The fire risk associated with skin creams

The fire risk associated with skin creams

Have you ever considered that your skin cream might increase the risk of a fire in your home? Skin creams and other toiletries can include flammable substances in their ingredients that can increase the risk of fires, severe burns to the skin, and fatalities when absorbed into fabrics. Here we highlight the dangers and discuss measures that you can take to prevent these disastrous events from happening. 

What skin creams are hazardous? 

Skin creams, sprays, bath oils, lotions, ointments or soap substitutes can all be types of emollients as they are often called in medical terminology. Emollients are explicitly designed to increase the moisture content of your skin, and their use is widespread. They add hydration directly to the skin or stop the moisture escaping that is already present in the skin layers. Emollients used for specific medical conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and ichthyosis contain large amounts of paraffin or other oil-based substances. Paraffin is a thick oily substance that helps lock in moisture and soften the skin, preventing dryness and improving symptoms. Paraffin and oil-based substances act as an accelerant to fire and cause fatal burns.

Fires caused by emollients

When you apply an emollient to your skin, it can also rub off onto the fabrics of clothing, bedding towels, other soft furnishings, and the fibres of wound dressings. Scientific evidence shows that a material that has absorbed an emollient will burn much faster and hotter when exposed to a naked flame than it would usually. Washing fabrics does not entirely remove the oily emollient; therefore, these fabrics can still pose a risk and unfortunately, this sort of incident is relatively common. This frequency of events has led to the issuing of safety alerts for fire risk by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulate Medicines use in the UK. The risk may be greater in care homes where many residents use emollient based products.

How to prevent fires with emollients

Emollients need to be used regularly to prevent and manage medical conditions and, as such, should not be stopped due to the possibility of fire. However, you should always follow the following advice to reduce risk. 

  • Do not smoke or go anywhere near someone who is smoking. Your local pharmacist or GP can advise on stop smoking measures.
  • Do not go close to any naked flame such as candles or any open fires. 
  • If it is impossible to avoid naked flame or smoking, take precautions such as not wearing baggy clothing when cooking with a gas flame or using a flameless lighter and don’t have your chair next to the open fire.
  • Wash clothing and bedding regularly; this will not remove all the residue but will help.
  • Avoid the emollient getting in contact with furniture or soft furnishings; if they do, ensure that they are thoroughly cleaned. The emollients can be easily rubbed off onto furniture such as beds or sofas when lying or sitting down.
  • Make sure all relatives and carers are aware of the risks
  • Always make sure you read the information provided with the emollient. The product will highlight the fire risk.
  • Seek advice from experts at your local fire service if you are concerned about fires.

General fire prevention and safety

Many fires are preventable, and you should prepare now so that you don’t regret it later. Always ensure that you have a working smoke alarm in your house or apartment, even if there is one in the corridor outside. Also, consider setting up an effective fire evacuation procedure and discuss it with your loved ones so that you and your family know exactly what to do in the event of a fire. 

You can also take extra precautions by considering the purchase of a smoke hood to prevent breathing in the toxic gases such as carbon monoxide that are given off during a fire. Some of the best fire safety masks or hoods can give you up to 60 minutes of breathing time. This allows you a greater chance of escaping a fire, even if you live on the upper floors of buildings where the stairways can get filled with smoke preventing passage during a fire.

The recognised benefits of emollients encourage increasing use. This, unfortunately, brings with it increasing the risk of fires. If you are using an emollient product either prescribed or bought, make sure you use it sensibly and know how to prevent fires from occurring.