accessibility & help

Red Cross calls on parents to stop using old wives tales to treat burns

3 November 2015

Put down the toothpaste, butter and margarine – Red Cross calls on parents to stop using old wives’ tales to treat burns
More than one in 10 parents are choosing old wives’ tales to treat their children’s burns, according to a British Red Cross poll.

Butter, margarine, spray-on cooling creams and even toothpaste were mentioned by mums and dads as ways to deal with burns and scalds. The charity has launched a video to show parents how to treat burns and highlight the dangers of leaving hot drinks within reach of toddlers.

Joe Mulligan, British Red Cross head of first aid, said:

“People often think lotions and potions will have a cooling effect but in reality the most cooling treatment is going to be the water coming out of your tap.

“Young children in particular have more sensitive skin, so getting the treatment right is vital to help reduce painful scarring in the future.”

One in seven  parents polled said they’d had to deal with a child or baby who had suffered burns and according to A&E figures, hot drinks, food, and cooking fats account for the majority of childhood burns in the UK.

“Most people don’t realise drinks like tea remain hot enough to scald small children for up to 15 minutes after they are made so it’s really important they’re kept out of reach,” said Mulligan

Vikki Stow, from Chorley, whose ten-month-old daughter Tamzin was scalded when she knocked a hot drink on her arm said: “My husband had made two cups of tea and put them at the side of the sofa.  I took my eyes off Tamzin for fewer than ten seconds to get her a nappy and suddenly I heard her cry out with the most awful scream – her arm was steaming.

“Thankfully my husband knew to cool the burn straight away and we called an ambulance. Paramedics wrapped her arm in cling film and she was taken to hospital.

“Luckily, the burns are superficial but leaving hot drink within reach is so easily done.”

The video, part of the charity’s First Aid Rapped Up campaign, shows how to treat burns after an accident involving a hot drink. The Red Cross has also developed a free baby and child first aid app for parents and carers.

The campaign is backed by a host of celebrities including Jools Oliver, Coronation Street’s Catherine Tyldesley, Tamzin Outhwaite and Katherine Kelly.

To watch the video, download the free Red Cross baby and child first aid app and find out more, go to

Burns first aid advice:
1 Cool the burn under cold running water for at least ten minutes.
Cooling the burn will reduce pain, swelling and the risk of scarring. The faster and longer a burn is cooled, the less the impact of the injury.
2 After the burn has been cooled, cover it with cling film or a clean plastic bag.
This helps prevent infection by keeping the area clean. Cling film or a plastic bag provide an ideal covering because they don't stick to the burn and reduce pain by keeping air from the skin’s surface.
3 Call 999.



Editors’ notes

For more information, to watch the video and to download the free app go to:

To see the video on Youtube go to:

Notes from research:

Response to the question ‘Provided an ambulance was on its way, what is the first thing you would do if your baby and/or child were burned by a very hot drink?’

Base: All Respondents  2,013 
 Run the burn under cold water (CORRECT) 76% 
Cover the burn with cling film   11%
Wouldn't know what to do  4% 
Apply a cream/lotion/spray on the burn  3% 
 Apply butter or margarine on the burn 3% 
 Apply toothpaste on the burn 2% 
 Other (specify) 1% 

How long would you run the burn under cold water for?

Base: Those that would run a burn under water  1,538 
For at least 2 minutes   2% 
For at least 5 minutes   26% 
For at least 20 minutes (CORRECT)  37% 
For at  least 15 minutes (CORRECT)  22% 
Don't know  3% 

“Within a few months of finding out I was pregnant, a first aid course was on the to-do list. If becoming a parent doesn’t give you the impetus to do a first aid course, I don’t know what will.”

Celebrities backing the first aid campaign:

Celebrities backing the first aid campaign:

Coronation Street actress Catherine Tyldesley said:

“Doing a first aid course is not intimidating at all and when you think that for just a few hours of your time you could potentially save somebody’s life - that is just absolutely priceless. It’s such an amazing thing to do. It’s very easy; a lot of it is common sense.”

“The course has left me feeling a lot more confident. It’s hard being a parent full stop. But to come away from here feeling like if something were to happen to my son, I’ve got a much better chance of being able to help him or save him. That for me, as a parent, is absolutely imperative. I would 110 per cent recommend this to other people. I think everybody should do a first aid course.”

Actress Katherine Kelly (Mr Selfridge, The Kenny Everett Story) said:

“The odds are something is going to happen to a child at some point. Hopefully it won't be anything a kiss can't fix. But I like to know I'm prepared for worse. Coming from a family who work in the health service, I know that every second counts in an emergency. Something like this first aid course really gives you the confidence to make the right decisions fast. This course could save my daughter’s life - this is for her.”

“The course dispelled a lot of the myths. My daughter is at an age where she puts everything in her mouth and she loves 'helping' me with the household tasks. I always think that those detergent liquid tablets look so much like sweets. It was good to learn exactly what to do if she ever accidentally swallowed one. A lot of it is common sense, but it is about streamlining what you know so you have a plan in an emergency situation.”

Jools Oliver said:

“Accidents always happen when you have children and, with four, I have my hands full. My youngest Buddy has had a few incidents choking on food due to laughing with his sisters at the dining table so we always have to watch out.
“When Petal was younger I caught her holding a bottle of bleach. It wasn't open, but I had no idea if she had drunk any and made her drink milk as a precaution. Thanks to doing the British Red Cross baby and child first aid course I now know that is the wrong thing to do."

“The course has really put my mind at rest and given me the confidence to deal with issues in the right way should they arise in the future. I never knew first aid could be so fun and all of my children really enjoyed learning it alongside me.

“I was amazed to hear that seven out of 10 children are likely to visit A&E at some point in their lifetime yet only 9 per cent of parents feel confident to perform first aid. I really hope the British Red Cross First Aid Rapped Up campaign helps to change these shocking statistics.

“I think it’s so important for parents and parents-to-be to learn these basic skills because you never know when you may need them. I fully support this campaign and recommend parents download the Red Cross first aid app or book on to a course near them as a priority.”

Tamzin Outhwaite said:

“First aid makes people feel nervous because the idea of someone they love not being well or being in distress is quite scary, but there’s absolutely nothing intimidating about doing the course.

“I’d like to be able to use the first aid not just for my own children but if I’m ever in a situation where there are other people’s children around or adults around that need help. We often see accidents and think, ‘I’m not qualified to do that so I’ll wait for a doctor to arrive’, but there are always those heroes that get out of their car and help out straight away. I feel more confident to do that now. “

“I’m sure there’s an awful lot more I could learn first aid-wise – I’m not quite a doctor yet - but I feel quite confident that now that I could deal with accidents from around the home. The course has given me a boost.”

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Opinium Research carried out an online survey of 2,013 parents with children aged 5 and under.

The British Red Cross helps people in crisis, whoever and wherever they are. We are part of a global voluntary network, responding to conflicts, natural disasters and individual emergencies.

We enable vulnerable people in the UK and abroad to prepare for and withstand emergencies in their own communities. And when the crisis is over, we help them to recover and move on with their lives.