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Warnings of emollient cream fire risks

Recommendations for more detailed labelling of emollient creams are being supported by Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS), amid concerns about their flammability.

People who use emollient creams to treat dry and itchy skin conditions are being warned that creams can build up in fabrics and cause them to catch fire more easily.

Although no cases of fires linked to emollient creams have been reported recently in Northamptonshire, there are believed to have been more than 50 deaths in the UK in which emollients may have been a factor.

Emollient creams are skin products containing paraffin based substances used to treat dry skin conditions. They are also used by some patients who may be in bed for long periods due to illness or impaired mobility.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is recommending that labelling and product information for these emollients include a warning about the fire hazard and clear advice not to smoke or go near naked flames.

It also recommends labelling contains information about the risk of severe burn injury or death when clothing, bedding and dressings with emollients dried on them are accidentally ignited.

Firefighters and staff at NFRS would welcome moves to make product labelling clearer, giving users a better understanding of potential fire risks.

Home Safety Team Manager Lisa Bryan said: “We would support any efforts to make people more aware of potential fire risks linked to emollient products.
“The creams are highly flammable so when patients are being treated with a paraffin-based emollient, there is a danger that smoking or using a naked flame could cause dressings, clothing or bedding to catch fire.
“The risk is greater when the creams are applied to larger areas of skin, as this increases the level at which bedding and clothing can become saturated.
“There are steps which can be taken to cut the risks of serious fires happening because of this build-up of emollient, so we have put together some tips on how emollients can be used more safely.”

Using emollients, some fire safety tips:

  • If using emollients, avoid getting too close to a naked flame as dressings and clothing can be easily ignited. Bedding can also become impregnated, increasing flammability.
  • Smokers should be aware of the added fire risk linked to using the creams as clothing is likely to be readily ignited by a dropped cigarette. The best course of action would be to avoid smoking while using these creams. Supporting in quitting smoking can be sought from local GP surgeries.
  • Regular changing of dressings, clothing and bedding (preferably daily) can help to prevent the build-up of emollient on fabric.
  • Use hot temperatures to launder any fabric dressings, clothing and bedding to help remove as much emollient as possible.
  • If putting laundered clothing, bedding and other fabrics in the tumble dryer, avoid folding laundry while it is still hot. Air material first before folding, to allow heat to escape fully.

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