Chemical burn or reaction


Chemicals that touch skin can lead to a reaction on the skin, throughout the body, or both.

Alternative Names

Burn from chemicals


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 person's body.

If the person has a chemical in the eyes, see first aid for eye emergencies. If the person has swallowed or inhaled a dangerous chemical, call poison control at 1-800-222-1222.


Depending on the type of exposure, the symptoms may include:

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 person 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 person alone and watch carefully for reactions affecting the entire body.

Note: If a 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.


When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for medical help immediately if the person is having difficulty breathing, is having seizures, or is unconscious.



Harchelroad FP, Rottinghaus DM. Chemical burns. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004: chap 200.

Review Date: 2/2/2011
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, Clinic. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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