Here’s What To Do if You’re Hair Sets on Fire

Blowing out birthday candles can be dangerous if your hair gets too close to the flames.

In 2021, when Nicole Richie turned 40, the actor posted a clip on Instagram, showing herself leaning down to blow out the candles on a birthday cake. All of a sudden, both sides of her hair became engulfed in flames. 

Luckily, someone next to her quickly patted out the flames on one side. But the flames on the other side grew larger until they, too, were put out. When she realized what was happening, Richie screamed and grabbed her shirt as if to fan out the flames.

Seeing Richie's mishap might make you wonder what you should do if you were in a similar situation. After all, how many times have you leaned over a birthday candle—or any candle, for that matter—and realized you were scarily close to the flame?

Here's what you should know about staying safe if your hair suddenly catches on fire.

If Your Hair Is on Fire, Do This To Put It Out

Douse the flames with water as soon as possible. And if there's no water available, smother the flames with something made of cloth.

Once the fire is out and if you haven't already used water, cool your hair by immediately pouring water on it. If the flames reach your clothes or other body parts, it's time to stop, drop, and roll. 

"This essentially means: stop where you are, cover your face with your hands, if possible, and roll over and over or back and forth until the flames are completely out," Susan McKelvey, communications manager at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), told Health.

Stay where you are. "Fire can spread very quickly, causing severe burns within seconds," said McKelvey. "When a person begins to run or moves around excessively, this adds oxygen to the flames and increases the rate at which the fire can spread, which is why we tell people to stay where they are and not run."

If the flames spread and left burns on your body, treat them right away, advised McKelvey, by doing the following:

  1. Put the affected area in cool water for three to five minutes.
  2. Cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth.
  3. Don't apply creams, ointments, sprays, or other home remedies.
  4. Get medical help right away by calling 911.

How Can You Fix Your Fire-Damaged Hair?

If your hair catches on fire, don't try to fix the flame damage at home. Instead, visit a hair professional to have them restore your hair by trimming the damage off. A hair professional can also apply treatments to help condition your hair and help it grow back healthy.

But if you can't get to a hair professional immediately, apply a deep conditioning treatment and avoid adding more heat to your hair.

And next time you're around a candle, be careful. Maybe pull your hair back so it can't reach a flame so easily. 

"Candles are among the leading causes of U.S. home fires and need to be used with caution and care," noted McKelvey.

How To Avoid Fire Damage From Candles

According to the NFPA, three out of five candle-related fires start when flammable items, like hair, get too close to the flames. In addition to hair damage, to avoid fire damage from candles, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Keep flammable items at least one foot away from flames. So, if you have long hair and are blowing out birthday candles, hold or tie your hair back.
  • Keep your clothes and hair away from candles while you're lighting them.
  • Use sturdy candle holders.
  • Place candle holders on a sturdy, clean surface.
  • Blow out candles before they completely burn. 
  • Don't use candles in homes where someone uses oxygen. 
  • Avoid using candles during a power outage. Instead, use flashlights or another battery-powered lighting.

A Quick Review

Hair can set fire if it is too close to a flame. Always be safe around flames, especially with loose hair with potentially flammable products. 

If your hair sets fire, stay calm and douse the flames with water right away. Cool your hair with water and stay put. Fire spreads with oxygen from running. Treat your burns right away, or get medical help by calling 911.

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  1. National Library of Medicine. Minor burns - aftercare.

  2. National Fire Protection Association. Candle safety.

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