Medical myths: You should put butter on a burn

Dr Max Pemberton

Butter is for toast, not for burns. Our myth buster Dr Max Pemberton is putting this tasty, but actually quite dangerous, old wives' tale to rest. 

What's the truth?

Not only does butter not provide any relief from a burn and does nothing to help it heal, but it can actually cause harm.

When you burn yourself, the flesh absorbs some of the heat, so that the skin continues to burn even after the heat source has been removed. Butter actually retains heat, so by putting it on the skin you can make the burn worse.

Also, a bad burn will mean that the skin has been damaged and it no longer offers protection from infections. Butter is full of bacteria, so by placing it on burned skin you risk introducing infection.

 

Where did the myth come from?

medical myth

It's likely that this is partly down to butter being cold, and so people assume it's a good way of cooling the skin, not realising that in fact the burn heats up the butter. Butter is good at removing tar from burns when the tar has stuck to the skin.

Years ago, this was one way that workmen would get burning tar off their skin, and it's likely it was therefore assumed butter is useful in all burns. Now, specially designed creams are used for removing burning tar.

 

So there's nothing to worry about?

Leave the butter in the fridge. The right way to deal with a burn depends on how severe it is.

For a mild burn, run it under cool water. Don't apply ice, as this can also damage the delicate skin tissue.

For a large burn, seek medical advice immediately.