Monday, August 18, 2008

Traditional vs Green & Effective Treatments for Burns, Cuts & Scrapes

OUCH! What do you do if you have a burn or a cut? Pull out the bandages and the Neosporin or bactromycin?

Well, that's what I used to do. I have had some pretty bad accidents and putting antibiotic ointment on scraps, burns and cuts was the "best" way to protect and heal such injuries.

Thursday, I burned the heck out of my arm on a very hot baking sheet. It's about 3" long and looks ugly -- no blisters, but the whole area around the 3/4" wide burn is very swollen. I put a gauze pad with some antibiotic ointment on it and wrapped it with a bandana (lacking bandage tape). After soaking in hot springs all weekend, I thought I should at least cover it up at work to protect it and realized all my ointment tubes (purchased in 2002 when I had a big skating accident) had expired years ago. So, I tossed them and went to Walgreen's to find bigger bandages and more ointment.

I must say - I was pretty shocked when I read the box and discovered that every single antibiotic ointment is based in petroleum jelly or "petrolatum." Not having many options at Walgreen's, I bought a Walgreen's triple antibiotic ointment tube and some Walgreen's waterproof bandages big enough to cover the burn.

After applying the ointment to the bandage and positioning it over my arm, I noticed some interesting reactions. About 20 minutes after applying the ointment, I felt like there were small hot stones under my hand and side of my arm. The skin didn't feel hot to the touch but something was happening. Less than 3 hours later, I had to yank the bandage because for almost 2 hours, it was killing me -- the adhesive was itching like crazy.

I shudder to think about the process of making adhesive, waterproof bandages -- I really do like the Nexcare bandages, they seem to work pretty well with my skin. I so rarely need to use bandages these days and it begs the questions:

What are the options? Why is petroleum jelly used in a product like this? Is it really safe to use?

ORIGIN & HISTORY OF PETROLEUM JELLY: According to Wikipedia, petroleum jelly was first discovered by workers on the country's first oil rigs as a buildup on the equipment -- but they discovered then it was applied to cuts and burns, it seemed to speed healing. Then, a young chemist patented the process of making petroleum jelly through vacuum distillation and filtration of the still residue through bone char.

Petroleum jelly is hydrophobic -- meaning it repels water -- and it should not be used on fresh burns because it traps the heat inside and can make the burns worse. During WWII, a type of petroleum jelly called "dark red veterinary petroleum jelly" was used in life raft survival kits to prevent sunburn because it nearly perfectly blocks UV rays. Vaseline is often used as a personal lubricant but it can dissolve latex condoms so is not recommended (other oils also break down latex, so you should use water based lubricants anyway).

COMMON USES: Vaseline is a pretty well known household name. Even I have had the same small container of it for 14 years -- I think I bought it while I was in Mexico and used it for protecting my boots. Come to think of it, it'll be the perfect lubrication for my small juice press. Lots of people use Vaseline for dry skin and for makeup removal. Petroleum jelly, or petrolatum, is used in a lot of cosmetics (lip balm, lip gloss, and ointments. The grade used is considered harmless but there are less refined grades which contain carcinogens.

Mineral oil is also made from petroleum and has a lot of effects on the skin and body which are the opposite of what you would expect. A website called "Skin Suicide" describes that mineral oil, as a petroleum product, "cannot be absorbed by the body. It "seals" the skin, clogs pores, attracts dirt and pulls essential trace minerals from the skin. It must be removed with harsh alcohol." Other sources note that cosmetic grade mineral oil is noncomedogenic but YMMV.

IS IT HEALTHY? Information on the safety of this ubiquitous product is hard to find. Even the Environmental Working Group's Cosmetic Safety Database entry for petrolatum is incomplete, though it is listed as a low risk ingredient.

It mentions possible contamination with PAHS but no real details there, either. There have been 876 studies listed in PubMed on petrolatum use -- that's a lot to wade through!

I also found this really lengthy debate about the safety and efficacy of petroleum jelly and mineral oil on a LJ forum.

My takeaways:
  • petrolatum is a petroleum product - there are many reasons to avoid purchasing petrochemicals that are easy to identify
  • petrolatum doesn't moisturize - it acts as a barrier to moisture and actually can dry out your skin
  • petrolatum doesn't heal -- it can protect (ie, preventing blisters in humid/hot environments) but it is a barrier, not a healing agent

My recommendations are:
  • tea tree oil (a natural anti microbial/fungal)
  • lavender oil is supposed to work great on burns to relieve the sting (not so sure about broken skin)
  • honey is always good on burns - it's a natural antibiotic
  • herbal or homeopathic burn care ointments such as Quantum Derma First Aid or Weleda Burn care Ointment might be safer, healthier alternatives

Next, onto bandages...


carolyn said...

When it comes to minor injuries, I definitely believe in doing as little as possible treatment-wise. I think all those "remedies" that are sold -- green, red, black, whatever -- are just a waste of money. Even with an MD father and grandfather, we never put anything on a burn or cut or scrape. Just washed it out with water, maybe a little soap. My grandfather loved Ivory soap. Maybe iodine, if something looked really bad. I think it was well after college when I first saw this triple-antibiotic that everyone uses.

A couple weeks ago I burned my hand fairly badly on a hot pan in the oven. Big blister and still a bit red. But all I did for it was put ice on it. It stung a bit when the blister broke and oozed for a couple days, but it seems ok now.

Jenn said...

Like I said, I usually don't do anything, either -- unless it is infected, sore or at risk of being further injured (ie, on a part of the body that gets brushed or caught on things).

Whole underside of my arm is still swollen and the burned area is dry and cracking and hurts, it's right on the spot that supports the weight of the arm if you put it on a desktop or arm rest.

Laura said...

I won 3 degree burns right after I got married making the new hubby dinner. Bacon grease mixed with olive oil does nasty things to people's skin, in case you were wondering... Anyway, I got some vitamin E capsules and kept them in the fridge. Each time I changed the bandage (which for me is only the gauze and a strip of gauze around that taped to itself... I'm allergic to the adhesive in most bandages.) I poked a hole in the capsule and oozed the E on my super nasty burns. Once the blisters popped, I continued with the vitamin E and really stepped up the lavender spray, which I tried to use before, but sometimes it really hurt. Anyway, not only do I not have scarring from such a nasty burn, I also have most of my nerve function in my right middle finger. The grease/oil spread down each side of my finger before I could get it under the water, so the burn constricted my finger pretty badly. Either way, I'm all healed and thrilled with my all natural treatments I used.

Oh, and I use tea tree for EVERYTHING!!! i have multiple piercing in my ears and cartilage and the tea tree keeps all bacteria and such from getting into the little holes and giving me an infection.

ib mommy said...

When I'm teaching First Aid I always tell people not to put anything on a burn. I'm teaching new Girl Scout leaders so they always rush out and buy one of those packaged first aid kits you find in the pharmacy. Guess what's in there..... something called burn cream.

You've got me thinking I should try to put together a "green" first aid kit to take to my classes. This might be fun.

Hope your burn isn't driving you nuts and heals quickly.

Green Bean said...

I always go for honey for burns. It works like magic and I can lick it off. ;-)

A.M. said...

That is so funny - I used to use a lot of vaseline. Now, after a year or so I used it again because I really needed something and couldn't find anything else and wondered what it was exactly. And here you are...

Jenn said...

fearlesschef - olive oil and bacon? That really is fearless!

ib mommy - I'd love to read about what you put into the green first aid kit!

green bean - um... ew? I guess it depends on how bad the burn is. My burn is drying out and cracking and oozing a bit... it looks worse now than it did for the first four or five days.

sanja - I found a use for vaseline today! My vintage citrus press has been a bit rough and all the lube has worn off... vaseline is the perfect lube for this, so I dug out my nearly gone 6 oz container purchased in 1994 and voila! :)

rae-ann said...

Owie - I hope you are healing now. I wrote about this exact same topic last week and I have three natural and safe remedies that will treat burns effectively:

Mrs G x

Laura said...

nope, not fearless... stupid! :D

A Slice of the Pie said...

Cool blog!

We like to use aloe on burns and minor cuts. I just break the leaf and squeeze it on. When applied immediately to a burn it really slows the damage.

Also I have heard fabulous reports on using raw honey on all sorts of wounds, but haven't tried it yet myself and I am not sure how you feel about honey.

A Slice of the Pie said...

Okay, I am going to open my mouth and insert my keyboard.

My previous comment was perhaps less than well thought out. I realize you recommended honey in your post. I intended to make the distinction between standard honey we eat and raw honey.

And in saying, "I am not sure how you feel about honey," I was thinking in terms of people that avoid honey since it comes from another living being.

Apologies for the lack of clarity.

Jenn said...

Oh - gosh - no problem. I was posting "honey" because I know other people don't have problems with it.

When it comes to honey - I am a Bad Vegan. I only buy honey from local beekeepers, and often talk to them about their methods. My granddad was a bee keeper, so I know that the honey can be gathered without harming the bees or killing them.

Most beekeepers I have talked with don't use a lot of protective gear -- check my Flickr stream for a visit with a beekeeper at Green Gulch, for example. No gloves, no mesh and only a light amount of smoke -- the bees were more mellow because it was a sunny, 70 degree day in December but still, he's not about to mash or mistreat his bees.