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I have read (a long time ago, in an old book) that butter is good for burns. Is this true, and if so what is it that helps?

Is salted or unsalted butter better? And how should it be applied, and kept there?

  • 4
    In short... Very, very bad! Don't put it there! – L.B. Apr 3 '15 at 15:27
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    @Downvoters? Any reasons? – Tim Apr 8 '15 at 15:13
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Short anwser: Never put butter, oil, etc, on a burn. This would worsen the burn.

Putting butter, oil, or anything else would trap heat and make the burn deeper. It would also make further treatment harder and would make the risk of infection higher:

Don’t apply burn ointments. Like butter (or mayonnaise), these ointments, usually oil-based, won’t relieve pain but instead will trap heat, slow down healing, and increase the risk of infection.

What to do instead: Once it happens, a burn is actually "cooking inside", and this for a while after the exposure, so the first thing to do is to stop this internal reaction using flowing water.

According to official guidelines for general public in France (page 12-14), and sticking to thermal burns here (not chemical nor electrical), you should:

  1. Quickly water the burn

    • Act right after the burn if safely possible. (You are not supposed to put yourself in danger to save someone: this is the best way to end up with two victims instead of one)
    • Put the burn under flowing water, between 15 and 25° Celsius. The tap is fine to to that, just keep in mind to keep the water pressure low enough not to press the burn.
    • While watering, remove the clothes of the victim unless they adhere to the burn (should they adhere, don't pull on clothes).
  2. Evaluate the burn

    • No blister or blister smaller that 1/2 of the victim's palm ; far from natural orifices ; not on the neck, face or joints ; just red, not black and white: this is a minor burn
    • Any burn that does not match the criteria above, or any large red area on a children, is a major burn
  3. Should it be a minor burn

    • Keep on watering as long as the burn hurts and the victim doesn't feel cold. Not just a couple of seconds: 5 or 10 minutes is not surprising, it's actually fine. Watering is what prevents (more) blisters from appearing later on.
    • Depending on the pain, aspect and victim's age: watch over the burn or ask a doctor or a physician.
    • Don't pierce blisters should there be any. Cover them with a sterile plaster.
    • Should blisters, fever, heat, pain, etc, appear later on, ask for medical advice.
  4. Should it be a major burn

    • Call the medical emergency services, and, without hurrying (very important! Being calm is gaining time.)
      • Tell your name, phone number, current location,
      • Tell this is for a burn, and tell the victim's gender and age
      • Describe the result of the evaluation you made.
      • They will guide you in accordance to the protocols applicable in your country. This guidance will certainly include watering, covering the victim if he/she feels cold...)
      • Do NOT hang up the phone before they tell you to do so
    • Keep on watering as instructed by the medical assistance.
    • Make the victim to lie down in a way he/she cannot fall (floor, bed...). Sitting down is OK the victim has difficulties to breathe. The victim should NOT sit on a chair but on the ground to prevent him/her from falling.
    • Protect the victim with a clean linen. The burnt body parts should remain visible.
    • Watch over the victim until the arrival of the ambulance.
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  • 2
    @NateBarbettini I didn't accept because this answer focused on what to do to a heat burn not why butter is bad. I upvoted because a lot of time and effort was clearly put in (and all the information seemed correct) but it was posted at 08:54:51, which quite a lot after I had accepted the previous answer at 08:05:28. I do know I can un accept and accept a new answer but a) I don't like doing that because it's liking giving someone a prize and then taking it away later and b) As I said, this is a good answer for what to do if you have a heat burn, but not would butter help on burns?. – Tim Apr 4 '15 at 9:44
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    As far as I can tell, your link "official guidelines for general public in France" still points to a PDF written in French. Linking to a reputable web page written in English instead would improve your answer significantly. – Patrick Hoefler Apr 4 '15 at 10:44
  • @PatrickHoefler I know, Patrick. Unfortunately this document is not translated. Each country publishes its own official guidelines, this one is published by the French Ministry of Interior. Most local guidelines (EU countries, US, Canada, etc) basically look alike as they follow the same international standards, but certain details may differ from a country to another at a given point of time (example: the use of the AED on a baby). As I'm certified in France, I prefer sticking to what I can claim knowing, and explain these are the FR guidelines. – Shlublu Apr 4 '15 at 12:03
  • I'm highly skeptical about the "traps heat inside" point. I'm quite sure that the wound is usually cooled by cold water when people start deciding how to treat it. – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Jun 9 '16 at 13:42
  • Is there any case in which applying plenty of water is not correct? I heard once that it causes too much shock, but it was probably just a wrong comment in passing, but I'd like to make sure. – Agustín Lado Oct 16 '18 at 19:18

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