Beat the Heat
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Soothing, natural ways to treat superficial burns
Burns can vary from minor ones, after being out in the sun a bit too long or briefly touching a hot pan, to those that are life threatening. The deeper a burn penetrates, the more serious the damage.
Superficial, or first-degree, burns affect only the surface of the skin, causing redness, inflammation, and some brief discomfort. And skin may itch or peel slightly as they heal. These are the most common types of burns and include most sunburns. They can safely be treated at home.
Somewhat more serious second-degree burns penetrate the skin to a deeper level and cause blisters, pain, and swelling. Skin gets red, but turns white if you put a little pressure on it.
Third-degree burns penetrate beneath the skin and can destroy nerves, blood vessels, fat, and muscle tissue. They require immediate medical attention.
When a minor burn occurs, at once run cool water over it or soak it for 5-10 minutes, or apply a cool-water compress to the area, but don’t use ice, butter, or oil, as these can damage skin. When done immediately, cool water treatment helps the area heal, but it won’t deliver the same benefit later on.
Next, apply an antibacterial ointment, and a dressing that won’t stick to skin. The objective is to prevent infection, since burned skin has no defense against bacteria. If an infection does develop, it can turn a minor burn into a dangerous injury. Changes in color, texture, or thickness of the burned area, or a discharge of pus, indicate an infection, which requires immediate medical attention.
Natural antibacterials, including aloe vera, propolis, calendula, and medicinal honey, can be applied after an initial cool soak to help heal minor burns. In the case of propolis, a cream was tested on burn patients against a prescription burn cream (silver sulfadiazine), at the University of Texas medical school. Both treatments prevented infection equally well, but patients treated with propolis suffered less inflammation and healed more quickly.
Vitamin E is known for reducing scars, including those from burns. If you don’t routinely take it internally, start if you get a burn, as it will help healing and reduce scarring. For more scar reduction, vitamin E oil, cream, or ointment can be used once skin has healed. However, all the natural remedies that prevent infection also help reduce scarring. Key nutrients (see Shopping Guide, p. 32) will help skin heal from within.
Vitamin E, medicinal honey, and aloe vera can all help soothe minor burns and prevent scarring.
Lumina Health Cell Food Oxygen Gel boasts a unique concentrate containing trace minerals and other nutrients, in an aloe vera base.
Nature’s Plus Vitamin E Cream is a highly concentrated formula that comes in a base of vitamins A and D and aloe vera.
Pacific Resources Manuka Honey Bio Active 20+ is guaranteed to contain high antibacterial activity. Apply topically or enjoy as a food.
For topical treatment, stock your first aid kit with one or more of these:
- Aloe vera gel: Get the most concentrated product you can find, or even better, use a fresh piece from a plant.
- Propolis: A resin made by bees, propolis is found in some natural burn ointments. Don’t use propolis (or honey) if you’re allergic to bee products.
- Medicinal honey: Choose an ointment that contains pure honey and is designed for therapeutic use.
- Homeopathic sprays or ointments: Some common ingredients for healing burns include belladonna, cantharis, Ranunculus bulbosus, Urtica dioica, and a homeopathic form of calendula.
- Calendula: Use a gel or ointment designed for treating burns, rather than a skin care product for general use.
- Vitamin E ointment, cream, or oil: Once skin has healed, use to reduce scars. Choose a concentrated product designed to be therapeutic, rather than a basic moisturizer with vitamin E.
For healing from within:
- Vitamin C: Choose a form that makes it easy to take large doses, such as a high-strength powder that can easily be mixed with water. Take 500 mg, twice daily.
- Vitamin E: Holistic healers generally recommend a supplement with a family of vitamin E forms, including mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols, rather than only alpha-tocopherol. For adults, 200-400 IU is a typical daily dose.
- Vitamins and minerals: A multivitamin is the best source of other key healing nutrients, especially zinc, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and selenium.
Note: Avoid propolis (above) if allergic to bees.