Why did people use burn butter on burns?

(Yes, I know you’re not supposed to use butter, or any other type of greasy substance – vasoline, for example. It holds in the heat, duh.)

I always hear that people used to treat burns by slapping some butter on them. Why? Was it just the cold idea? If that was the theory, then why didn’t people use water or ice packs?

What was special about butter, and what the idea behind it?

I do not know if her explanation was the prevailing wisdom but my grandmother offered butter for kitchen burns saying that the burn had drawn all the oil out of the skin in that spot, and that the butter (or vaseline) would keep it moist so the skin/blister wouldn’t split or peel before the new skin was ready.

She also read an article when I was in elementary school that said "hey, don’t do that anymore, and cold water became the SOP in our house.

because it made it feel better

And butter tastes good… Mmmm…butter. You could lick your wound then and add more butter as neccessary.

As one who grew up with home remedies, I can fill in some of this. It wasn’t just butter, it was grease in general. Butter just happened to be the lightest, cleanest grease commonly available, and it was cold, too!

Some of the more progressive old wives figured out that the cold was the key factor, and would stick your boo-boo under cold water first, then put butter on it, as gwendee’s grandmother did, to keep the skin soft/oily.

The downside (according to one of my father’s childhood stories) was that when this particular home remedy was discovered, butter wasn’t salted. When salted butter became popular, a whole generation of kids found they had greasy burns that stung, as well as burned.

Perhaps the real answer to this question is the answer I was given by a very elderly woman when I asked why they used folk remedies.She said “we didn’t have anything else. No doctors around,no hospitals, no drugstores. all we had was the wisdom of our mommas and grannies. when someone you love is sick or hurting, you have to do something to help them.”

The grease does relieve the pain. The reason that it’s not recommended now is that it can hide the extent of the burn and also can carry bacteria that can lead to an infection.

Although, I’m not sure that’s a great reason to avoid it. There would be some bacteria, but it’d be refrigerated so that’s less of a worry, and the butter would be as good as anything for promoting a good healing environment.

The refrigeration ceases to be a factor about a New York minute after the butter is applied to the skin. After that the bacteria, if any, are up to operating temperature and can start breeding.

The main reason we don’t use butter or any similar salve these days is that it’s of negligible benefit compared to the “cold water, lots of it, for much longer than you think you need it” approach. It was only comparatively recently - within the working lifetime of the St John ambulanceman who taught the course I went on - that we found out that chilling the burn with cold water is far, far more influential than antiseptics or dressings or pretty much anything else.

Also, when a person’s burned, they’re practically a step or two away from cooked. Butter is for seasoning, right before you eat them :smiley:


And too many people are allergic to peanut oil. :smiley:

I’ve heard to apply petroleum jelly, but more recently I’ve heard that this slows down healing. I never heard an explanation as to why, but a possibility comes to mind: The burn may need access to oxygen for healing, which any oily ointment would impede.

If you read the accounts of the Conquistadors in the Americas, they applied Human Fat to wounds to seal them after battles.

Which would basically tell me that, in a world with near zero hygiene, you’re using a thick, non-toxic substance to seal the wound and prevent the entry of bacteria and other infectants. The fact that fat and butter are also moisturizers and contain some nutrients would be of additional value in healing.

Where does aloe fall into this? Not for serious burns, but for smallish kitchen accidents and the like. Hit the back of your hand on a roasting pan? Break off a piece of aloe and rub the goo on it. Mistake? As antiquated as butter? All part of the Aloe of America lobbyist plot to sell more plants?

We keep a tube of unguentine in the kitchen for such emergencies. It really is good for small burns.

We always had an aloe plant when I was a kid. It worked very well for basic kitchen burns as well as sunburns.

Post #6, I guess. If it’s minor enough that aloe is enough, it’s probably minor enough not to have needed anything. But cold water would do a better job.

Remarkable life changing moment #1:

Coming home from a Cub’s ( little scout, not sporting ) meeting and declaring to my mother that running water on a burn was preferable to butter only to be scorned and ridiculed.

This was c. 1963.

Simple observation and the efficaceous result of HOH was convincing to me.

Within a few years my mother had turned around and scorned and ridiculed any butter use on burns.

Ice cubes, running cold water and butesin picrate rule the roost.