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Fire Service Offers Important Safety Advice around the Dangers of Emollient Creams

Date : 27 September 2019


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Safety Warning Around Emollient Cream

East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is on-hand to provide the most up-to-date information around fire safety advice regarding residents who use paraffin-based emollients.

This product is commonly used for eczema and psoriasis but pose hidden fire risks, which we would like to make residents aware of.

In order to obtain the greatest relief these creams are applied liberally and due to their nature are readily absorbed into materials including dressings, clothing, bedding and upholstery creating conditions described by the HSE as similar to a candle wick.

Assissant Chief Fire Officer Mark Andrews said: “We wish to raise awareness around the use of this product, to ensure that residents across our Service area realise the possible fire risks when using emollient cream.

“Our recommendation would be to ensure that all clothing is washed at a higher temperature to remove the flammable product from clothing.

“Also, care should be taken when cooking, or smoking, to ensure that the product has not been absorbed by an item of clothing and exposed to a naked flame. We would urge residents to spread this fire safety message to loved ones and friends to increase awareness around these types of products, to reduce the risk of fires within the home.”

Naked flames and in some cases smoking materials have caused patients’ dressings or clothing to catch fire when paraffin-based emollient has been used and is in contact with the dressing, clothing or other textiles in contact with the person.

An ordinary low-temperature washing routine does not fully remove the paraffin from textiles and the build-up of paraffin over a period of time increases the risk of fire when an ignition source is applied.

There have been a number of fatal fires both nationally, as well as locally, where emollient creams have been a significant factor.

Residents are now being advised about these fire risks during Home Safety Visits, in a bid to spread the word and advice is given.

Steps can be taken to safeguard yourself and loved ones when using this type of cream.

Advice to follow:

  • Advise clients not to smoke or use naked flames (or be near people who are smoking or using naked flames) or go near anything that may cause a fire while emollients are in contact with their medical dressings or clothing. Examples would include leaning over a lit gas cooker hob or candles, allowing lit cigarettes to come into contact with clothing or dressings.
  • Clothing and bedding should be changed regularly—preferably daily—to reduce the build-up of paraffin within the fabric.
  • Clothing should be washed at a higher temperature. It is suggested that this should be between 60-90 degrees to remove the paraffin. That said, many garments cannot safely be washed at this temperature without causing damage in which case the advice must be to avoid wearing delicate clothing when using emollient creams.
  • Most packaging contains some fire safety advice but our experience is that it is not explicit or clearly visible and is rarely pointed out to users.
  • Medical staff who prescribe or encourage the use of these creams are often unaware of the fire risks associated with their use.

Examples of paraffin-based emollients include: 

  • White soft paraffin
  • White soft paraffin plus 50% liquid paraffin
  • Emulsifying ointment 

It has been recommended by The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) that labelling and product information for these emollient products should include a warning about the fire hazard.

Further Information

Further information and advice can be obtained from ESFRS Community Safety and Business Safety Departments.

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