Emollients increase the fire risk when they come into contact with fabric, heat, or flames. Learn how to use them safely.

What are emollients?

Emollients are used to hydrate dry, rough, or irritated skin. They are commonly used to treat dry skin conditions such as bed sores, ulcers and psoriasis. They come in a variety of types such as creams, ointments, lotions, gels, sprays, bath oils and soap substitutes. 

Are emollients dangerous? 

Emollients are not combustible by themselves. When emollients come into contact with fabric, it makes them far more flammable. If it ignites, it can burn far more quickly and result in a more intense, rapidly developing, fire.

All types of emollient products, when impregnated into fabric, present an increased fire risk. These include products that: 

  • Contain paraffin 
  • Contain natural oils 
  • Contain other flammable ingredients 

Who is most at risk

Anyone who uses emollients should always be careful. Current data in Scotland indicates that where casualties have died in a fire involving emollient products, the casualties have all been aged 60 or over. The majority were also smokers and had restricted or significantly limiting mobility issues and/or a care package in place.

Removing emollients from fabrics

Try to make sure that the emollient does not dry onto the fabric. Washing the fabric at 60°C helps minimise the build-up of paraffin.

Washing the fabric still may not totally remove it from the fabric. Always keep any fabric that has come into contact with an emollient away from heat sources.

Change clothing and bedding regularly, preferably daily because emollients easily soak into fabric and can very quickly become a fire hazard.

Safety advice

Do not smoke, cook or go near to any naked flames or heat sources such as gas, halogen, electric bar or open fires whilst wearing clothing or dressings that have been in contact with emollient-treated skin. If this is not possible, take steps to reduce the risk.

Use a safety lighter or e-cigarette, remove long sleeved or loose clothing before cooking, put a thick uncontaminated shirt, overall or apron over your clothes and move your chair further away from the open fire or other heat source.

Change and wash your clothes frequently (preferably daily). Washing your clothes at the highest temperature recommended by the manufacturer might reduce the build-up of emollient on them but does not remove it completely and the danger may remain.

Take care the cream doesn’t dry onto cushions, soft furnishings and bedding. If it does, use uncontaminated throws/covers on your seating and wash your bedding frequently as above.

Tell your relatives or carers about your treatment and show them this webpage or the downloadable leaflet featured below. Those who care for you can help to keep you safe.

Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you normally smoke. They will be able to offer you help and advice to stop smoking.


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