Don’t Put Butter on that Burn!

Posted by Alvin Barrow, M.D. on Jan 30, 2016 8:30:00 AM

From sunburns to cooking-related accidents, burns are a commonplace household situation. The biggest problem I see in patients who have been burned, is improper self care. There seems to be a lot of incorrect advice circulating regarding treatment of burns. To combat that, here are a few things you should know about burns if you or someone in your family is injured. 

Know the Difference Between Burns

There are varying classifications for burns depending on the severity of the injury and how deeply your skin is affected. Minor burns can be cared for at home, while it is imperative that major burns are looked at by a healthcare professional. Here are the basics for determining the degree of burn you’re dealing with: 

First degree burns are similar to sunburns. They are red, include only the outer layer of skin, do not produce blisters and are dry in appearance. First degree burns are painful.

Second degree burns typically blister and involve damage to both the entire epidermis and the upper layers of the dermis. The wound from the burn will be pink or red in color, painful and will appear wet. Second degree burns can also be red or white in appearance and involve the destruction of both the epidermis and most of the dermis. Sensation may also be diminished in the affected area.

Third degree burns involve the destruction of all layers of the skin and the damage extends to subcutaneous tissues. The burned area may appear black, white or leathery in texture and will be dry. Patients with third degree burns often do not feel pain in the affected area. 

Home Treatment


First, if there is any question regarding what type of burn you have, go to a doctor. Burns come with a serious risk of infection and it would be much better to have a physician assess you than find out later that you needed extra medical attention from the start. If you or a family member suffers a burn, here are the steps you should initially take to treat it: 

Cool the burn using cool, sterile water or saline solution. You can also cover the area with a cool, wet cloth until the burning stops. For a major burn, seek medical attention. Burns that occur where skin consistently rubs against skin, such as the knee, elbow, wrist or fingers, or burns on the face should be treated by a physician.

If the burn was minor, after the burn is cooled, gently clean the area with soap and water. Gently dry the area and apply an antibiotic ointment.

If you need to keep the skin from rubbing, lightly tape sterile, non-stick gauze over the burn. Make sure that you don’t use a dressing that can shed fibers and change it daily.

Avoid breaking blisters or scratching the burn as it heals. 

Common Myths

As with any other ailment, old wives’ tales abound when it comes to treating a burn, and some of these can be outright dangerous. Here are some of the things you should not do, despite what you might have heard. 

Do not put butter, grease or oil on a burn. Despite this very common myth, those things can actually cause the area to burn longer and make it difficult for medical professionals to easily clean the area if you need to go to a hospital.

Do not break the blisters. This opens the area of the burn up to infection.

Do not apply vinegar, onion juice, bleach, alcohol or cold meat on a burn. Not only will these not help, many of them will hurt and some of them can introduce bacteria into the wound.

As with any medical condition, if you have any questions at all about the injury, seek medical attention.


Dr. Alvin Barrow is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Meyerland Plaza Clinic. The satisfaction he gets from helping patients is why he chose to be a doctor.



Topics: burn treatment, burns, butter on burn

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