack to reduce swelling; if the bite/sting is in the mouth, suck an ice cube
  • if there are signs of allergic reaction (breathing difficulties and swollen, red, itchy skin) call 111 for medical advice.

Sunburn

  • cover the burnt area with lightweight clothing and move to the shade or, ideally, indoors
  • cool the skin by sponging with cold water or have a cold shower for no more than 10 minutes at a time
  • if the skin doesn’t blister, apply after-sun cream or calamine lotion
  • if the skin blisters, see a doctor.

The St John Ambulance website has several helpful videos that demonstrate how to carry out skin first aid.

If you’re interested in learning more general first aid skills, have a look at our first aid page.

First Aid