Cement burns are a common work-related injury suffered by builders and others who routinely work with wet cement. When wet cement comes into contact with bare skin, its caustic chemicals cause a chemical burn characterised by scaling, itching, painful lesions and fissures in the skin. When untreated, these fissures, or cracks, in your skin can result in bacterial infections. Cement burns do not appear until a day or two after wet cement touches your body. To reduce skin damage, treat your burns immediately after contact and before symptoms appear.
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Take off all layers of clothing that you wore at the time of contact. Remove your shoes even if you can't see wet cement on them. Wash these garments with hot water and washing powder before using them again; discard shoes and other accessories that can't be washed.
Prepare a lukewarm bath mixed with about 250 ml (1 cup) of white or cider vinegar. Submerge the exposed skin in the bath for 20 to 30 minutes. This procedure neutralises the chemicals on your skin and lessens the damage caused by cement burns.
Flush exposed skin with warm running water for 20 to 25 minutes. If your eyes suffered exposure, flush with water for 30 minutes. Use an eyewash machine for this if possible; if not, your shower will work.
Observe your condition carefully over the next few days. When it worsens, apply aloe vera gel as needed to soothe the skin and reduce itching. Skin lotions and soaps containing petroleum will prevent the toxic chemicals from leaving your body and will worsen your condition; stick to aloe vera gel, acidic soaps and even anti-fungal lotions for relief.
Clean the fissures and sores on your skin with an antiseptic solution each day to kill germs and prevent bacterial infection. This is a painful but essential part of the treatment process.
Consult your GP for assistance if your condition continues to worsen after the second day. She can explain your medical options to you and proceed with treatment.
Tips and warnings
- Regular vinegar or salt baths can soothe the skin.
- The UK's Health and Safety Executive notes that most cement burns heal within at least six months. In very severe cases, though, cement burns can lead to blindness, permanent skin damage and even limb amputation.
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