Burns can be caused by heat, electricity, chemicals, and sun exposure. They vary in severity from causing minor pain to being life-threatening. First-degree burns are the mildest type, only damaging the top layer of skin. The skin gets red, painful, and tender. Though the skin may swell, no blisters form and the area turns white when touched.

Second-degree burns cause damage to deeper layers of the skin. The skin looks much like a first-degree, burn except that blisters form at the surface. The blisters may be red or whitish and are filled with a clear fluid. Third-degree burns are the worst type of burn, extending through all layers of the skin and causing nerve damage. Because of this nerve damage, third-degree burns generally aren't painful and have no feeling when touched—an ominous sign. The skin may be white, blackened, or bright red. Blisters may also be present.

Only first-degree burns should be self-treated. More severe burns require a doctor's supervision to prevent infection and scarring. Third-degree burns and extensive second-degree burns can cause permanent injury or death.

The best treatment for minor burns is to cool the burn as quickly as possible by immersing the area in cold water. The burned area should be kept clean until it heals.

Proposed Natural Treatments

Although there are no well-established natural treatments for minor burns, several preliminary studies suggest a few options for reducing pain and speeding healing.

A series of studies done in India found that a combination of raw honey and gauze was significantly better than conventional types of bandages for superficial burns treated at a hospital. 1-3 The burns covered with honey healed faster and with less frequent infection than the burns covered with other types of bandages. Other studies of varying quality have also found evidence of benefit. 26,27

Potato peel has also been used successfully in developing countries as a replacement for more expensive conventional bandages. 4

Highly preliminary studies suggest the herb Gotu kola may speed healing of burns and reduce scarring. 5

Aloe vera is often recommended as a treatment for minor burns; however, no evidence exists to support this claim, and some studies have actually found it ineffective. 6,7 Other popular topical burn treatments include calendula , chamomile , goldenseal , and comfrey.

Oral or topical vitamin C , vitamin E , and beta-carotene , alone or in combination, might be helpful for preventing sunburn . 8-21 However, the evidence at this time is preliminary and contradictory.

Finally, there is some evidence that hospitalized individuals with severe burns may benefit from nutritional support with certain supplements, including ornithine alpha-ketoglutarate (OKG) , arginine , zinc , copper , selenium , and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) . 22-25

For a discussion of homeopathic approaches to burns, see the homeopathy database .