The first part of the blog is the story of how my skin got burned. The second part, “The Healing Process” is where you can find information about healing burns.
Warning: This blog post contains graphic photos of burnt skin.
Update from October 26, 2013: This blog now includes the most recent photo of the burn. It’s a picture from one year and three months later.
This past summer I got a second-degree burn on my thigh while I was at my favorite music festival. It was horrifying and upsetting as it happened, but I was more concerned with making sure I saw my favorite acts play and being able to dance all night. I was also pretty upset about my maté.
The burn all started with my desire for an early evening pick-me-up. Eager to make some maté (a South American tea known for its energizing properties), I approached boys at a neighboring campsite to boil water. Once I got back to my camp, between juggling my maté gourd, my thermos with an unscrewed on cap and other items that have no significance now, the water in my thermos spilled down my leg. Luckily I was wearing pants. I just changed into silk pants from a sarong. I sprung up, pulled my pants off and saw my skin start to sizzle. At first I was in shock. Then I broke down, crying, “All I wanted was maté.”
At first the burn did not hurt. It stung, but it was not overwhelming painful or unbearable. This continued to be the case throughout the duration of the burn’s life.
My superhero friends leapt into action. One grabbed my hand for support (even though I ended up being the one telling him it would be okay), one poured cool water on the burn and another ran for first aid. Well two ended up running in different directions for first aid. Luckily a woman who happened to be a nurse was camping close by, and she came to my rescue.
Once I found out what time it was (7:45 and my main squeeze, Thomas Mapfumo and the Blacks Unlimited were scheduled for 8) I really started to cry. For months I’d been looking forward to dancing to their show. The camping nurse wrapped gauze around my leg and told me I couldn’t dance for the rest of the festival. Now this only made me cry harder. The burn was the least of my worries. As soon as she walked away I said, “I’m dancing no matter what.” Hopping on one leg while clutching my thigh, I made it all the way to the main stage.
Once again, I was in luck. The band was running late. As they sound-checked I wobbled to the official first aid tent of the festival. The first-aiders wrapped a new bandage around the burn, and I danced like a wild animal throughout Thomas Mapfumo’s set. I didn’t stop there. I ended up dancing throughout the night, all the way until the sun came up the next day.
I was extremely mindful of my burn throughout the night (and early morning). I can’t even count how many times I went to the first aid tent: between every other song, if not after every song, after every set, etc., etc.
Back at first aid after Thomas’ set, the burn looked much worse than it had originally. The first-aiders determined it was at least a second-degree burn, if not third. They kept calling people over to look at the burn like they had never seen anything like it. More raw skin appeared, more burnt spots surfaced. What started as one spot that looked burnt, now turned into two spots the size of silver dollars with a huge blister underneath. The blister liquid moved up and down. The area of burnt skin just kept growing, revealing itself with each unraveling.
The first-aiders reassured me that even though the burn looked worse as the night went on, it was getting better. It was going to look worse as it got better. Each time we unwrapped the burn I could have sworn it made faces at me. You’ll see in the pictures. The only time the burn didn’t bother me or I forgot it existed was when I danced. So I didn’t stop dancing.
The next day before I left I got the burn re-wrapped again. The first-aiders said they were shocked at how good it looked and that it was already healing very well. It must have been all that dancing and the magic of GrassRoots. I can’t express enough gratitude for the first-aiders, my friends and everyone who helped. Who knows what would have happened if they weren’t there.
The Healing Process
Once home I researched everything I could about burns. I wanted answers about what to do; I wanted burn advice, remedies. I was disappointed with what I found. I couldn’t find enough detailed or in-depth advice. That’s when I decided I’d track my progress and blog about it. Even though I’ve only gotten one second-degree burn in my life and I’m no expert by any means, I thought this post may be useful to people and could offer some more advice about healing burns. Remember: everyone heals differently. What worked for me may not work for you.
For starters: I found it was best to let my body do what it was doing naturally without me interfering too much. So I didn’t pop the blisters no matter how much the liquid moved. I didn’t pull off the charred skin. I took cold showers for the first week or so because I didn’t want to risk the burn getting any more heat. I kept the burn covered at all times. When I changed the covering (morning and night and random times throughout the day) I let the burn air out for 20 minutes or so. But I did this in the safety of my bedroom without too much movement.
After getting a burn, the most important thing is to make sure it does not get infected. So I applied Bacitraycin Plus with Aloe to the affected area. Bacitracin (one of the key ingredients of Neosporin) is an antibiotic that stops the growth of certain bacteria. Aloe is soothing and known to have healing properties.
I asked everyone I knew if they knew the best way to heal burns. Vitamin E came up in most conversations as the number one remedy. So I bought Vitamin E pills and took them orally everyday starting two weeks after the burn. I also opened the capsules and poured the Vitamin E oil on my wound. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E neutralizes the effect of free radicals. When skin is damaged your body can produce free radicals, which damage skin. Free radicals are thieves in the night, stealing electrons from healthy skin cells. Vitamin E is the detective that cleans everything up.
Every time I showed someone the burn they told me to go to the doctor immediately. I wanted to see how long I could experiment with healing myself using natural remedies before the doctor got involved. I knew I was taking care of the burn well enough that it was not infected. I figured the doctor wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t know.
But going to the doctor ended up being a good thing for three reasons:
-They gave me a tetanus shot just to be safe.
-The doctor told me to put lavender oil on the burn.
-They wrote me a prescription for Silvadene Cream, which contains the antimicrobial agent silver sulfadiazine. This is the cream nurses use on burn patients in hospitals. The only way to get it is through a prescription. Silvadene started instantly helping the burn. My prescription didn’t have any refills so I was only able to use the Silvadene cream until it ran out. But I highly recommend this cream if you have a second- or third-degree burn.
My routine for over a month:
1. Clean the burn with cool water and sometimes Witch Hazel, which is an astringent, a natural skin tightener. Witch Hazel also contains soothing, anti-inflammatory properties. It didn’t sting, but it was a little tingly.
2. With a towel pat dry as carefully as possible.
3. Use a Q-tip to apply Bacitraycin with Aloe or Silvadene to the affected area. Once the blister was completely drained and the skin wasn’t as raw, I started using the Vitamin E oil on the burn instead of Bacitracin. I also I added a few drops of lavender oil and rubbed the mixture together. Lavender oil can also act as an astringent. Not to mention that the scent alone is very soothing and relaxing.
4. Cover the burn with one large or two small sterile pads. Wrap the pads with gauze and tape to skin. I tried latex free gauze and gauze that stuck to itself. I liked the gauze that stuck to itself but if I moved a lot, I had to also tape it.
I repeated this process around lunchtime and before bed. During this time I never wore tight-fitting pants or jeans. I wore dresses and long flowing skirts. Tight fabric would irritate the burn. I did not go swimming or exercise (yoga, hiking included) for the rest of the summer.
An Overview of Burn Remedies:
-Vitamin E: either pills taken orally or oil applied directly to the skin.
-Grapeseed Oil (usually mixed with lavender oil and sometimes coconut oil)
-Bacitraycin with aloe
-The gel from an actual Aloe plant
-Adhesive Tape: I tried a variety of tapes. ShopRite Brand (ShopRite’s a supermarket) Adhesive Latex-Free Waterproof white tape stung the areas that were taped. It stayed really tight if I was still, but once I moved the tape came undone. Wouldn’t recommend it. Cloth tape stuck to the gauze and ripped the gauze. It didn’t stick that well to my skin either. NexTape moved with my skin and was very stretchy.
-Gauze or a cloth covering
Something to think about: It got pretty pricey keeping up with all the sterile pads and gauze I needed.
Post-burn, 4 and a half months later:
The burn has shrunk in size and blends into my skin like sun spots would. You can barely notice it. Most of the burn is a light pink, while the bottom part is slightly redder.
I’m not as diligent as I was in the beginning, but I still apply cream on my burn. I apply whatever is in reach in my bathroom: grapeseed oil, lavender oil, lotion packed with vitamins, scar gel. My leg hasn’t been exposed to the sun yet, but for the rest of my life I’ll make sure the burn has sunscreen on it and is covered.
Post-burn one year and three months later:
For the most part the burn has blended into my skin. The outline of the burn is a slightly different color tone than my skin. Some of the insides are a paler white; some of the insides have merged with my skin tone.
When I get out of the shower I apply Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula with Vitamin E and mix in Lavender Oil. I try to do this whenever possible, but sometimes I miss days. I’m very happy with the way my burn has healed. To me it looks like a birthmark.
Here’s an overview of the burn’s progress.
Please feel free to share your burn stories and burn remedies in the comments section. Have you ever tried any of the remedies I’ve mentioned? What were the results?