Q: What do you think of burn gels containing tea tree oil?

Q: What do you think of burn gels, specifically those containing tea tree oil? A practitioner from a burn center recently made a comment during a web presentation that we in the field should stop using cool, wet towels in favor of a burn gel for partial thickness burns. I have not found FDA approval for their use.

A: There is a lot of art in the practice of burn care.  As I have traveled the country and the world, I have heard competent people insist that they have found the best way to treat burns.  Not surprisingly, they do not all use the same products.  I suspect that this is often a matter of preference and habit rather than proven superiority.

Cool compresses are utilized to stop the burning process.  This is usually complete within 1/2 hour, and probably less.  Although continued use makes things feel better, there is really no extra therapeutic benefit.  And, prolonged cooling of a large surface area burn can cause hypothermia

Tea tree oil?  I don’t know.  I have heard aloe vera and honey endorsed, too.  What matters?  After making sure that critical system issues are addressed and the burning process is neutralized, all burns should be cleaned, protected and monitored.

When it is comes to wound and burn care, more often than not, good nursing care trumps any particular product.



4 Responses to “Q: What do you think of burn gels containing tea tree oil?”

  1. Tim Murray

    Hi Dave,

    The Tea Tree oil from the Malaleuca Tree here in Australia is usually used as an antiseptic, disinfectant and sometimes, a solvent (not bad on weapons in the tropics). The main use was for treating wounds for the antiseptic/bacterial properties. Using Tea Tree oil for burns is more for the ‘effects’ of the burn – ie infection. Tea tree oil is usually applied AFTER the initial treatment ie. cold compresses or cool water because that’s when it helps. As a result it’s more a case of apply the standard fare and using the oil in the newer products as more the anti fungal/bacterial/septic, rather than treating the actual burn.

    Not really as important as ensuring proper initial treatment. In my experience with the newer products as a medic in austere and remote/tactical environments, if it’s more of a ‘nice to have’ rather than legitimately replacing a procedure/piece of kit, I don’t really need it. It’s more beneficial to have a thorough understanding of the actual mechanics of the wound and treatment first – for example – stop the burn, then stop the infection. When this is understood well, you can more accurately and objectively assess whether a piece of kit is really required.

  2. Nicholas Holt

    Hello Dave

    The South African EMS industry utilizes a product called burnshield in thier management of Burns. (burnshiled.co.za) Essentially this is a open cell polyfoam pad soaked in a hydrogel of which some of the ingredients are principally water, tee tree oil and a gelling agent.

    We place the pad on full and partial thickness burns. in the emergency setting they are placed on the burn, then wrapped in bandages and left for 24hours. After which the burn is reviewed and treated according to local and Doctor led orders.

    The hydrogel has two major actions, firstly it cools, more so than water alone and secondly it provides a barrier to infection, principally through the bacteriocidal effects of tee tree oil and secondly by the sterile burn dressing.

    It should be noted that water from a faucet is probably not such a good idea in large burns due to the level of chlorine and bugs in normal municipal water and sterile saline is still best for wound cleaning.

    Hope this helps

  3. jamie

    I wanted to add that in my experience, for minor burns such as what one might get in the kitchen when touching a hot pan accidentally, undiluted tea tree essential oil, applied straight to the burn, kills the pain. It is almost miraculous and instantaneous relief. It stops the burning sensation and my burns heal a lot faster and do not blister.

  4. Nicholas Goodwin

    Hydrogels have almost no evidnec to support thier efficacy whilst water cooling is well represented in the literature going back as far as Rose in 1930 right throught to studies by Yuan, Barlett, Cuttle, Rajan, Nguyen and many more. I would strongly disagree with Nick Holts assertions about Burnshield. Every comparative study of hydrogels V water cooling shows water reduces burn wound temp far more than hydrogels. The infection capabilities of Melaleuca within hydrogels are not supported empirically -(Faogoli 1999). the claims about chlorine and contaminants in tap water are unsubtantiated as well. Without wishing to cause offence Nicks remarks seem very close to those of the company themselves and without a foundation in research. 20mins of tap water cooling around ~15deg C is recommended by all the major international burns associations. If you have water to cool a burn you should use it. Wet compresses aren’t quite as effective but still do the job. Hydrogels have caused alot of problems within EMS and confused the public about the correct approach to managing burns.

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