Burns can be caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, and sun exposure. They vary in severity from causing minor pain to being life-threatening. First-degree burns are the mildest type, only damaging the top layer of skin. The skin gets red, painful, and tender. Though the skin may swell, no blisters form and the area turns white when touched.
Second-degree burns cause damage to deeper layers of the skin. The skin looks much like a first-degree, burn except that blisters form at the surface. The blisters may be red or whitish and are filled with a clear fluid. Third-degree burns are the worst type of burn, extending through all layers of the skin and causing nerve damage. Because of this nerve damage, third-degree burns generally aren't painful and have no feeling when touched—an ominous sign. The skin may be white, blackened, or bright red. Blisters may also be present.
Only first-degree burns should be self-treated. More severe burns require a doctor's supervision to prevent infection and scarring. Third-degree burns and extensive second-degree burns can cause permanent injury or death.
The best treatment for minor burns is to cool the burn as quickly as possible by immersing the area in cold water. The burned area should be kept clean until it heals.
Although there are no well-established natural treatments for minor burns, several preliminary studies suggest a few options for reducing pain and speeding healing.
A series of studies found that a combination of raw honey and gauze was significantly better than conventional types of bandages for superficial burns treated at a hospital. 1-3 The burns covered with honey healed faster and with less frequent infection than the burns covered with other types of bandages. Other studies of varying quality have also found evidence of benefit. 26-28
Potato peel has also been used successfully in developing countries as a replacement for more expensive conventional bandages. 4
Aloe vera is often recommended as a treatment for minor burns; however, no evidence exists to support this claim, and some studies have actually found it ineffective. 6,7 Other popular topical burn treatments include calendula , chamomile , goldenseal , and comfrey.
Oral or topical vitamin C , vitamin E , and beta-carotene , alone or in combination, might be helpful for preventing sunburn . 8-21 However, the evidence at this time is preliminary and contradictory.
Finally, there is some evidence that hospitalized individuals with severe burns may benefit from nutritional support with certain supplements, including ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate (OKG) , arginine , zinc , copper , selenium , and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) . 22-25
For a discussion of homeopathic approaches to burns, see the homeopathy database .
8. Trevithick JR, Xiong H, Lee S, et al. Topical tocopherol acetate reduces post-UVB, sunburn-associated erythema, edema, and skin sensitivity in hairless mice. Arch Biochem Biophys . 1992;296:575-582.
9. Trevithick JR, Shum DT, Redae S, et al. Reduction of sunburn damage to skin by topical application of vitamin E acetate following exposure to ultraviolet B radiation: effect of delaying application or of reducing concentration of vitamin E acetate applied. Scanning Microsc . 1993;7:1269-1281.
14. Fuchs J, Kern H. Modulation of UV-light-induced skin inflammation by D-alpha-tocopherol and L-ascorbic acid: a clinical study using solar simulated radiation. Free Radic Biol Med . 1998;25:1006-1012.
16. Gollnick HPM, Hopfenmller W, Hemmes C, et al. Systemic beta carotene plus topical UV-sunscreen are an optimal protection against harmful effects of natural UV-sunlight: results of the Berlin-Eilath study. Eur J Dermatol . 1996;6:200-205.
23. Han CM. Changes in body zinc and copper levels in severely burned patients and the effects of oral administration of ZnSO4 by a double-blind method [in Chinese; English abstract]. Chung Hua Cheng Hsing Shao Shang Wai Ko Tsa Chih . 1990;6:83-86, 155.
24. Berger MM, Spertini F, Shenkin A, et al. Trace element supplementation modulates pulmonary infection rates after major burns: a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr . 1998;68:365-371.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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