Skin Care after a Burn Injury

We talked to Melissa Kersten, a Nurse Practitioner at Columbia St. Mary’s CSM Outpatient Burn Clinic, about creating and maintaining a proper skin care routine after a burn injury. Kersten has worked with hundreds of burn survivors, so she knows that every burn injury is different and there is no one-size-fits-all skin care routine.

 

“Everyone is different, and skin reactions are different,” Kersten said. “It’s not the same for everyone so find what works best for you and prevent long-term issues.”

 

Not following proper skin care can indeed cause severe long-term concerns. If you do not take care of your skin after a burn injury, then you will likely have more itching, which can cause scratching, which can lead to skin breakdown. Skin breakdown can lead to multiple other issues such as skin infections, more scarring, and even require more surgeries.

According to Kersten, the number one step to follow is moisturizing. Select a lotion or moisturizer that is both perfume and alcohol-free. Although alcohol is used in the majority of creams, don’t use any that have alcohol in the first four ingredients.

 

Different skin types and burn injuries will require different lotions and moisturizer. Here are a few tips:

  • If your skin is very dry, try an oil-based lotion. Lotions are typically comprised of oils while moisturizers generally are water-based.
  • Always wear sunscreen and protective clothing! This is especially true for fresh injuries. 
  • During the warmer summer months, be careful on how much “heavy” lotion you apply. If you use too much vaseline, for example, then your pores may clog, and that could lead to a rash.
  • Always spot check! Whether you are using a new sunscreen or cream, test the new product on a small section of your skin to see if you have any reactions. 
  • Taking care of your skin does not have to break the bank. There are many great options that you can find at the drugstore!
  • Products with shea butter, coconut oil, and/or grape seed oil tend to work the best for the majority of burn survivors.

Many burn survivors use products with vitamin E and lavender, which they say can help with scarring. Additionally, wearing soft material clothing after a burn injury prevents blistering and rubbing. Lastly, it’s important to look at the ingredients in body washes, lotions, and other skin care products. Avoiding perfumes and alcohol as much as possible will help your skin absorb the most moisture.

 

Finding the right skin care products for each individual can be difficult. Start by asking family members what lotions they enjoy using. It can also help to use different products throughout the day and over time.

If you are using a heavier lotion like Aquaphor, and you see it's just sitting on top of your skin, then it may be time to use another product. Likewise, if your skin is constantly absorbing the moisture, then you may need to apply lotion more often.

While no perfect product works for everyone, talk to other burn survivors and as well as your burn skin specialist. If you do not have access to a skin specialist, try visiting your local dermatologist in the meantime. 

 

Melissa Kersten is a Nurse Practitioner, a member of her local Burn Peer Support Group and the Director of her local camp for burn survivors. She initially became passionate about burn care during her college clinicals at Columbia St. Mary’s CSM Outpatient Burn Clinic, and now she strives to promote peer support within the burn survivor community. 

Originally published in Burn Support Magazine 2018 Summer Edition