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Whether it's the sunburn you got when you spent the day wandering through the farmers market or the burn your child got under their nose when they leaned in to smell your fresh-baked cookies, minor burns are a part of life.
So, I consider a simple burn cream or salve to be an essential part of a natural first aid kit, and this all-natural burn salve is my current favorite. It soothes the skin, aids healing naturally, and smells lovely.
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[Note: Please remember that any serious burn, any large burn, or any burn that is wet to the touch should be treated by a professional. Also, please note we're talking about common household burns and sunburns in this article. If you're dealing with a chemical burn or an electrical burn, call 911 immediately.]
How to Treat a Burn – Naturally
Okay, before we do anything else, let's talk about how to treat a burn.
A burn in essence is the damage done to the skin when exposed to heat (or cold) sufficient to destroy or damage it.
The severity of the burn is determined by how deeply the damage affects the tissue. As heat penetrates, it damages each layer of skin in turn.
What's important to know here is that if the heat still remains, the damage can continue, even once you're no longer in contact with the item that burned you. That's why running a burn under cold water feels so good, because it's actually cooling the affected area. (Don't place ice on the burn, however, as it changes the temperature of the tissues too quickly and can actually incur further damage.)
Thus, treating a minor burn – especially a sunburn – has three steps in order to minimize deeper tissue damage:
- Remove the heat source and run the burn under cold water for at least 30 seconds. For young children, I like to have them sing the alphabet song or another song they love to help them keep the burn under the water and distract them a bit.
- Rinse the burn with white or apple cider vinegar. Either pour or dab pure white or apple cider vinegar over the affected area. (More about that in a minute.)
- Apply a burn cream or other healing salve. This can be rubbed in if the burn is very minor or if the burn is very sensitive, dabbed on thickly, then loosely dressed with gauze, a towel, or a t-shirt.
Now about that vinegar. While there is documented anecdotal evidence dating back as far as ancient Egypt that burns heal more quickly when washed with vinegar, there aren't any studies specifically linked to WHY vinegar speeds healing of minor burns. Yet, there are a veritable landslide of modern studies that show its antiviral, antiseptic, anti-aging, and healing capabilities. Even L'Oreal submitted a patent back in 1995 for the use of vinegar in their anti-aging creams, citing a number of known studies. It is purported that the weak acetic acid in vinegar balances the damaged skin's pH, which accelerates healing and skin regeneration, thereby also reducing scar tissue.
As a side note, there is even a fascinating patent filed stating that the mixture of any citrus juice and salt has been shown to “stop pain on contact, prevent blistering, cause the tissue to remain elastic, promote healing and prevent infection.” This is merely my own conjecture, but I would imagine that since the citrus juice is also a weak acid coupled with various vitamins and minerals that the healing function would be similar.
So, basically, we don't necessarily know why, but there is ample reason to include vinegar in your basic care of burn wounds.
(Now, if someone could just do a study showing that kombucha has the same effect when used as a skin toner….)
Okay, enough talking. Let's get to the good stuff. 🙂
First of all, please note that this is a salve. Salves are typically made of a liquid oil base that is firmed up by the addition of a bit of wax, in this case, beeswax.
You'll notice that I've also referred to this salve as a “cream,” such as in the title at the top of the page, and that's because there is the optional addition of a water-based liquid, in this case either aloe vera or rosewater. A cosmetic cream is a thick emulsion of a water and oil together, with or without other emulsifying agents besides the wax.
And for an extra healing boost, you may infuse the oils with healing herbs before making the recipe. Comfrey and plantain are especially wonderful for this, and you can see a really fabulous tutorial on how to steep your oils on this post: DIY organic herbal salve
Know Your Ingredients
Raw Honey – Honey is antibacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory, but must be in its raw state to be of use in wound healing. For burns, honey is especially useful because it stimulates new tissue growth, soothes the skin, and prevents primary infection. Raw Manuka honey is notably more effective, so much so that the FDA has actually approved one Manuka honey wound dressing for use in the US. (In fact, if you'd prefer not to make your own burn salve, you can find the 100% Manuka honey Medihoney Would Dressing at your local pharmacy or on Amazon. Click here to see more.)
Coconut Oil – Coconut oil accelerates skin regeneration and stimulates collagen production within the tissue being repaired. It also just feels deeply soothing!
Beeswax – Beeswax is used in this application largely as a firming agent, but it also locks in moisture (thus acting as a moisturizer) and protects the skin while it heals. Beeswax also holds many of the same antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties as honey, so it is beneficial for burn healing in its own right.
Sea Buckthorn Oil – Sea Buckthorn oil contains more Vitamin E than any other oil and contains a high percentage of essential fatty acids, which makes it highly valuable as a cosmetic and rejuvenating component in healing and anti-aging creams. It is highly emollient and is very easily assimilated and absorbed by the skin.
Both aloe vera and rosewater provide a deeply soothing feel when rubbed on a minor burn (sunburn in particular) and aid in pain management.
So, whether you make a cream or a salve, may this burn ointment serve you and all those in your home well. 🙂
And please tell us below – what is your favorite way to treat minor burns and sunburns?
Burn Salve: A Soothing, Healing Balm for Sunburns & Everyday Burns
- ¼ cup raw honey, preferably Manuka honey (see where to buy Manuka honey)
- ¼ cup unrefined coconut oil, see where to buy coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon beeswax, see where to buy beeswax
- 1 tablespoon Sea Buckthorn oil, optional (see where to buy Sea Buckthorn oil)
- ½ teaspoon aloe vera gel, aloe vera juice, or rosewater (see how to make your own rosewater)
- In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan or double boiler, heat the beeswax over the lowest heat possible.
- When the beeswax is nearly melted, add in the coconut oil and melt completely.
- Stir in the honey and Sea Buckthorn oil, if using, and whisk over the heat only until the whole mixture is one uniform liquid, about 30 seconds.
- Remove from the heat and either pour directly into tins or other containers OR stir in the aloe or rosewater briskly until the mixture is completely homogenous, then pour into your containers.
- Let sit until comfortable to touch before using. The mixture will fully harden in approximately 6-12 hours.