Catching fire because of skin creams
Skin creams, sometimes known as emollients, are used by many people every day to help manage different dry skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and ichthyosis.
Eczema (dermatitis) has several causes, which may influence treatment. The main types of eczema are irritant, allergic contact, atopic, venous and discoid; different types may co-exist. Lichenification, due to scratching and rubbing, may complicate any chronic eczema. Atopic eczema is the most common type and it usually involves dry skin as well as infection and lichenification.
Skin dryness and the consequent irritant eczema requires emollients applied regularly (at least twice daily) and liberally to the affected area; this can be supplemented with bath or shower emollients. The use of emollients should continue even if the eczema improves or if other treatment is being used.
The creams are easily transferred from skin onto clothing, bedding and bandages. Tests and research have shown that the dried-on cream makes the fabric more flammable and the resulting fire burns quickly and intensely, resulting in serious injury or death. It’s important for anyone using these creams to avoid any naked flame. The MHRA and the NFCC have produced the following tragic video illustrating this, based on a true story.
If you use an emollient or skin cream to treat a dry skin condition, please follow this advice.
Do not smoke, use naked flames or get near to anything which may cause a fire whilst wearing clothing or a bandage that has been in contact with skin creams.
If this is not possible, you must take steps to ensure you are safe when you smoke or use naked flames. For example, by using a flameless lighter or e-cigarette, and removing long sleeved or baggy clothing before using a gas hob.
Change and wash clothes and bedding
Change and wash your clothes and bedding frequently to reduce the build-up of skin cream. However, remember that whilst washing your clothing and bedding even at high temperatures might reduce the build-up, it does not remove it completely and the danger may remain.
Keep cream off furniture
Be careful to make sure the skin cream does not get onto the fabric of armchairs or other furniture, cushions and blankets. Be aware that the cream can transfer from your skin onto the fabric of furniture when you are sitting or lying on it.
Tell relatives and carers
Tell your relatives or carers about your treatment and ask how they can help you to reduce the risk. Download the leaflet on this page for them.
Tell your healthcare professional
Tell your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you normally smoke. They will be able to offer you help and advice to stop smoking.
Health professionals might find the following presentation from the MHRA and NFCC very helpful. It discusses the findings of a study on understanding of emollients carried out on health professionals, among a number of other related facts.