Essential oils are popular alternative medicines. They are promoted for treating everything from acne to cancer and heart disease. These oils have been sued for centuries in Asia as part of traditional medicine. Modern medicine has been slower to accept these oils as a mainstream treatment. Essential oils rose to prominence in the western world after a lab accident in which a scientist was burned. He conducted years of research and discovered that some of these essential oils can be used in medical treatments.
Burns are a common occurrence in most households. Hot stoves, scalding water, and chemicals mean that burns are often a part of daily life. Essential oils can be used to treat some of these minor burns. Find out how burns affect the human body and which oils may be beneficial in recovery.
The Emergence of Essential Oils in Treatment for Burns
The effectiveness of essential oils on burns was discovered accidentally back in the early 20th century. The father of aromatherapy, a French scientist named Rene-Maurice Gattefosse, was in the lab of his cosmetics company. He accidentally burned himself with chemicals while conducting an experiment. His immediate reaction was to douse his hand in the nearest vat of liquid, which just happened to be a container of lavender essential oil.
Gattefosse was impressed with how quickly his burns healed and how little scarring there was after recovery. Naturally, this piqued his interest as a scientist. He began to experiment with various essential oils—even using them on soldiers in military hospitals during the First World War. He mainly focused on thyme, lemon, lavender, and clove oil during these years. He wrote several books documenting the benefits of essential oils including his most famous: Aromathérapie: Les Huiles Essentielles Hormones Végétales.
The French scientist attributed the healing properties of these essential oils to their antiseptic nature. Their effectiveness today has been medically reviewed with outcomes ranging from very effective to ineffective. This is largely due to the varying severity of burns, different types of burns, and the composition of various essential oil. To understand how essential oils can be used on burns, it’s important to understand the different types of burns.
Types of Burns
Burns are some of the most common household injuries and it’s more than likely you’ve experienced one once or twice. Burns are the result of serious skin damage that cause a fiery sensation in the skin. Severe burns can cause skin cells to die or be damaged beyond repair. Minor burns can heal on their own or with topical agents.
Burns are categorized into three different severity levels: first-degree, second-degree, and third-degree. The type of burn is not based on the root cause of the burn, but rather the severity of damage. Burns are caused by chemicals, electricity, fire, excessive sun exposure, and scalding. Electrical and chemical burns should always be treated by a qualified medical professional and not with natural remedies. These burns can cause damage inside the body and to internal organs, not just the surface of the skin. Seek immediate medical attention if you receive a burn from chemical or electrical sources.
First-degree burns cause only minimal damage. They are known as superficial burns as they only affect skin cells in the outer layer of skin. Symptoms include minor inflammation, pain, redness, or dry and peeling skin. First-degree burns typically heal within seven to ten days after the burned skin cells shed.
First-degree burns can be treated with home remedies including essential oils in most cases. If the burn area is larger than three inches or affects your face or joints, it’s a good idea to get medical advice before treating at home.
Second-degree burns are more severe than first-degree burns because they damage skin cells in multiple layers of skin. These types of burns typically result in blistering. Most burns heal within two to three weeks, although some deep burns may take a little longer. The healing process can also take longer if the blisters rupture.
Some second-degree burns can be treated using natural remedies. Any burns larger than three inches or burns with popped blisters should be treated by a registered physician. Get medical advice in the burns are on your face, hands, feet, or groin.
Third-degree burns are the most severe and affect every single layer of skin. Third-degree burns may not be that painful because these types of burns can also damage nerves and pain receptors. These burns can feel numb and severe cases can result in the burning of muscle, connective tissue and bone beneath the skin. Symptoms of third-degree burns include a waxy or white color, charred or black skin, bumpy or leathery texture, and a dark brown hue.
Third-degree burns should never be treated with home remedies. These burns can often result in death and are typically treated with emergency surgery including skin grafts. Third-degree burns often cause severe scarring, even with medical treatment. Call 911 immediately if you experience third-degree burns.
Tips for Using Home Remedies on Minor Burns
Essential oils can be used to treat some symptoms of burns. Oils should never be used to treat burns that are severe. They should be used judiciously when treating minor burns that occur on the face or joints. Oils are best at treating the pain associated with burns, preventing infection, and speeding up wound healing.
Cool the Burn
Run first and second degree burns under cool water for 15 minutes. The cold water will help to lessen pain and soothe the inflamed skin. If the burn is just minor, you can apply cooling essential oils such as peppermint or tea tree to minimize pain. You can also apply aloe vera gel to promote wound healing.
Use Home Remedies For Pain Relief
Essential oils are great for reducing pain. Hundreds of scientific studies point to the pain-reducing properties of essential oils. The aromatic fragrances of essential oils such as lavender oil induce relaxation and minimize pain. Simply breathing in the aroma of essential oils can help soothe pain associated with a burn.
Essential oils, like antiseptic creams, have antiseptic properties that prevent infection when applied topically. Always apply essential oils topically with carrier oil such as olive oil or coconut oil. Minimize your exposure to sun to prevent scarring of the burn wound. Never apply essential oils to a cotton ball and then to burnt skin. The fibers of the cotton ball could become embedded in the wound, increasing pain and risk for infection.
Best Essential Oils for Minor Burns
The most well-documented essential oils for treating burn wounds are lavender oil, tea tree oil, and geranium oil. We’ve focused on the benefits of those oils since they are backed by the largest amount of scientific research. We’ve also included a few additional oils that have shown promise, but are still being researched.
1. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender oil is a naturally one of the most prominent oils used in burn treatment due to Dr. Gattefosse’s research. The oil is best suited for minor to moderate burns. Lavender oil can help provide burn relief and its antibacterial properties help to prevent infection. The anti-inflammatory properties of lavender oil reduce swelling. Lavender oil should not be used topically on severe burns or those that cause widespread damage.
Lavender oil can be used directly on minor burns in conjunction with carrier oil. As discovered by Dr. Gattefosse, the oil has antibacterial properties that help promote healing.
A study published in the US National Library of Medicine looked at the healing potential of lavender oil. The researchers topically applied lavender oil or a placebo to wounds on rats for a period of 14 days. The wounds treated with lavender oil showed significantly faster healing than the placebo wounds. The wounds were smaller in size and showed less scarring. The research attributes these results to the increased production of fibroblasts and collagen triggered by lavender oil. These two compounds accelerate skin healing and prevent scars. In fact, collagen is found in many cosmetics and skin care products because of its regenerative nature.
How to Use: Wound Salve
A lavender oil burn salve can help burns heal faster. Combine 3 to 5 drops of lavender oil with half a teaspoon of jojoba oil, aloe vera, or another carrier oil. Apply directly to the wound using your fingertips. Cover the wound using medical gauze.
Treating the Mental Effects of Burns
All burn patients can use lavender oil to promote better sleep and relaxation. Patients with severe burns often report difficulty sleeping or resting. The sweet, floral fragrance of lavender oil has been shown to cause drowsiness by directly targeting the nervous system. The oil triggers the brain to produce chemicals and hormones such as melatonin and serotonin that naturally cause sleepiness.
A scientific review published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice showed the effect of lavender oil in treating anxiety. Researchers reviewed seven trials that treated patients with lavender oil for up to 10 weeks. Results showed that patients who received at least 80 milligrams of lavender oil experienced significantly decreased feelings of depression and anxiousness.
Lavender oil may also help treat the symptoms of PTSD that are associated with severe burns and trauma. A Phase II trial published in Phytomedicine analyzed the use of a German lavender oil supplement known as Silexin in treating PTSD. The trial consisted of 47 men and women. Results showed that patients who received 80 milligram doses of Silexin has improved mood and fewer sleep disturbances. Depression rates were also decreased by 33 percent.
Another study published in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology examined 539 patients who were diagnosed with depression. The randomized, double-blind study gave patients either lavender oil, a placebo, or an antidepressant medication known as paroxetine. The results showed that lavender essential oil was more effective than the prescription medication in treating anxiety. The majority of patients that received lavender oil had at least a 50% decrease in feelings of depression.
How to Use: Aromatherapy
Lavender oil can help soothe the mental anguish and anxiety associated with burn healing. Add 3 to 4 drops of lavender oil to an ultrasonic diffuser. Inhale the lavender aroma deeply. Add a few drops to your pillow or on a cotton pad under your pillow to promote restful sleep.
2. Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree oil is known by the botanical name Melaleuca alternifolia. This oil has a pungent, fresh scent that is invigorating and refreshing. It is commonly used to treat the sting of insect bites and renowned for its pain relief properties. Studies have also shown that tea tree oil is a natural disinfectant.
Tea tree oil can help prevent infections in burn wounds. The oil has shown promise in fighting antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria often found in hospitals. A study published in 2009 found that tea tree oil was considerably effective in preventing bacterial infections such as MRSA. Applying tea tree oil topically to minor burn wounds may help prevent infections and complications.
Another study published in 2008 examined the efficacy of aloe vera and tea tree oil as first aid treatments. Researchers found that tea tree oil and aloe vera wee not effective in treating partial thickness burns known as second-degree burns. However, the research showed that tea tree oil was effective in cooling skin and minimizing burning pain reported by patients.
How to Use: Sunburn Spray
Tea tree oil is a powerful pain reliever that can also promote healing by preventing infections. Make a homemade sunburn spray using aloe vera, carrier oil and essential oils. Combine 10 drops each of lavender oil and tea tree oil with half a cup each of aloe vera and carrier oil. Combine all ingredients in a large spray bottle and mix well before use. Apply liberally to sun burned area.
3. Geranium Essential Oil
Geranium oil has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that help prevent infection in burns. Geranium oil, like lavender oil, can help to reduce depression and feelings of sadness that many burn victims experience. Geranium essential oil reduces inflammation caused at the burn site. By decreasing inflammation, the oil speeds up the body’s natural healing process.
A study published in the Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin found that geranium essential oil was similar in effectiveness to antibiotics. The study focused on the use of geranium oil in fighting bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which cause infections in people with compromised immune systems. Burn victims often have decreased immune function as the body tries to heal the wounds. Geranium oil was also effective in inhibiting staph infections that are prevalent in hospitals and emergency rooms where moderate to severe burns are treated.
How to Use: Burn Wound Cleaner
Combine 3 drops of geranium oil with 2 drops helichrysum oil and a teaspoon of carrier oil. Apply directly to the affected are and cover with gauze to keep the wound clean.
Other Essential Oils That May Heal Burns
1. Peppermint Essential Oil
Second and third degree burns can cause hypertrophic—raised—scars that result in intense itching. The itching can be severe and cause feelings of depression and agitation. Peppermint oil may be effective in treating this burn symptom.
A pilot study published in the journal Burns, examined the use of peppermint oil in treating itching caused by burns. Seventy-four patients were given a guar gum-based hydrogel that was infused with peppermint oil and menthol. The gel was applied once every 24 hours and covered with a piece of gauze. Researchers rated itching on a scale of 1 to 30 with 30 being the most severe. Patients that received the peppermint gel demonstrated an average 18-point decrease in itching intensity.
How to Use: Scar Itch Reliever
Make a salve by combining 1 teaspoon coconut oil with 4 drops each of peppermint oil and clary sage essential oil. Blend well and apply directly to the itchy burn scar. Cover with a piece of gauze and re-apply once or twice per day.
2. Frankincense Essential Oil
Frankincense oil is a potent scar reducer and can be used to minimize the appearance of scarring caused by moderate to severe burns. It can also help to lessen the skin discoloration caused by minor burns. Frankincense oil has been shown to promote skin regeneration by accelerate cell growth.
In a study published in Biochemie Open researchers analyzed frankincense essential oil and its effect on human skin. The results showed that this oil had the potential to signal the rebuilding of tissue. The researchers stated that frankincense oil inhibits the release of collagen III—a type of regenerative skin cell that often forms the basis of scars. By inhibiting the release of this type of collagen, scars are minimized.
How to Use: Scar Minimizing Serum
Fill a 10 mL essential oils bottle with 5 drops each of frankincense oil, lavender oil, helichrysum oil, carrot seed oil, and elemi oil. Fill the bottle with equal amounts of castor oil and almond oil. Shake well before applying to burn scars. Use twice per day consistently for several months for the best results.
Using Essential Oils For Burns
Healing burns with essential oils is possible for minor skin damage. Severe burns and facial burns should always be treated by a qualified medical professional. Essential oils are particularly useful in treating the mental anguish and pain associated with these injuries. For minor burns, apply essential oils to the affected area to speed up healing. Topical application also helps prevent infections and soothes pain. Use oils in a diffuser to improve mood and induce relaxation so you can rest despite the burn pain.