Emollient skin creams are widely used to manage dry skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis.
Emollient products in isolation are not dangerously combustible. However, when an emollient product becomes impregnated into a fabric, the fabric chemical properties change. It will ignite more easily, burn more quickly and result in a more intense, rapidly developing fire situation.
All emollient products that are impregnated into fabric present an increased fire risk, including products that:
- Contain paraffin
- Do not contain paraffin, such as those made with natural oils
- Contain other flammable constituents
- 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; e.g., 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.
If you use an emollient skin cream to manage a dry skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, or if you are a relative or carer for someone who does, please take a moment to download this fire safety leaflet.
Note: A recent report from the National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) estimated that “1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults suffer from eczema at some point in their lives and 2-3% of the population suffer from psoriasis.”
One of the most effective and commonly prescribed treatments for these conditions is the regular application of emollient skin care products to the surface of the skin. Additionally, many people use emollients for the treatment of bed sores and other sores which develop as a result of restricted mobility or immobility.
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.
NFCC Emollients working group
The following statistics are provided by the NFCC Emollients working group (May 2019):
Since 2010 in the UK, more than 50 people have died, 2 sustained serious injuries and 9 have been evacuated from a residential care home, in incidents where fabric, which has been contaminated with emollient, has been ignited by a flame or other ignition source and has burnt rapidly and intensely.
Current data, gathered from fire and rescue services and the MHRA2 shows there have been 58 cases identified (56 fatalities and 2 serious injuries). Actual figures are likely to be significantly higher, but emollients are not currently identified on the national Incident Reporting System. Of the 58 cases, 46 (79%) people were identified as smokers, 8 were non-smokers and 4 people were smoking status unknown. 39 (67%) people had restricted or significantly limiting mobility issues and/or a care plan in place. All were aged 60 and over.