Skin infections are easy to get, yet hard to clear up. The important thing when dealing with a potential cutaneous infection is to address it right away–especially one that has the potential to become serious.
Even in hospitals infections spread. And they can be deadly. In this article, I’d like to address simple and natural ways to deal with topical wounds in order to prevent infection and speed healing. One of the main ways to do this is to clean, sanitize and dress the wound. So let’s look at some of the simple and natural products that do this well.
When topical wounds happen
My 15-year-old son flew off his skateboard going downhill and suffered 11 good-sized contusions and open wounds on his arm and legs. Immediate attention was needed to prevent infection, hasten healing and prevent scarring. These seemingly simple accidents can lead to some pretty serious pain, and if the scrapes and open skin are left untreated or improperly treated, infection can set in and healing can be very slow.
The first thing to do is to clean the wound site. An attempt should be made to stop the bleeding, though some may occur during cleaning. Use a sink sprayer or hose, or turn the bathtub faucet half way, and apply water to the wound for about 10 minutes. This will help remove dirt, debris and bacteria.
After cleaning the wound, you need to clear it of all debris that may be embedded in it. This means dust, cloth, dirt, pieces of sidewalk or street, and so on. This can be done with a washcloth and tweezers, gently, making sure not to push too hard for fear of worsening the wound area. If the wound is too deep, dress it at once and see a medical professional for evaluation and possible stitches. If the wound is mild to moderate, then once cleaning is done treat the wound with some form of topical antimicrobial product.
Topical antimicrobial agents
For centuries topical plasters, patches and other agents have been applied to wounds to speed healing and prevent infection. Cutaneous wounds need to be disinfected so as not to require antibiotic therapy.
There are two main categories of topical antimicrobials: antiseptics and antibiotics. For topical use, antiseptics are preferable, especially for home use; the focus of this article. Antiseptics are disinfectants that are applied to the wound and localized skin to slow and kill the growth of bacteria to prevent infection.
Topical antibacterial products are the mainstay of minor to moderate wound healing. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to apply, readily available and effective immediately at the wound site. The chance of toxicity is very low because these products are strongest at the epidermis and superficial skin surfaces. As they absorb into the skin and reach the subcutaneous fat area, their potency diminishes.
Commonly used antiseptics include hydrogen peroxide, iodine and Neosporin®. I’d like to present an overview of some of the lesser known, yet in some cases more effective, natural topical antiseptics, including manuka honey, tea tree oil and silver-containing compounds.
Because of its natural antibacterial qualities, honey helps protect against damage caused by bacteria. Honey has an anti-inflammatory action that can quickly reduce pain and inflammation once it is applied.
Hydrogen peroxide is naturally found in honey and is what gives it its antibiotic quality. But some types of honey, including manuka honey, have additional antibacterial qualities due to their high levels of methylglyoxal (MG). The higher the rating of a honey’s MG, the more powerful its antibiotic effect. And because manuka honey is stronger than most, it has its own antibiotic rating–called the UMF rating–which stands for Unique Manuka Factor. If the UMF rating is high—10 UMF–then the honey can be used for wound healing. If not, it will be of no use. Be careful to only use honey for cuts, scrapes and minor burns that is labeled “UMF Manuka Honey” or “Active Manuka Honey.”
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a substance distilled from the leaves of the melaleuca tree of Australia. It is another ancient remedy used for everything from aromatherapy to treatment of acne, athlete’s foot, candida, cuts and wounds, herpes and cold sores and sore throat. It has analgesic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties. Because it has so many uses, it is a great topical product to keep on hand. It is even effective on small skin issues, like mosquito bites, as well as for skin fungus infections.
Tea tree oil has natural antibacterial compounds that help stimulate the body’s immune system while reducing and treating infection and reducing inflammation. It can be applied directly to the skin, or diluted with warm water, added to liquid soap or mixed with vinegar and baking soda. There are so many good sites on line that can help you decide which is best for which use.
Topical antiseptic applications are important components for helping to heal everyday cuts and scrapes, diabetic foot ulcers, chronic leg ulcers and various other minor wounds. They are an ideal application because of their naturally low toxicity, ease of application, and increased concentration at the wound site. Although hydrogen peroxide, iodine and Neosporin® are the standby topical agents, others such as manuka honey, tea tree oil and silver-containing compounds are also very effective and worth considering as the new standards.