Summary: Concrete burns in some folks can result in serious skin damage. It was originally thought that adding an acid like vinegar may cause more skin damage. Recent evidence suggests this thought was wrong. Applying household vinegar to a concrete burn is a viable treatment and appears to result in quicker healing of the burn.
Dear Curtis: I poured a little bit of concrete and got some of it on my skin even though I tried pretty hard not to. In my everyday life I’m an office worker – so my skin certainly isn’t accustomed to this stuff and it’s burning now. I have heard that using vinegar can neutralize the burns from concrete. Is that true? If so, do you think it’s safe?
The fact of the matter is some folks are more sensitive to concrete than others. My father-in-law has poured concrete 30+ years. A brother-in-law has been pouring it for around ten years and I’ve never really seen them get serious burns. I’ve helped before and nothing has ever happened.
But, some folks, like yourself, are very sensitive to concrete and can get some pretty serious burns.
Why Concrete Burns
Before we talk about using vinegar I think it’s important to understand why concrete burns and irritates because there is actually more than one reason. This will also help you determine the best treatment.
First of all, concrete is naturally abrasive because it has sand and gravel in it.
Secondly, Portland Cement is very basic. Meaning it’s caustic with a very basic pH of 12 to 13. A neutral pH is around 7. Also, when the Portland Cement begins to dry it draws water out of whatever it is coming into contact with. Be it sand, gravel, dirt or skin.
Concrete also contains lime which itself can lead to burns.
All these factors brought together lead to concrete being potentially very abrasive to the skin.
Does Vinegar Work?
Now, remember, concrete is basic (a high pH). Vinegar is acidic (a low pH). So, in theory it works. But one of the historical concerns about applying an acid like vinegar (it’s acetic acid) is that you’ll damage the skin even further. Historically, doctors insisted that you should just flush the burn with water and continue to irrigate it to bring the pH level down.
But studies have shown that when the pH level is above 12 that’s when you get some serious damage. If you can get it below 11 you still may get damage but it will be slower and less severe.
The problem with concrete is that the pH is so high that the tissue damage may not be thwarted in time with just water. You need something to bring it down quicker. In short, researchers have discovered that regular household vinegar does appear to minimize alkaline skin burns.
However, don’t just apply the vinegar right away. Try flushing the area with water first and then applying the vinegar. It will drop the pH faster than water alone and will help minimize the damage.
- Andrews, Kris M.D.; Mowlavi, Arian M.D.; Milner, Stephen M. M.B., B.S., B.D.S., F.R.C.S.(Ed.), F.A.C.S.. The Treatment of Alkaline Burns of the Skin by Neutralization. Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery: May 2003 – Volume 111 – Issue 6 – pp 1918-1921