The nationwide burn care teams of Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America (BRCA) understand that burns happen everywhere. That is why we do all we can to empower our patients in pre-hospital and outpatient care of burns and wounds. While some homeopathic burn care techniques can benefit the healing process, many of these “treatments” are myths that need to be debunked to prevent further injury and infection. Some of the most common homeopathic burn care remedies that are harmful include milk, butter, eggs, flour and toothpaste.
What are the common ingredients of toothpaste?
While there are several toothpaste brands, and each has a distinct formula, some things never change. So, let’s talk about the ingredients in toothpaste and what harm they could do to an open wound.
Sodium fluoride: This is a common ingredient in toothpaste and primarily prevents cavities by coating the teeth. While found in most toothpaste, and drinking water, sodium fluoride can also be found in pesticides and rat poison. Sodium fluoride is known to irritate eyes, skin and mucous membranes. In high doses, it can cause cardiac problems and hypercalcemia.
Glycerol: This is a non-toxic ingredient of toothpaste that can also be used as a sweetener, humectant and food preservative. This ingredient is used to help keep toothpaste from drying out. Though non-toxic and typically sourced from plants, this substance can also act as a bacterial growth media, meaning it can encourage the development of bacterial colonization. If put in a wound, this may promote infection.
Sorbitol: This substance plays many roles in our daily lives. Along with glycerol, it can be used to keep toothpaste together. However, it is also commonly used as a constipation medication and sugar alternative for people with diabetes. Putting this ingredient into a wound would be like putting sugar on an injury, which may cause stickiness and debris that can encourage infection or other complications.
Calcium carbonate: This ingredient is used as an abrasive in toothpaste to help remove plaque, which doesn’t sound like it would feel good as a burn remedy. This substance is commonly sourced from rocks and mollusk shells and treats low blood calcium levels. Excessive consumption of calcium carbonate can cause hypercalcemia and digestive problems.
Sodium lauryl sulfate: This substance is a detergent used in toothpaste to create that nice foam when you brush. Though found in cleaning and personal care products like shampoo, this substance is not intended for use in open wounds or prolonged use. Skin irritation is possible, and wound irritation is even more likely.
Why you shouldn’t put toothpaste on burns
Though passed down through generations as a good acne and burn remedy, toothpaste is a homeopathic burn treatment best avoided. Burns damage the body’s largest immune system, leaving you more at risk of infection. When healing a burn, one of the most important aspects is to keep the wound clean and free of harmful bacteria. Putting toothpaste on burns or open wounds does not keep the wound clean like it does your mouth. Not only does the head of the toothbrush touch the toothpaste creating an unsanitary environment, but the toothpaste also has ingredients that are likely to irritate the burn or encourage the onset of infection. Many kinds of toothpaste also include some form of mint flavor that cools your mouth. When suffering from a burn, you may want the quickest way of cooling it down, but that is not any mint product. Mint products can increase the burning sensation and further irritate open wounds.
If not toothpaste…then what?
There are many at-home remedies to help treat minor burns. Immediately after the injury occurs, run the area under tepid or slightly warm water for ten minutes or until the burning subsides. You want to avoid cold water and ice cubes, as these could increase skin or tissue damage. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever as needed can also help reduce pain and swelling.
When to call a doctor
Only minor burns, typically first-degree or second-degree burns smaller than the size of your palm, should be cared for at home. Please seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- A second-degree burn on an area larger than the palm of your hand
- A third-degree burn
- A burn on an area that might reduce function (hands, fingers, feet, toes, major joints)
- A burn on your face or genitalia
- A burn to the eyes or airways
- A large blister or multiple blisters
- A blister that does not heal within a week. This may indicate a chronic or non-healing wound
- A blister that interferes with functionality (on the feet or hands)
Inspect your burn or wound daily for signs of infection, including:
- Abnormal drainage
- A change in skin or tissue color
- Foul odor
- Pain in the wound and surrounding areas
- Pain in areas away from the wound
- A blister that appears filled with pus (cloudy and firm)
If you experience any of the above, call your doctor or BRCA’s burn information services at (855) 863-9595 for a consultation or to speak with a provider.
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 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 thermal burns, please click here.
For more information on homeopathic burn remedies, please click here.
For more information on burn infections, please click here.
For information on burn care ointments and creams, please click here.