Burn from chemicals

Alternative names
Chemical burn or reaction

Skin contact with chemicals can cause a limited skin reaction, an overall body reaction, or both.

Chemical exposure is not always obvious. You should suspect chemical exposure if an otherwise healthy person becomes ill for no apparent reason, particularly if an empty chemical container is found nearby.

Exposure to chemicals at work over a long period of time can cause changing symptoms as the chemical builds up in the victim’s body.

If the victim has a chemical in the eyes, see first aid for eye emergencies. If the victim has injected a drug, see first aid on drug abuse. If the victim has swallowed or inhaled a dangerous chemical, see first aid on poison.

The symptoms vary depending on the chemical to which the person is exposed. The symptoms may include:

  • abdominal pain  
  • bright red or bluish skin and lips  
  • breathing difficulty  
  • convulsions (seizures)  
  • dizziness  
  • headache  
  • hives, itching, swelling, nausea, vomiting, or weakness resulting from an allergic reaction  
  • irritability  
  • pain where the skin has come in contact with the toxic substance  
  • rash, blisters, burns on the skin  
  • unconsciousness

First Aid

  1. Make sure the cause of the burn has been removed. Try not to come in contact with it yourself. If the chemical is dry, brush off any excess. Avoid brushing it into your eyes. Remove any contaminated clothing or jewelry.
  2. Flush the chemicals off the skin surface using cool running water for 15 minutes or more.
  3. Treat the victim for shock if he or she appears faint, pale, or if there is shallow, rapid breathing.
  4. Apply cool, wet compresses to relieve pain.
  5. Wrap the burned area with a dry sterile dressing (if possible) or clean cloth. Protect the burned area from pressure and friction.
  6. Minor chemical burns will generally heal without further treatment. However, if there is a second or third degree burn or if there is an overall body reaction, get medical help immediately. In severe cases, don’t leave the victim alone and watch carefully for systemic reactions.

Note: If chemical gets into the eyes, the eyes should be flushed with water immediately. Continue to flush the eyes with running water for at least 15 minutes. Get medical help immediately.

Do Not

  • DO NOT become contaminated by the chemical as you give first aid.  
  • DO NOT try to neutralize any chemical without consulting the Poison control Center or a physician.  
  • DO NOT disturb a blister or remove dead skin from a chemical burn.  
  • DO NOT apply any household remedy such as an ointment or salve to a chemical burn.

Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if

  • the victim is having difficulty breathing, is having seizures, or is unconscious.


  • Many household products are made of toxic chemicals. It is important to read and follow label instructions, including any precautions.  
  • Avoid, prolonged (even low-level) exposure to chemicals.  
  • Buy potentially poisonous substance in safety containers, and buy only as much as needed.  
  • Never store household products in food or drink containers. Leave them in their original containers with the labels intact.  
  • Avoid using potentially toxic substances in the kitchen or around food.  
  • Store chemicals safely immediately after use.  
  • Avoid mixing different products that contain toxic chemicals such as ammonia and bleach. The mixing can give off hazardous fumes.  
  • Use paints, petroleum products, ammonia, bleach, and other products that give off fumes only in a well ventilated area.  
  • All chemicals should be stored out of the reach of young children-preferably in a locked cabinet.


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Harutyun Medina, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.