Emollient cream build-up in fabric can lead to fire deaths Image: triocean AdobeStock

Fabrics which have come into contact with an emollient can be highly flammable, even after washing

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is recommending that labelling and product information for emollient products should include a warning about the fire hazard. This should include clear advice not to smoke or go near naked flames and information about the risk of severe burn injury or death when clothing, bedding and dressings with emollients dried on them are accidentally ignited.

Emollients are important treatments, widely used to help manage dry, itchy or scaly skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and ichthyosis.

The likelihood of fabric that has been in contact with emollient products catching fire through an individual smoking or being near a naked flame is low. If this does occur it could cause severe burns which may result in death.

Risk is greater when using large quantities

MHRA wants users to be aware that fabrics which have come into contact with an emollient can be highly flammable, even after washing. The risk is greater when emollients are applied in large quantities or to large areas of the body.

June Raine, director of MHRA’s vigilance and risk management of medicines division, said:

“We don’t want to unduly worry people into not using these products which offer relief for what can be chronic skin conditions, but it is equally important people are aware of the risks and take steps to mitigate them.

“If you use emollients and have any questions or concerns, we’d recommend speaking to a healthcare professional, such as your pharmacist or GP.”

Not just paraffin based creams

It was previously thought the risk occurred with emollients which contain more than 50% paraffins. However, evidence now points to a risk with emollients which contain lower levels of paraffin and with paraffin-free emollients. This advice therefore applies to all emollients whether they contain paraffin or not.