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Caring for summer’s minor mishaps: burns (Part I)

Summer is a time for play but sometimes things can get a little out of hand. This is the first  of  a three part series on how to take care of yourself when the good times go a bit too far.


Burns are a common injury of summertime activities. Whether it’s a sunburned nose, or a too-close encounter with the barbecue grill, most burns are fairly minor and can be effectively treated at home. Even for the small ones though, we like to take a broad approach to treatment. In addition to the degree of the injury itself, infection, dehydration and scarring can hamper the healing process. With proper care though, these complications can be minimized.

With any kind of burn, performing basic first aid is the the most important step. The first thing to do is stop the burning. Typically this means cooling the area by running it under cool tap water or even a shower. Ice is not necessary and it can even freeze the skin, leading to further tissue damage.

When its an isolated area, covering it with a clean bandage can both protect it from irritation and further injury, as well as help reduce the chance of infection. If it’s a larger are (like a sunburn), loose, light cotton clothing is the most comfortable way to go.

If the skin is broken, an antibiotic cream can be applied before bandaging. Alternatively, there is a remarkably effective Chinese ointment that I love called Qing Wan Hung. It can be used topically for any type of burn and should be a part of every home first aid kit. It contains a combination of herbs that cool, reduce pain, and help facilitate tissue repair. It’s even antimicrobial – in other words it inhibits infection.

The herbs in Qing Wan Hung include Mastic (which is a resin that contains flavonoids and tannins that help reduce infection), Myrrh, Dong Gui, Huang Lian and Safflower oil

Note: Burns are staged in 3 degrees

  • First Degree Burns only cause redness, swelling and pain at the superficial layers of skin
  • Second Degree Burns are more severe, involving deeper layers of skin with blistering and more intense pain
  • Third Degree Burns are the most serious and affect all skin layers, muscles, and even bones

Other dos and don’ts:

Popping blisters intentionally is generally not a good idea. They are your body’s way of cooling a burn and bringing healing cells to the area.

Butter and oils are good to eat, but really are not advisable for burn, especially with second degree and more serious burns.

Don’t leave bandages on more than a day at a time and watch for infection. As the burn heals it may begin to itch. Do not scratch it as this can lead to infection and scarring.

There are many other readily available, natural products that can help complete burn healing. Some of these include:

  • Manuka honey is soothing, healing and antiseptic. Methylglyoxol is the antibacterial compound that makes it a powerhouse in wound care.
  • Aloe Vera. Pure aloe gel feels great on burns, doesn’t accumulate or feel greasy, and can hasten the healing process.
  • Vitamins work to support the body’s innate healing ability.
  • Calendula tincture. This comes from a popular ornamental plant called a pot marigold (it is not a true marigold). You can buy ready to use calendula products in health food stores.
  • Chamomile relieves pain and cooling. Make a cool compress and apply for 15 minutes at a time.
  • Gotu kola stimulates the growth of connective tissue in the skin. madecassoside, the active ingredient in gotu kola, promotes significant wound healing activity.

Nutrition also plays a role in any kind of healing. For burns, be sure to

  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to replenish your fluids.
  • Increase proteins (not necessarily meat) and reduce carbohydrates to assist tissue repair.
  • Reduce processed foods and excessive sugar intake which can undermine your immune system.

For patients with burns I also use acupuncture to support the body’s self-healing mechanisms and reduce the distress of the pain – which can be intense. Acupuncture has been shown in numerous studies to significantly accelerate healing time for thermal burns as well as chemical and radiation burns.

As with any kind of injury, prevention is the best cure. Be careful at the grill and the camp fire. For more information on sunburn prevention, click here for Jill’s piece on how to choose the best sunscreen for your family.

Caring for summer’s minor mishaps

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