Aloe vera and honey are the better known alternative remedies for burns. Aloe vera’s moisturising, anti-inflammatory and mildly antiseptic effects are well recognised (J Med Assoc Thai, 2000; 83: 417-25; Adv Drug React Toxicol Rev, 2001; 20: 89-103). The efficacy of honey as a burns treatment was confirmed in a study comparing honey with silver sulphadiazine: 87 per cent of burns patients treated with honey were healed within 15 days, significantly more than the 10 per cent in the silver sulphadiazine group (Br J Surg, 1991; 78: 497-8). Other useful alternatives include:
* St John’s wort used as a cream or oil can speed the healing of burns. It is anti-infective, as shown by its ability to fight free radicals (Life Sci, 2001; 69: 181-90). In a study where second- and third-degree burns were treated with St John’s wort cream, the wounds healed three times faster than with conventional methods - and without scarring (Ger Offen, 1975; 2: 406-52).
* Calendula extract topically applied to burns wounds markedly stimulated cell regeneration - at least in rats - possibly by boosting the utilisation of certain proteins for cell growth (Acta Physiol Pharmacol Bulg, 1982; 8: 63-7). It is also anti-inflammatory, as seen in another animal study (Phytochemistry, 1996; 43: 1255-60).
* Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) contains asiaticosides, which stimulate the fats and proteins needed for healthy skin, and glycosides, which help in wound-healing and anti-inflammatory activities. Laboratory and animal studies have shown its beneficial effects on cell reproduction and collagen synthesis at the site of a wound (Indian J Exp Biol, 1996; 34: 1208-11; Connect Tissue Res, 1990; 24: 107-20).
* Moist exposed burns ointment (MEBO), an oil-based ointment developed by the Chinese as an alternative to conventional silver-based creams, contains beta-sitosterol (anti-inflammatory), berberine (antimicrobial), sesame oil and small quantities of other plant ingredients. MEBO provides effective pain relief for burns (J Burn Care Rehabil, 2003; 24: 289-96), and is just as effective at wound-healing as silver sulphadiazine, but more convenient to use; it also creates less unwanted sloughing during healing (Ann Acad Med Singapore, 2000; 29: 7-10).
* Boiled potato peel, used by doctors in a Bombay hospital instead of gauze dressings, proved effective for burns wounds (Burns, 1990; 16: 137-43). When tested on full-thickness skin lesions in rats, the skin and wounds were completely repaired within 14 days (Burns, 1991; 17: 323-8). However, potato peels would mainly be used as an adjunct to topical medication.