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Flour as a Burn Remedy

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White flour with scoop
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Flour for burns? Forwarded email claims putting plain white flour on a burn will immediately stop any pain and promote healing without so much as a blister.

Description: Forwarded email / Home remedy
Circulating since: March 2011
Status: False

Email text contributed by Pat M., March 28, 2011:

FW: Burn Remedy

My experience with burns is this:

Once I was cooking some corn and stuck my fork in the boiling water to see if the corn was ready. I missed and my hand went into the boiling water....

A friend of mine, who was a Vietnam vet, came into the house, just as I was screaming, and asked me if I had some plain old flour...I pulled out a bag and he stuck my hand in it. He said to keep my hand in the flour for 10 minutes which I did. He said that in Vietnam, this guy was on fire and in their panic, they threw a bag of flour all over him to put the fire out...well, it not only put the flour out, but he never even had a blister!!!!

SOOOO, long story short, I put my hand in the bag of flour for 10 minutes, pulled it out and had not even a red mark or a blister and absolutely NO PAIN. Now, I keep a bag of flour in the fridge and every time I burn myself, I use the flour and never ONCE have I ever had a red spot, a burn nor a blister! *cold flour feels even better than room temperature flour.

Miracle, if you ask me. Keep a bag of white flour in your fridge and you will be happy you did. I even burnt my tongue and put the flour on it for about 10 minutes. and the pain was gone and no burn. Try it! BTW, don't run your burn area under cold water first, just put it right into the flour for 10 minutes and experience a miracle!

Analysis: Once upon a time — a century-and-a-half ago, to be exact (see below) — dredging a minor burn with ordinary wheat flour was considered an acceptable medical treatment, even by some physicians. But so was dressing the wound with white lead paint, oily poultices, and turpentine-soaked cotton. All these treatments were discredited and abandoned as medical knowledge progressed.

Current medical sources such as the Mayo Clinic and the American Red Cross advise treating a minor (first- or second-degree) burn by immersing it in cool water, then covering it loosely with dry, sterile gauze. Scientific studies have proven these measures effective.

The purpose of running cool water over the burn is to draw heat away from the skin, reducing swelling and pain. The purpose of a sterile bandage is to minimize air flow over the wound (which can exacerbate pain) and to protect the skin should blistering occur. It stands to reason that covering burned skin with refrigerated flour might produce some of the same benefits, but it could also cause complications (if your skin begins to blister, do you really want it coated with unsterile flour?). Why take risks with an outmoded remedy?

There's no scientific reason to suppose (and certainly no peer-reviewed studies to prove) that plunging your scalded limb into a bag of cold flour will lead to a better prognosis than immersing it in cool water and applying a proper bandage.

Beware of all medical advice that arrives via forwarded email.

Flour as a burn remedy in 19th-century texts, a survey:

  • The Retrospect of Practical Medicine and Surgery, 1848:
    Burns. — To those of the first degree if not extensive nor occurring on the head and face use cold applications otherwise apply flour or carded cotton and let the dressings remain as long as cleanliness and the patient's feelings will allow. Treat burns of the second degree in the same way...
  • The American Agriculturist, 1854:
    But of all applications for a burn, we believe there are none equal to a simple covering of common wheat flour. This is always at hand, and while it requires no skill in using, it produces almost astonishing effects. The moisture produced upon the surface of a slight or deep burn, is at once absorbed by the flour, and forms a paste which shuts out the air. As long as the fluid matters continue flowing, they are absorbed, and thus prevented from producing irritation, as they would do if kept from passing off by oily or resinous applications, while the greater the amount of these absorbed by the flour, the thicker the protecting covering. Another advantage of the flour covering is, that next to the surface it is kept moist and flexible. It can also be readily washed off, without further irritation in removing.

    We would, then, strongly recommend that in all cases of burning and scalding, however bad, the burned surface be speedily covered over with flour only, and that this be the only application used until a cure is effected. It may be occasionally washed off very carefully when it has become matted and dry, and a new covering sprinkled on.
  • Medical and Surgical Reporter, 1867:
    When the burn is very superficial, simply inflaming or vesicating the part, covering it up with flour, and then placing a layer of cotton over it so as to exclude the air, makes a very comfortable dressing.
  • The International Encyclopedia of Surgery, 1888:
    Flour is very frequently used in burns, and as it is so easily obtained, forms a common household remedy; it should be dusted over the burned or scalded parts not only freely but uniformly, so as to form a soft, thick, and soothing covering to the surface. The parts should next be enveloped in layers of cotton batting, the application of a roller bandage then keeping the dressings in position; a crust soon forms with the scrum which exudes from the excoriated cuticle, and this ordinarily should not be removed until a separation is produced by the discharge itself; or, if desired sooner, the dried crusts may be moistened and softened by the application of olive oil, the white of eggs, or of a thin, soft, flaxseed poultice.
  • A Manual of Surgical Treatment, 1899:
    It is especially necessary to warn the practitioner against certain applications for burns which are commonly recommended. Carron oil for example (a mixture of linseed oil and lime water), is a filthy application and is responsible for a great deal of the mortality after burns: the use of poultices or water dressings and dusting with flour are equally bad. As far as possible, the would must be treated aseptically.

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Sources and further reading:

How to Treat a Burn
About.com: First Aid, 25 March 2011

Burns: First Aid
Mayo Clinic, 5 January 2010

Ten Common First Aid Mistakes
American Red Cross

Last updated 04/06/11

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