True or False: Applying Butter to a Burn Aids Healing and Relieves Pain

mythbuster graphic Putting butter on a burn is a popular folk remedy that has probably been around about as long as the term old wives talewhich, in fact, is exactly what it is. Putting butter on a burn quite likely does more harm than good, and the same can be said for applying most any lotion (except those with significant amounts of Aloe vera juice) to a burn.

Interestingly, while most household remedies for burns lack scientific support, at least one, honey, may soon earn some respect.

Evidence for the Health Claim

The butter-for-a-burn folk remedy presumably owes its origin and persistence, at least in part, to the soothing nature of a cool, greasy substance like butter and its immediate availability where minor burns often occurin the kitchen. However, no clinical studies exploring the healing or pain-reducing properties of butter could be found.

The most closely related scientific inquiry actually offers hope for another natural substancehoney. In 2004, the publishers of the New Zealand Ministry of Healths Complementary and Alternative Medicine website evaluated six cases in India in which honey was used as a primary dressing for burn wounds. The publishers concluded that superficial and deeper (so-called partial thickness ) burns treated with honey dressings healed faster and were less likely to become infected than similar burns treated more conventionally. They also reported no side effects. It is important to note that this report described a very small study, and that the healing properties of butter and honey cannot be reliably compared.

Evidence Against the Health Claim The well accepted first aid instructions for burns include: 1) prevent infection by cleaning the area, and 2) relieve pain. While butter may afford some temporary relieve from the sting of a recent burn, it has no known antiseptic (cleansing), antibiotic (infection fighting), or long-term analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. Since burns are the result of tissue injury caused by excessive exposure to heat, it makes most sense to treat them by cooling the area as quickly as possible. Cool water, not ice, has been found to stop the burning process, numb the pain, and reduce swelling. Placing butter or similar greasy ointments directly on a burn is counterproductive since it can seal in the heat. After initial cleaning and cooling, applying antibiotics will protect against infection, particularly for deeper burns. Daily cleaning and dressings are also recommended for continued treatment until the area is healed. Butter may actually promote an infection by discouraging the use of running water and entrapping local contaminants. Conclusion A variety of popular burn remedies exist. The only one that seems to have modest pain-relieving properties is the topical application of Aloe vera juice, in liquid or gel form. However, Aloe vera juice is generally recommended for use only after the burned area has been thoroughly cleaned.
Other popular household remedies for burnsincluding tomatoes, potatoes, milk, and toothpastehave not been studied and may, like butter encourage infection and prolong the healing process. References: Burn preventiontreating burns. American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at http://www.aap.org/pubed/ZZZINYLU25D.htm?&sub_cat=1 . Accessed July 19, 2006 Burns. The Childrens Medical Center of Dayton website. Available at: http://www.childrensdayton.org/Health_Topics/Kohls_A_Minute/health_safety_topics/hst_burns.html . Accessed July 21, 2006. Burns. Healthwise Handbook, Kaiser Permanente website. Available at http://www.permanente.net/homepage/handbook/healthwisehandbook/ch_03/ch_03.htm#burns . Accessed July 20, 2006 Burns guideline. National Clearinghouse of Guidelines website. Available at http://www.guideline.gov/summary/summary.aspx?ss=15&doc_id=8387&nbr=4695 . Accessed July 21, 2006. Does honey help heal burns and scalds? Complimentary and Alternative Medicine website. Available at http://www.cam.org.nz/Treatment%20Methods/Other/Honey%20for%20burns%20Evidence%20review%20-%20%2012%20April%2006.htm#Methods . Accessed July 21, 2006
First aid. College Park Fire Department website. Available at http://www.collegeparkfire.org/First%20Aid.html . Accessed July 19, 2006 Guidelines for first aid. American Red Cross website. Available at http://www.redcross.org/static/file_cont4913_lang0_1727.pdf . Accessed July 21, 2006 Taking care of burns. American Association of Family Physicians website. Available at http://www.aafp.org/afp/20001101/2029ph.html . Accessed July 20, 2006. Image Credit: Nucleus Communications, Inc. Last reviewed September 2006 by Richard Glickman-Simon, MD 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.
1 2 3 4 Next
Print Article