When it comes to at-home burn care, homeopathic burn remedies are generally frowned upon as treatment options because there is little to no research on whether these remedies improve or delay the healing process. However, some at-home burn care treatments are recommended for use on minor burns. To help give every patient the best outcome possible, Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America (BRCA) is here to help dispel some burn treatment myths and give you the facts for optimal outpatient treatment.
Cold water vs. tepid water
After a burn injury happens, the first step toward treating the injury is to stop the burning process. Cooling the burn with water is a great way to stop the burning process, however, it is best to avoid using cold or chilly water. A burn injury can disrupt or impair your body’s natural ability to regulate temperature is greatly affected. The damage to your skin and your body’s ability to regulate temperature is why, after suffering a sunburn, you may seem to get cold easier even though your skin feels hot to the touch. Those who suffer more severe burns are not only unable to regulate their body temperature but are at an increased risk of hypothermia. Therefore, cold water should not be used to treat a burn. Instead, use tepid water or water that is only slightly warm. Using tepid water, rinse the affected area for 15-20 minutes before washing the burn with a gentle soap. Hot water should be avoided entirely as this can cause pain or worsen the burn.
Ice vs. cool compress
Once the burning process has been stopped, you may still feel pain or a burning sensation and experience swelling. You may even have the urge to grab an ice cube to put on the burn to numb the area, cool it down or reduce swelling. If you can, try to avoid putting ice on your burn. Ice is not an effective burn remedy and should not be used. Like cold water, ice can irritate the burn and cause more damage to the wound bed. Instead, run a towel under tepid water and wring it out so that it isn’t soaked. Place the damp towel on the burn for ten-minute increments to reduce swelling and pain. Do not do this too often, as keeping the burn moist may encourage the onset of infection. Ice stops blood flow via vasoconstriction which can worsen the injury.
Oils vs. ointments
Burn injury after-care is essential. It sets the stage for the healing process and can reduce or increase the risks during recovery. The homeopathic burn remedy of using cooking oils or essential oils to heal burns is another homemade myth to be wary of. Oils, including coconut oil and butter, should not be used to treat burns at home. There is no scientific evidence that cooking oils or essential oils are beneficial for healing burns and might do the opposite and worsen the burn injury by trapping in heat. Oils retain heat very well and, if put on a burn, may keep the area hot and create an environment conducive to bacterial infection.
Instead, burn creams and antibiotic ointments should be used to create a barrier between the wound bed and the outside world and help prevent infection. Apply these ointments directly to the affected area, then wrap or cover with a dry, sterile bandage. The bandage should be changed often. A dirty bandage will encourage infection.
Consult with your doctor before using any ointments or creams.
Aloe Vera vs. toothpaste
Possibly the most natural treatment for minor burns is aloe vera. Aloe vera is a succulent type of plant known for its healing capabilities. This homeopathic burn remedy is not a myth and has many healing benefits, including reducing inflammation, promoting circulation and reducing bacterial colonization. Using this treatment on sunburns or first-degree burns is encouraged to help the affected area heal faster.
However, another homeopathic burn remedy myth is the use of toothpaste on burns. Toothpaste often contains mint ingredients or flavoring. This cooling sensation is similar to the effects of lidocaine found in topical pain-relieving gels and creams. Putting lidocaine or mint products such as these on burns, especially second- or third-degree burns, is not recommended. It will most likely be highly uncomfortable or painful and irritate the wound. Additionally, toothpaste is not sanitary enough to put on any open wound and may increase the risk of infection.
Milk vs. flour vs. egg whites
None of these common kitchen ingredients should be used in burn care treatment. While milk may seem harmless and help in cooling the tongue after eating a spicy meal, it also comes with the risk of certain harmful pathogens such as Brucella, E. coli (Escherichia coli), Listeria and Salmonella. Pouring milk on a burn may encourage infection of the wound bed.
Like milk, raw flour is associated with the harmful pathogens Salmonella and E. coli. Along with the risk of infection, flour may also dirty the wound, making it hard to clean and disinfect.
Eggs (yolks and whites) are another common homeopathic burn remedy myth. Eggs, whether chicken, duck quail, etc., carry the risk of salmonella poisoning, bacterial infection and allergic reaction. There is no evidence proving that applying eggs to burn injuries helps heal the wound.
Alcohol vs. Blister popping
While it’s tempting to use items nearby to sterilize the burn wound, alcohol—including rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) and drinking alcohol (moonshine, whiskey, etc.)—should not be used as an antibacterial solution. These substances can irritate the burn, cause pain and kill beneficial bacteria. Alcohol is also highly flammable and can catch on fire if the source of the burn is still nearby.
Like the application of alcohol, blister popping is another homeopathic burn remedy myth! Blisters are not like pimples; they are not meant to be popped. The fluid buildup in the blister is your immune system’s attempt to protect you from further damage and infection. If you can avoid popping them, please do so, as popping them will open the door to infection. Your burn care provider may pop the blisters for other clinical care.
Reducing sun exposure vs. Over-the-counter pain relievers
Reducing sun exposure and taking the recommended dose of over-the-counter pain relievers are two good ways to care for a burn injury! After a burn, your skin is damaged and needs time to heal. Exposing it to harsh UV rays that come from the sun may extend your recovery time and worsen the burn injury. If you are going outside for an extended time, try to cover the burn with a dry, sterile cloth, wrap or bandage. If you are still experiencing pain after applying a topical ointment or aloe gel, taking the recommended dose of an over-the-counter pain reliever may help to give you complete relief. Check with your doctor before taking a new medication or a combination of medicines.
Homeopathic burn remedies or at-home care are not recommended for burns over first-degree unless a doctor has been consulted, and these treatments align with your care plan. Before applying any topical treatments or taking oral medications, please check with your burn care team to ensure that what you are doing is supporting your recovery.
Severe burns, such as second- and third-degree burns, should never be treated at home unless as an outpatient following instructions provided by your doctor or burn specialist. You should seek medical care if you have burns on your face, hands, feet, genitalia, neck and major joints such as elbows or knees. You should also see medical care if you suspect the wound is infected by having drainage, redness, if you have a fever and if the wound is not healing.
If no pain or itching is present, it is still recommended to use some form of antibacterial or antimicrobial topical treatment to prevent infection; this holds for every type of burn, from friction and thermal to electrical and UV radiation (sunburn). If blisters form, do not pop them as this may encourage infection. Instead, seek medical attention and ask what sort of after-care you should perform at home for the best possible outcome.
If you think your burn may be infected or have questions about your burn or wound care, please call our 24/7 burn information services at (855) 863-9595. For more information about our services, locations or physicians, please visit us at www.burncenters.com.
For more information on burn care ointments and creams, please click here.
For more about burn infections, please click here.
For more about thermal burns, please click here.