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Emollients and Fire Safety

People who use emollients are at greater risk of setting themselves on fire, due to the flammable residue that may be left on clothes, bandages and bedding.

Emollients can transfer from the skin onto clothing, bedding, dressings, and other fabric. In the

presence of a naked flame, fabric with emollient dried on is easily ignited. Emollients are not

flammable in themselves or when on the skin, but when dried on to fabric they act as an

accelerant, increasing the speed of ignition and intensity of the fire. This accelerant effect

significantly reduces the time available to act to put out a clothing or bedding fire before serious

and fatal burns are sustained.

All emollients (lotions, creams, ointments, gels, sprays, soap substitutes) carry this risk. This

includes all paraffin-base products regardless of percentage paraffin content, and paraffin-free

products. No emollient can be considered ‘safer’ than another with regard to this risk.

Sadly, there has been a recent death within our ICB area, (2023) where a person accidentally set

themselves on fire whilst lighting a cigarette. Emollient cream had been applied that morning,

causing their clothes to become impregnated. They caught alight and died as a result of their

injuries. Greater than 50 fatal fire incidents have been reported by fire and rescue services in

England since 2010, in which emollients were known to have been used by the victim or were

present at fire premises.