Topical treatment for facial burns

Cornelis J Hoogewerf, M Jenda Hop, Marianne K Nieuwenhuis, Irma Mmh Oen, Esther Middelkoop, Margriet E Van Baar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Burn injuries are an important health problem. They occur frequently in the head and neck region. The face is the area central to a person's identity that provides our most expressive means of communication. Topical interventions are currently the cornerstone of treatment of burns to the face.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effects of topical interventions on wound healing in people with facial burns of any depth.

SEARCH METHODS: In December 2019 we searched the Cochrane Wounds Specialised Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); Ovid MEDLINE (including In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations); Ovid Embase and EBSCO CINAHL Plus. We also searched clinical trials registries for ongoing and unpublished studies, and scanned reference lists of relevant included studies as well as reviews, meta-analyses and health technology reports to identify additional studies. There were no restrictions with respect to language, date of publication or study setting.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated the effects of topical treatment for facial burns were eligible for inclusion in this review.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently performed study selection, data extraction, risk of bias assessment and GRADE assessment of the certainty of the evidence.

MAIN RESULTS: In this first update, we included 12 RCTs, comprising 507 participants. Most trials included adults admitted to specialised burn centres after recent burn injuries. Topical agents included antimicrobial agents (silver sulphadiazine (SSD), Aquacel-Ag, cerium-sulphadiazine, gentamicin cream, mafenide acetate cream, bacitracin), non-antimicrobial agents (Moist Exposed Burn Ointment (MEBO), saline-soaked dressings, skin substitutes (including bioengineered skin substitute (TransCyte), allograft, and xenograft (porcine Xenoderm), and miscellaneous treatments (growth hormone therapy, recombinant human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor hydrogel (rhGMCS)), enzymatic debridement, and cream with Helix Aspersa extract). Almost all the evidence included in this review was assessed as low or very low-certainty, often because of high risk of bias due to unclear randomisation procedures (i.e. sequence generation and allocation concealment); lack of blinding of participants, providers and sometimes outcome assessors; and imprecision resulting from few participants, low event rates or both, often in single studies. Topical antimicrobial agents versus topical non-antimicrobial agents There is moderate-certainty evidence that there is probably little or no difference between antimicrobial agents and non-antimicrobial agents (SSD and MEBO) in time to complete wound healing (hazard ratio (HR) 0.84 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.78 to 1.85, 1 study, 39 participants). Topical antimicrobial agents may make little or no difference to the proportion of wounds completely healed compared with topical non-antimicrobial agents (comparison SSD and MEBO, risk ratio (RR) 0.94, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.29; 1 study, 39 participants; low-certainty evidence). We are uncertain whether there is a difference in wound infection (comparison topical antimicrobial agent (Aquacel-Ag) and MEBO; RR 0.38, 95% CI 0.12 to 1.21; 1 study, 40 participants; very low-certainty evidence). No trials reported change in wound surface area over time or partial wound healing. There is low-certainty evidence for the secondary outcomes scar quality and patient satisfaction. Two studies assessed pain but it was incompletely reported. Topical antimicrobial agents versus other topical antimicrobial agents It is uncertain whether topical antimicrobial agents make any difference in effects as the evidence is low to very low-certainty. For primary outcomes, there is low-certainty evidence for time to partial (i.e. greater than 90%) wound healing (comparison SSD versus cerium SSD: mean difference (MD) -7.10 days, 95% CI -16.43 to 2.23; 1 study, 142 participants). There is very low-certainty evidence regarding whether topical antimicrobial agents make a difference to wound infection (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.46 to 1.17; 1 study, 15 participants). There is low to very low-certainty evidence for the proportion of facial burns requiring surgery, pain, scar quality, adverse effects and length of hospital stay. Skin substitutes versus topical antimicrobial agents There is low-certainty evidence that a skin substitute may slightly reduce time to partial (i.e. greater than 90%) wound healing, compared with a non-specified antibacterial agent (MD -6.00 days, 95% CI -8.69 to -3.31; 1 study, 34 participants). We are uncertain whether skin substitutes in general make any other difference in effects as the evidence is very low certainty. Outcomes included wound infection, pain, scar quality, adverse effects of treatment and length of hospital stay. Single studies showed contrasting low-certainty evidence. A bioengineered skin substitute may slightly reduce procedural pain (MD -4.00, 95% CI -5.05 to -2.95; 34 participants) and background pain (MD -2.00, 95% CI -3.05 to -0.95; 34 participants) compared with an unspecified antimicrobial agent. In contrast, a biological dressing (porcine Xenoderm) might slightly increase pain in superficial burns (MD 1.20, 95% CI 0.65 to 1.75; 15 participants (30 wounds)) as well as deep partial thickness burns (MD 3.00, 95% CI 2.34 to 3.66; 10 participants (20 wounds)), compared with antimicrobial agents (Physiotulle Ag (Coloplast)). Miscellaneous treatments versus miscellaneous treatments Single studies show low to very low-certainty effects of interventions. Low-certainty evidence shows that MEBO may slightly reduce time to complete wound healing compared with saline soaked dressing (MD -1.7 days, 95% CI -3.32 to -0.08; 40 participants). In addition, a cream containing Helix Aspersa may slightly increase the proportion of wounds completely healed at 14 days compared with MEBO (RR 4.77, 95% CI 1.87 to 12.15; 43 participants). We are uncertain whether any miscellaneous treatment in the included studies makes a difference in effects for the outcomes wound infection, scar quality, pain and patient satisfaction as the evidence is low to very low-certainty.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is mainly low to very low-certainty evidence on the effects of any topical intervention on wound healing in people with facial burns. The number of RCTs in burn care is growing, but the body of evidence is still hampered due to an insufficient number of studies that follow appropriate evidence-based standards of conducting and reporting RCTs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)CD008058
JournalThe Cochrane database of systematic reviews
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • topical administration
  • anti-infective agents
  • bias
  • burns
  • carboxymethylcellulose sodium
  • facial injuries
  • dosage
  • randomized controlled trials as topic
  • artificial skin
  • wound healing
  • therapies


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