Treating minor burns or caring for burns after leaving the burn center can be intimidating! There are so many products out there; how do you know which ones are safe to use on your burns? The experts at Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America (BRCA) are here to help you choose the ointments and creams that are right for your needs.
What are the benefits of using medicated cream and ointment for burns?
Over the counter burn care treatments are never a bad idea when it comes to treating minor burns at home. When it comes to caring for minor burns, there are a few side effects that can impact you: dry and peeling skin, itchiness, pain and the possibility of infection. Utilizing over the counter burn cream or ointment can help during the healing process to give you relief and peace of mind. Many ointments or creams come with skin-protecting or moisturizing ingredients to help re-hydrate damaged skin or to help rejuvenate the affected area by preparing it for new skin growth. These medicated topical treatments may also include aloe, anti-itch ingredients, pain relievers and antibiotics. Often, burn relief cream and ointment will be a mixture of all these helpful ingredients, creating the ideal environment for skin renewal, healing and good bacteria and microbes, such as those that help fend off infection and build scabs.
Are creams and ointments the same thing?
While often used interchangeably, an ointment implies an oil-based component, and cream implies there is not. Before starting any new treatments, ointments, lotions or creams, check with your healthcare provider to ensure it’s an appropriate product for your needs.
Aloe-based ointments or creams are great for soothing painful first-degree burns and moisturizing the damaged skin. These products are safe to use on children, adults and older adults. Often, ointment for burns will include aloe in the ingredients as a gentle skin soother. Burn relief cream or cream for burns will typically include aloe as well, if not to soothe, then to help progress the healing process.
Burn Relief Cream and Ointment
Most basic first-aid kits come with a little packet of “burn relief cream.” But what is burn relief cream, and how can it help? Over the counter burn cream is easy to find and varies between moisturizing, anti-septic and pain-relieving topical medication. The ingredients typically include some pain reliever (such as lidocaine) and an anti-septic (such as bacitracin) to prevent infection. Keeping burns moist and infection-free is important to prevent future complications, making this a good first-aid option when the burn doesn’t require any medical intervention.
*Packaging should mention that the product is intended for burns.
Anti-Itch Creams and Ointments
Burns may begin to itch from first-degree to second-degree as the skin peels off, heals and scars. Many burn survivors complain that itching is the worst part of the healing process. Several topical anti-itch creams are sold over the counter in pharmacies and supermarkets. When buying these products, try to buy one that mentions it is an ointment for burns and that it also acts as a moisturizer. Once your wound is healed or closed, you can consider some anti-itch creams that have pramoxine or hydrocortisone. If your wound is not healed, follow your burn care provider’s instructions.
Many of these products also include aloe, which will help moisturize and soothe the skin. If the itch persists with creams or ointments, ensure you are not allergic to any of the ingredients and try taking an allergy medication as a supplement. Ask your provider for a recommendation.
Pain Relief Creams and Ointments
Many of these over-the-counter ointments include pain relievers, itch soothers and some form of anti-septic. However, if you’ve tried the combination ones and they don’t work for your needs, pain relief creams and ointments are available. It is recommended to avoid lidocaine-based products when dealing with open or severe burns, as they may cause severe discomfort. Instead, a supplemental dose of oral pain-relieving medication and topical medicines may work best to help relieve all-around nerve and wound pain. Unless otherwise directed by your burn care provider, avoid putting analgesic creams and ointments on open or healing burns and wounds.
*Lidocaine and Menthol-based pain relievers are not recommended for those with open wounds or severe burns. Instead, check with your physician, burn provider or healthcare provider for pain relief ointment and cream recommendations.
Antibiotic Creams and Ointments
Burns leave the body susceptible to infection. While it’s essential with an open wound to use a disinfectant, it’s just as important, if not more so, for burns. Antibiotic, anti-microbial and anti-septic all mean the same thing: they prevent harmful microbes and bacteria from colonizing the wound and causing infection. It is not advised to pour drinking alcohol or rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) on the burn or wound, as this could cause the death of helpful microbes and bacteria and delay healing. Instead, use commonly available bacitracin or neomycin-based ointments. If suffering from a more severe burn, consider using silver-based anti-septic gels or ointments, like those used in burn centers to keep burn patients safe from infection. Gentle cleansing with gentle soap and water, and then apply an antibiotic ointment or cream with a non-stick dressing. The burn center has many different kinds that may not be available at your local pharmacy, so if you find that you are dissatisfied with what’s available, reach out to your burn care provider.
If your burn is already infected, your doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic medication or an oral antibiotic. Check with your healthcare provider before starting something different.
*If your burns are more severe or you are currently receiving treatment, check with your doctor before applying any gel, cream or ointment to ensure it does not interfere with your care plan.
Severe burns or second- and third-degree burns should never be treated at home unless as an outpatient following instructions provided by your doctor or burn specialist. If no pain or itching is present, it is still recommended to use some form of antibacterial or antimicrobial topical treatment to prevent the onset of infection; this holds true for every type of burn from friction and thermal to electrical and 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 outcome possible.
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.
Click here to learn more about thermal burns.
For more information about burn infection, click here.
For information about sepsis or septic shock, click here.