Are raw egg whites effective treatment for skin burns?

When I was a teenager, I filled a glass pitcher with boiling water and the pitcher burst. Some of the hot water spilled on my thighs and, before blisters could appear, my mother sliced some tomatoes and rubbed them on my skin. The blisters never materialized. I have no scientific explanation for it. I don’t even know if the tomatoes were a real cure or whether the spatters on my skin were too few and small to cause any real harm. There was never a second nor a third incident to find out if it would work again because I never ever filled glass pitchers with boiling water again. Ever. I learned my lesson and learned it well.

I recalled that incident when I received an email about egg whites as a treatment for skin burns. According to the email:

A young man sprinkling his lawn and bushes with pesticides wanted to check the contents of the barrel to see how much pesticide remained in it. He raised the cover and lit his lighter; the vapors inflamed and engulfed him. He jumped from his truck, screaming. His neighbor came out of her house with a dozen eggs, yelling: “bring me some eggs!” She broke them, separating the whites from the yolks. The neighbor woman helped her to apply the whites on the young man’s face. When the ambulance arrived and when the EMTs saw the young man, they asked who had done this. Everyone pointed to the lady in charge. They congratulated her and said: “You have saved his face.” By the end of the summer, the young man brought the lady a bouquet of roses to thank her. His face was like a baby’s skin.

The email also claimed that using egg whites as a treatment for skin burns is part of the first aid training of firemen. “First aid consists to spraying cold water on the affected area until the heat is reduced and stops burning the layers of skin. Then, spread egg whites on the affected are.”

I got curious and started scouring the web for more information.

First of all, there are degrees of skin burns. From Mayo Clinic:

First-degree burn

The least serious burns are those in which only the outer layer of skin is burned, but not all the way through. The skin is usually red, with swelling, and pain sometimes is present…

Second-degree burn

When the first layer of skin has been burned through and the second layer of skin (dermis) also is burned, the injury is called a second-degree burn. Blisters develop and the skin takes on an intensely reddened, splotchy appearance. Second-degree burns produce severe pain and swelling…

Third-degree burn

The most serious burns involve all layers of the skin and cause permanent tissue damage. Fat, muscle and even bone may be affected. Areas may be charred black or appear dry and white…

First aid may be applied to first degree burns and some second degree burns. But third degree burns require serious medical attention.

I look back on the pitcher-with-boiling water incident and realize that, at worst, I had the beginnings of a second degree burn. The sliced tomatoes, straight from the refrigerator, cooled the affected areas so there was no pain nor did blisters form.

As for the email, there was no description of the severity of the man’s burns. According to Snopes:

Regarding the rest of the e-mail, fire fighters are not instructed as part of their training to treat burns with egg white. Instead, they learn at-the-scene first aid procedures, which mostly amount to keeping airways open, reducing the temperature of burned areas, then handing off burn victims to medical professionals.

However, that firefighters aren’t being taught to slather burn victims with albumen doesn’t mean that at one time providing exactly that treatment wasn’t a somewhat recommended practice. We happened upon sightings in turn-of-the-century medical journals that advocated the use of egg white on minor burns. Now, granted, most of those sightings promoted such use as a way of shielding injured areas from contamination (that is, using egg white to create a protective barrier between wound and air), but there was also suggestion that the application of this substance would take the pain out of the injury. (Mind you, those selfsame journals also offered up the information that a number of other wet, dense dressings, such as olive oil or a mixture of baking soda and water, would act just as effectively as a wound protectant and calmative for minor burns.)

In short, before believing everything that lands in your inbox, cross and cross-check whatever claims there are. After all, as with everything, the best first aid treatments start with actions based on informed decisions.

  • http://titorolly.blogspot.com rolly

    My dad’s cure for a burn are tomatoes as well. Once, natapunan ako ng mainit na tubig, he advised me to use tomatoes and I did. Walang blisters! I don’t know if the fact that the tomatoes came from the ref mattered. But they worked. I thought it was just my dad. Mom mo rin pala.

    • http://casaveneracion.com/ Connie Veneracion

      Ok, so now I know it wasn’t a fluke because it worked for you too.

    • jf

      You cab put what you want on burns for all I care, just remember the following facts.

      1. If you put anything on an open burn wound, when you get to the doctor or hospital, the first thing they will do is abrade it to get it all out. That means that they will use a scrubbing brush to brush all foreign matter out of the wound. It hurts like hell. If you like pain, go ahead.

      2. Eggs are infamous for containing salmonella bacteria. It is relatively harmless for most people when eaten, but bad news on an open wound.

      Just a few thoughts

      • Heidi

        I just got home from the Emergency Department at my local hospital after my 11 month old son had burnt his hands on the oven at a friends place. I was told by the treating emergency doctor that my sons burns were made worse by the running water the nurse had made us keep his hands under for 20 minutes and that we should have applied egg whites instead.

        Sounds like the email you received was a good one, wish I had received it!

        • Felix

          Amazing. They write a whole page about whether egg whites work for treating burns or not, and in the end, they don’t answer the question conclusively, and still leave us in doubt.

        • Richard

          Why did the doctor make this statement? Without the Why we can’t measure the advice, especially when all the major first aid authorities around the world recommend cold running water for 20 minutes. Perhaps the nurse was right and the doctor mistaken?

          • Alabi, O. Yusuf

            I never had any burns experience before but I experience it yesterday-2013/Jan./11.
            I sprinkled a dried and wet grass with petrol, unknowingly for me, a friend light the substance with lighter at the other end. All I heard was bbwerrrrr, and I ran out hurriedly.
            Suddenly, I started feeling a pepperish pain sensation all-over my leg. The area was slather with egg-albumen, at a time the pain subsided but became more exacerbated as albumen dried off. And I was told by a Nurse to run a water on it,this method works like magic as this greatest pain was calm instantly.
            Hitherto, Nil blister were formed but I still experience little pain on the affected area.

          • Drew

            Years ago a friend was clearing a lot of old fencing and scrub from a house he had just bought, yes a big bonfire but could not get it started made the classic mistake and used petrol on a very hot, poured the the fuel went to light it with a stick and the whole thing blew up, a fire ball and he was in it.
            luckily as a precaution (Joe Bloggs has a lot of common sense and is very skilled in many crafts usually) i was told to have a hose ready just in case ( this was to protect the new fence we had put up) the case happened and i turned the hose on him his hair was on fire and he was badly scorched i kept the hose on him for a quite a while till he told me to get F****** water of him.
            When he came back from hospital Joe and wife told me the that hospital staff had said that without the cold water soaking that i had given Joe his burns would have been a lot worse and had in fact saved him from any long term effects.
            I was only a teenager when this happened and initially i was worried the water soaking was a mistake and was very relieved to find out i had done the wright thing, i have since had first aid training and the running cold water is what is taught today, cover with cling film.

  • Nel

    I remembered something about using eggs on burns from a recent email. While in FL my face got terribly sunburned on my nose and cheeks. Since I couldn’t remember what part of the egg to use, I used the whole beaten egg. The next day not one red blotch was on my face.

  • karishma

    just a few days ago while i was cooking chicken.. i got my fingers burned with water vapour(steam).. i didnt pay too much attention..bt i managed to dip my fingers in cold water.. over past 3days im eating egg curry,haalf boil eggs,omlet etc. im so much worried :(
    i want to knw if eggs r gud for my skin now

  • http://casaveneracion.com/ Connie Veneracion

    Read the post again. There’s nothing there that says EATING eggs will cure skin burn.

  • Alex

    Hi there, 10 years ago I took bakery courses in Mexico city, in one class I got a burn while putting a tray inside the oven, but as soon as I exclaimed about it the chef crack an egg and put the while on top and I didn’t even get a blister, he told me he learned that many years ago (he was at that time very experienced), later after 5 year I took a stainless steel pan out of the oven (400 f.) then I turned back to pick up some spices, but I got distracted and I took back the pan with out protection, as soon as I burnt myself I cracked an egg and put the white, now the burn was covering most of my palm hand and it felt very hot, the egg white was drying very fast so I put the egg on a plate and under the plate another one with ice to cool the egg and avoid it to dry, I had pain and irritation and my hand had wrinkles but I didn’t get blister it was just red.. I left my hand on the whites (replacing them from time to time) for hours until the irritation was gone.

    I swear I didn’t get any mark, and after reading all the comments, I think the secret of applying the egg is do it right away, when your burn is red and it doesn’t have a blister yet, otherwise I wouldn’t put anything because it is true you don’t know what kind of bacteria you can attract on an open wound with the egg.