How we use burn face masks to treat burns

Facial burns can be incredibly painful and cause severe scarring, but the right treatment can minimize the scars that develop as your burns heal. In most cases, a burn face mask is one of the most effective treatments we can use to manage swelling and scarring from facial burns and skin grafts.

At the Regions Hospital Burn Center, we use the latest burn in face mask treatments, including face masks invented at our center. We’ll fit the mask to your face, making sure to manage facial scars as much as possible.

Types of burn face masks

Transparent burn face masks, transparent neck orthoses and fabric masks can be used to treat facial burns. Burn face masks help the face heal with the least amount of scarring. By applying pressure to the burn or scar, the face mask keeps the skin soft and flat during the scar-forming phase of healing. Masks we commonly use include:

Transparent face masks (transparent facial orthosis, TFO)

A transparent face mask, sometimes called transparent facial orthosis or a TFO, is a see-through mask. It’s recommended if facial burns create the risk of scarring or making scar tissue.

The transparent face mask is worn 18-20 hours every day until the skin graft is mature, about eight months to two years. The skin is mature when it’s soft, flat and light in color, similar to your healthy skin.

Transparent face masks are often a better choice for patients because our therapists are able to see how well the mask is compressing the scars without removing the burn mask, enabling us to make changes as needed. It’s also less visible on a patient’s face than a fabric face mask.

The use of a transparent face mask was invented in 1975 by Elizabeth Rivers, an occupational therapist working at the Regions Hospital Burn Center.

Transparent face masks are custom made for each patient at the burn center. This ensures that the mask is compressing the burned skin as effectively as possible, making for a more successful recovery.

Transparent neck orthosis (TNO)

A transparent neck orthosis is a see-through neck splint that is worn after a neck burn. The splint helps the neck graft or burn heal with the least amount of scarring. TNOs also help you maintain the range of motion in your neck.

It’s worn 18-23 hours a day for eight months to two years until the scars are mature. We’ll talk with you about when you need to wear a transparent neck orthosis.

Fabric burn face masks

Some burn centers use fabric burn face masks and fabric hoods to help patients recover from facial burns. These masks are made from the same tight elastic fabric as compression garments.

Fabric masks work similarly to TFOs. The main difference is that doctors aren’t able to see how well face burns are healing without removing the fabric masks.

We don’t use fabric burn face masks at the Regions Hospital Burn Center. We’ve found that transparent face masks are most effective for patients recovering from facial burns.

How to make a transparent face mask (TFO)

Everyone’s face is different. In order to create the best fit, we’ll need to create a mask just for you. Although this process is painless, it may frighten young children. That’s why we put children under anesthesia to keep them calm while making their face masks.

Take an impression of the face

First, we need to take an impression of your face. To do this, we’ll cover your face and ears with a thin coat of petroleum jelly.

Then, we’ll put a gooey, oatmeal-like substance called Jeltrate over the petroleum jelly. Don’t worry, we don’t put Jeltrate over your nostrils or mouth, so you’ll be able to breathe easily throughout this process.

When the Jeltrate sets in a few minutes, it becomes very rubbery. The Jeltrate impression of the face is then reinforced with strips of plaster which harden in about 10 minutes.

Fill the impression with plaster

Next, we remove the face impression and fill it with liquid plaster. When the plaster dries, it forms a solid head.

After the plaster has thoroughly dried, the layered plaster strips are cut and carefully removed from the impression. Then the rubbery Jeltrate is peeled away as well.

The therapist will clean and sand the plaster head so it’s smooth to prepare it for the next step.

Forming the plastic mask over the plaster

Once the plaster head is prepared, we’ll cover it with a sheet of warm plastic. We press the plastic sheet firmly into the mold, so it fits the shape of your face.

After the plastic cools, our therapist cuts openings in the mask for your eyes, nose, mouth and ears, and attaches elastic straps to the sides. Then the mask is ready to wear.

Revising the burn mask

Once you start wearing the mask, our therapist uses spot heating to alter or revise the mask on a daily basis. This is done to increase pressure on your scars. As the skin tissue matures, fewer revisions to your mask are needed.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)