We’ve heard it for decades: beauty is pain. That statement works for many things, like wearing four-inch stiletto heels from dusk till dawn or getting a Brazilian wax before a trip to the beach.
But most of the time, pain in the name of beauty is really unnecessary and downright dangerous.
For example, one of the most painful albeit most common beauty malfunctions in hair salons is chemical burns on the scalp.
Many women who love to bleach, dye, or relax their hair always run the risk of getting burns on their scalp, and unfortunately, it happens quite a lot.
If you’re wondering how to treat chemical burns on scalp, worry not.
There are ways to treat these chemical burns and speed up the healing process.
Today, we’ll be talking about what you can do to care for burns on the scalp and the changes you can adapt to avoid any more chemical mishaps when treating your hair.
Table of Contents
What Happens When You Get a Chemical Burn?
Burns on the scalp are typically caused by chemical treatments that might be too strong for sensitive skin, like relaxers, bleach, and dye.
The burns occur when hair products react with your skin. Often, the reaction is caused by the presence of strong bases or acids in the products.
Chemically treating your hair twice in one sitting is one common cause of burns, since it may be too much to handle even for someone with normal skin.
It’s normal to feel tingling and minor redness when you do chemical treatments, especially when it’s your first time.
But a burn usually starts with a sharp, painful, and burning sensation somewhere on your scalp while the product is sitting in your hair.
This signals that whatever relaxer or lightener is being used on you could be too harsh for your skin and hair follicles, and can end up burning your scalp.
The extent of the burn often depends on the number of chemicals used and the amount of exposure.
Not just this, the damage can permanently cause hair breakage and prevent further growth in the affected area.
Signs Of A Chemical Burn
Over time, the burned part of your scalp will become red, swollen, and itchy over the next few days or weeks until it’s healed.
It can get raw and tender to the touch, so it’s crucial to be extremely gentle when treating it during the recovery process.
Other symptoms of burning include red patches, blisters, and scarring when the wound starts to heal.
And if you don’t care for your burn correctly, it could even catch a bacterial infection (a tell-tale sign for this is pus around the burn).
A burn on your scalp also affects your hair’s health and growth.
It can weaken the hair shaft, making the hair stiff and crusty.
It can even result in no new hair growth in the affected area.
In severe cases, hair can take months after recovery to start growing hair again.
Types Of Chemical Burns
There are three types of chemical burns:
First-degree chemical burns
This type of burn is the least dangerous of them all.
They are also less toxic and are mostly caused by acids and solvents.
Second-degree burns can be of two types:
These are recognized by redness and complete damage to the upper skin layer and partial damage to the second layer.
This type of burn causes blisters and will sometimes bleed and hurt. However, it will heal in about 14 days without a scar.
Deep second-degree burns
This type of burn destroys a significant part of the second skin layer and makes it appear white to indicate hurt to the blood vessels.
Since it damages the nerve, it sometimes does not hurt.
It may also cause blisters.
However, it will also heal in about 14 days but may leave a scar.
This type of burn is the worst, and the damage usually lasts for a long time.
It affects both layers of the skin and extends to the subcutaneous tissue.
Hence, it causes the skin to look like leather and may require surgical procedures like skin grafts for correction.
What To Do Immediately After A Burn
The first thing you should do when you think your scalp is burning is to tell someone.
If you’re at the salon, call your stylist’s attention right away.
If you’re treating it at home, tell whoever else is with you in the house so they can help out.
You need to get rid of the source of the burn as soon as possible.
Rinse whatever chemicals are in your hair and run the burn under cold water to help soothe it.
Know that your scalp may still feel like it’s burning even when you wash off the chemicals.
Don’t make the mistake of rubbing ice on it – if you change the temperature of burned skin too quickly, you might just damage your tissues.
Carefully pat the area dry with a soft T-shirt and apply a healing salve or wound and burn dressing to soothe the pain.
For this, you can use some Aquaphor or Vaseline.
If the burn has red blisters or sores that you’re worried might develop an infection, you can also apply an antibiotic ointment.
If the pain is exceptionally unbearable and the burn is so bad that the skin starts to peel off, see a doctor immediately.
Seek medical attention right away – even salon experts aren’t trained to salvage that.
How To Treat Chemical Burns On The Scalp Over Time
So it’s been a day or two, and you’re trying to nurse that itchy, inflamed burn on your scalp back to health.
Well, know that healing a burn isn’t just a waiting game.
The more actively you try to soothe and get it back in shape, the sooner it can recover.
Fortunately, there are a lot of easy treatments you can do to help speed up the healing of your wound.
Many of these will make a drastic difference, as opposed to just leaving the burn to heal by itself while tolerating all that pain and irritation.
Remember that your goals are to soothe and relieve pain and itchiness.
You also want to promote healthy cell turnover to heal the burn.
Moreover, you’ll want to moisturize the skin to soften scabs, and promote hair health and growth.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at your options:
One way to soothe the burn on your scalp is to slather aloe vera gel all over it.
It gives a cooling effect to reduce irritation and itchiness.
It’s also known to soothe inflammation to help the skin calm down when it’s red and swollen.
Aloe is known as a hydrator that causes relief for sunburn, chafed skin, and minor burns.
You can use store-bought aloe vera gel or extract it straight from the plant.
It’s easily accessible and quite affordable too.
It’s excellent for moisturizing the hair too.
Coconut oil is known for its richness, but also its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s a no-brainer for a scalp burn because it replenishes moisture in the skin and hair while calming down the wound from the burn.
Coconut oil accelerates the healthy turnover of skin cells, so it can help repair your wound faster.
Its richness also contributes to soothing the skin on your head.
A small bonus is that coconut oil also works wonders for hair growth too.
A little goes a long way with coconut oil because it’s so nourishing, so just take a little bit at a time when you put it on your scalp.
If your burn isn’t that tender anymore, you can gently massage it into the area.
Zinc pyrithione conditioner
This ingredient is found in many dandruff conditioners and can help prevent any scabbing on your scalp.
Scabbing increases your chances of losing hair and for hair growth to be temporarily curbed.
Use this as a deep conditioner, drenching your hair from root to tip and letting it soak for hours before washing it off.
It helps soften your hair and also heal your burn.
Another tip on how to treat chemical burns on the scalp is by using honey.
It’s an ingredient known for being antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory.
It’s perfect for preventing infections and soothing red, swollen skin.
Slather raw honey on your burn to calm the skin and stimulate tissue growth, which will hasten the healing process.
Your hair will also thank you for this treatment because honey is known to bring back shine to tresses.
Apple cider vinegar
ACV can balance the skin’s pH, helping with cell regeneration and overall healing of the wound.
It can prevent blistering and provide immediate relief from pain (which also makes it a good first rinse after discovering the burn).
Vinegar can also wipe out any bacteria sitting on the hair follicles, preventing infection.
To use this on your burn, combine equal parts of ACV and water and apply it to the scalp.
Let your skin soak it all up for 10 minutes, and then rinse with cold water to help soothe irritation, if any.
Vitamin E oil
If you have some vitamin E capsules, you can prick them and collect the oil in a small bowl.
Apply this pure, potent oil onto the burned areas and leave it on for the rest of the day so your skin can absorb it properly.
Vitamin E is known to strengthen the skin and repair it too.
It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can protect your burn from free radical damage.
It’s a good idea to use this if you plan on going out too, since it can offer UV protection to reduce sun damage on your wound.
A less popular treatment for scalp burns is cold milk.
You can bring a container of cold milk with you in the shower during wash day and pour it all over your scalp.
Leave it on for 2-3 minutes, and repeat a couple more times.
The healthy fats and proteins in the milk can help soothe the scalp and help it heal faster, so it’s a great thing to do before washing your hair with a gentle shampoo.
Other Tips And Lifestyle Changes For Scalp Recovery
Aside from directly applying products to your scalp, you can also adopt some lifestyle changes in the days or weeks after you get a burn.
Here are some things you can do to give your care extra love while it heals:
Don’t wash your hair too often
The natural oils and moisture on your scalp can help protect your wound from environmental aggressors that can further damage and irritate it.
Most shampoos contain sulfates, which can dry your hair out and irritate your already damaged scalp.
So if you don’t desperately need to shampoo your hair, skip a couple of wash days.
If you notice some product build-up, rinse it off with cold water without shampooing your hair.
Don’t pick at your scabs
If your burn has developed some scabbing, practice self-control when you feel like picking at it.
Scabbing already delays healing as it is, but pulling at scabs can put you at risk of losing more hair.
Resist the urge to pull or even touch those scabs and let them shed on their own.
Use a gentle shampoo
If you do have to wash your hair – say, after a greasy coconut oil wash – choose one that’s formulated mildly.
That means going for shampoos without sulfates, silicons, parabens, fragrance, or dyes.
Use cold or lukewarm water to rinse it off after washing.
Don’t use heat
Give your blow dryer and straightener a break for now.
You need to protect your scalp and hair from further damage, including that from heat.
So don’t run the risk of burning it even more, and avoid all your hot styling tools until your burn is completely healed.
Plus, using these tools can also mean pulling and tugging at your hair, which puts pressure and stress on your scalp.
This can aggravate irritation and pain, so it’s best to steer clear of hot tools for now.
Keep your hair away from the burn
Use a wide comb to split your hair into sections away from the scalp.
The reason is that combing too close to the wound can fester the infection.
Instead, pack your hair away from the wound and comb without touching the burn.
Let your hair breathe
Leaving your hair alone is another great tip for people wondering how to treat chemical burns on the scalp.
Since wigs and weaves cause suffocation, don’t wear either, but let your scalp and hair breathe.
If you need to cover your hair before going out, use a silk scarf.
Seek Medical Attention In Case Of Severe Scalp Burn
In the event that you are dealing with a severe scalp burn, you should do the following:
Dial the emergency number
You should notify the local emergency authority after applying first aid, and the following conditions develop:
- Shallow breathing
- Pale complexion
- Burns that cover up to 3-inches or 8cm in diameter
Get treatment for advanced burn
The hospital will administer different treatments depending on the severity of the burn.
It will also include some medication and pain relievers.
However, if significant blisters have formed on the site, they will have to relieve the pressure by performing a controlled rupture.
After this, Silvadene cream and a gauze pad will be used to cover the burn.
Another roll of the same pad will also be wrapped around the site for extra protection.
Perform post-care check
The hospital will outline some rules and instructions that you should follow to avoid complications and infections.
But more than this, you should watch out for signs of infections.
The popular signs include green drainage, fever or pus, and expanding redness. When you notice any of these conditions, you should call for emergency treatment immediately.
You can proceed with a toxicologist for a follow-up.
This is because the skin can absorb toxins, and if not monitored, can cause systemic toxicity.
It is also possible that perhaps, during the frenzy, you have inhaled vapors from the chemicals.
This can cause lung problems like asthma or other forms of system toxicity.
People with diabetes or a weakened immune system risk infection after the initial care.
Not just them, if you are on chemotherapy or steroids, you are also prone to infections.
It will help if you check the wound daily, wash, and redress it.
Although the recovery time varies depending on the type of burn, your skin should start peeling and regrowing in two weeks.
How Can I Avoid Getting Chemical Burns When Treating My Hair?
There’s no way to predict when you’re going to get burned by chemicals at the salon.
But there are a few “rules” you can go by to make sure you avoid any accidents while you’re in the salon chair.
Don’t wash your hair
First, don’t wash your hair a few days before coming in for your treatment.
The natural oil build-up can protect you from any impending danger from chemicals.
Talk to your stylist
Let your stylist know if you have sensitive scalp skin, so they can be extra wary of what bleach they can use on you.
If you can convince them, say you prefer volume 20 bleach instead of anything stronger.
Volume 20 is way less harsh than other lightening formulas stylists use for bleaching.
Alert the stylist in case of pain
If you’re in the middle of your treatment and you feel pain, like your scalp may be burning, tell your stylist immediately.
Don’t sit and tolerate the pain if you think something’s not right.
If you feel you need to stop, then you should.
Avoid pre-menstrual salon visits
For the ladies – don’t get your hair bleached or relaxed when you’re nearing that time of the month.
Blood circulation is more rampant when you’re pre-menstrual, which means you’re more prone to bleeding.
If you can, move your appointment up a week or two, so that should any burns occur, you’ll have fewer chances of bleeding and severe wounding.
Avoid frequent treatments
Lastly, don’t get chemical treatments done on your hair so often.
Make sure your salon appointments are few and far between if you’re coming in for relaxing or coloring.
Your hair and scalp can only handle so much at a time, so don’t risk burns from excessive treatments.
Chemical burns on the scalp can be painful and irritating, and severe cases can only be described as an uncomfortable inflammation you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
So, if you’re here wondering how to treat chemical burns on the scalp, I hope the pointers discussed above can help you get some relief.
Remember: ALWAYS seek medical advice if the pain is excruciating and the burn is so bad.
And while there’s no stopping the salon junkie in you from getting hair treatments to elevate your hairstyle, it’s also your responsibility to care for your health.
Always remember these tricks and tips to keep your scalp safe and your hair lusciously beautiful.