Chemical Burns: First Aid, Symptoms, Advice and Treatment

Chemical Burns: First Aid, Symptoms, Advice and Treatment

In the lab it’s crucial to handle chemicals with care. Even though injuries in the lab can be prevented, accidents still happen from time to time. One of the most common injuries that lab workers pick up is chemical burns. Chemical Burns are classified as damage to the skin tissue caused by harsh substances. Acids, bases, oxidising agents, and other highly reactive substances can cause burns if they touch the skin. Burns from such substances can be extremely painful and can severely damage skin tissue. This makes it a good idea to treat any substance you are using as though it is hazardous when mixing, analysing, or doing any type of experiments in the lab.

Whenever you are handling a hazardous chemical you should always take the necessary measures to prevent injury. Chemicals used in the lab can be corrosive, caustic, combustible, explosive, toxic, or even carcinogenic. Some chemicals are not instantly dangerous, but constant or repeated exposure to them can affect a person’s health negatively over the longer term. 

In most cases people notice burns they receive straight away and know what the cause of their burn is. However, there are times when burns might be less severe and may go unnoticed for a while. In some cases, the effect of a burn can only be noticeable hours after the skin has come in contact with a harmful chemical. Depending on the severity of a burn, the victim may have to seek professional medical attention. In mild cases, the victim would be better off using more immediately available first aid. 


Call 999 or seek medical attention for chemical burns that are deep, larger than 8 centimetres in diameter, or cover the hands, feet, face, buttocks, major joints or a large part of the arm or leg. Cool, clammy skin, immediate shock, a weak pulse, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, and faintness or shortness of breath should all be a cause of major concern, and medical attention should be sought out immediately if any of these symptoms are present. Milder symptoms would usually include: redness of the skin, blackened skin, blistered skin, pain, or numbness. In the case that you do need to seek emergency medical help, make sure you take note of the name of the substance that harmed you so that medics can properly tend to your injury. 

If you are unsure as to whether or not your skin has come in contact with a dangerous substance, you can use NHS 111 online to get some guidance. NHS 111 online will not diagnose your condition, but will provide help on where to get the best treatment for your symptoms. NHS 111 online is only available in England.

First Aid for Chemical Burns

In any situation where you think your skin has come in contact with a hazardous substance, follow these instructions before seeking medical attention:

  • Remove the residue of the chemicals – Put gloves on and brush any residue of the chemical off your skin. 
  • Remove clothing and rinse affected parts of the body –  Rinse the burn on your skin with water for at least 20 mins. Make sure to protect your eyes while doing this. 
  • Put a bandage over the injury – use a clean bandage to cover the burn. To make sure you don’t put too much pressure on your burned skin, wrap around it loosely. Make sure that the bandage you select is a sterile, dry, non-stick bandage, or clean cloth that can cover the wounded area. Blisters should not be popped because they provide a protective barrier. 
  • Rinse the area that’s injured again – whichever part of your body was affected rinse it for several minutes more if it still burns after an initial rinse.
  • Use pain relievers – Pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can reduce inflammation and pain. 

How to Prevent Chemical Burns

A lot of the chemical injuries that happen in the lab are preventable. By taking precautionary measures you can safeguard yourself against chemical burns. The following protocols can be taken to ensure this: 

Use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

When working in the lab make sure to always wear the right protective attire; such as gloves, masks, goggles, laboratory gowns or aprons, and a face shield. Generally speaking, the more dangerous the substances you’re dealing with are, the more PPE you should be wearing.

Read the chemical’s properties

Not all substances in a lab will be as dangerous as each other; some will be far more harmful than others. This makes it very important to read the properties of the substances you are handling. The properties of substances will usually be on the label of the container they are in. Suppliers will also provide the properties for hazardous substances in a materials safety data sheet (MSDS). 

Be cautious of temperature

Make sure that before you touch any lab equipment or chemicals you check its temperature. You should make sure that beakers, flasks, or test tubes have not been subjected to heat before you use them. 

Ensure that there is proper fire safety equipment

All laboratories should have fire extinguishers, automatic sprinklers, emergency exits, and fire alarms. 

Correctly store items

When storing chemicals make sure to take into consideration their chemical properties. Chemicals should always be stored at the right temperature and pressure. Some chemicals will need to be stored in cabinets that provide the right amount of ventilation. Whereas other chemicals may have to be stored in a separate building (this is usually the case for larger quantities of chemicals). Chemicals also differ when it comes to the type of containers that are suitable for storage. Some are better off being stored in metal containers, whereas others are better off being stored in plastic containers. 

Use emergency wash/shower areas

Use the emergency wash/shower area in your lab if there has been a chemical spillage or contamination on your skin. 

Refrain from using matchsticks

When lighting up bunsen burners it’s better to opt against using matchsticks. Flammable chemicals like phosphorus tend to be highly reactive and lighting a matchstick in proximity to such a substance could ignite a flame. 

Ensure your lab is well organised

Labs should not be disorganised or messy. There should also be enough space for workers to walk around in the lab without bumping into each other. 

Staff should be properly trained

To ensure that staff fully understand the severity of how hazardous chemicals in the lab can be, and the protocol that should be used when handling substances, they should be properly trained and educated. 

When in the laboratory there are many dangers that we are susceptible to. However, by following proper instructions and taking precautions we can do what is necessary to ensure the safety of lab professionals. If you are looking for the appropriate tools to protect yourself or your team members in the lab, click here to have a look through our extensive range of lab supplies. You can also contact us if you need someone to help you pick out the most suitable equipment for your lab needs.