Accidents are called accidents for a reason, and even when responsible, careful smart people do what they are supposed to do, sometimes accidents happen. One rarely dives into hand made soap making without almost immediately hitting foot notes or comments from the author to makes sure that anyone attempting this project has first carefully covered the safety and first aid concerning the dangers in working with the every day kitchen chemicals required in turning a bowl of oils into soap.
Lye is the very ingredient that transforms our work into household soap, and you can’t make soap without it. You may be familiar with handling lye in your everyday life int he form of drain cleaner and you’ll probably only ever find a bottle shoved far in the back of a cupboard under the kitchen sink. However, if you’re a soap maker you’ve got a bottle or two stashed in a more convenient location, and after years of soap making with never an accident its easy to forget that there are strict safety rules to follow when handling lye crystals.
This article is to serve as a reminder that you do need to refresh on those safety rules and remind yourself occasionally about the first aid needed if an accident should happen. This became a reality to Jessie Larkins, a member in the Thermal Mermaid Facebook Group when one quick tip of her lye solution spilled over her hand. The documented injury really captures the damage a chemical burn has compared to a heat burn.
Here, you can see that the lye really got her. Especially, on that middle knuckle. This picture was taken just a little while after she washed the lye off her hand with cold water. The damage was no joke. Now if this was caused by heat you would expect some blistering but the majority of the damage would be just what you’re looking at. Not so with a chemical burn….
Fortunately, Jessie knew she should make her way over to the hospital to get this treated. After about an hour, the damage has appeared to double. (NO doubt the pain doubled too.) As you can see, a chemical burn looks different from a heat burn. In fact, when that chemical starts working its way into the skin it doesn’t stop doing its damage just because one rinses it with water. The chemical can remain on and in the skin for several hours and continue to eat the tissue as it penetrates deeper.
When you read first aid instructions on how to treat chemical burns it is recommended to keep the affected area under cold running water for 15 minutes and then evaluate to see if a higher level of medical care is needed. Simply washing the lye water off the skin is not the only step taken when addressing unintentional contact with lye water solution. One must follow through with all the safety steps to protect from a potential injury.
Once a week had passed Jessie’s injuries were significant. This certainly wasn’t going to be a one time trip to the ER and then on with life. In fact, she not only lost a considerable amount of skin which needed grafting, but there was even tendon damage that needed multiple surgeries. Friends, lye burns are no joke, and this was an accident that happened in a split second.
One month after her injury the tissue is struggling to heal and grow back. This was her condition just before her first surgery.
The surgery itself was no small event. There was plenty of after care needed for this serious third degree burn including a splint, wrapping, and a vacuum threaded into the wound to keep the area dry.
Several months have passed and Jessie is still healing, to date she will need a few more surgeries and more attention taken with that damaged tendon. We wish her a full recovery from this misfortune, and hope that the reality of these images will help keep the rest of us present when going through the everyday motions of our hobbies and crafts. For some of us, this can serve as a reminder not to cut corners even when we think we could make soap in our sleep. Soft nudge: We can’t.