Emollient cream build-up can lead to fire deaths

There have been in excess of 50 deaths where a build-up of emollients has contributed to the speed and intensity of a fire.

James McKay
19 December 2018
Emollient cream build-up

Fabrics with a build up of emollient cream can lead to fire deaths – even after washing.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has warned that emollient creams can build up in fabrics and cause them to catch fire more easily.

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The medicines regulator is asking for clearer advice to be given to patients on the risks of a severe burn or even death if clothing, bedding or dressings with a build-up of emollients are exposed to cigarettes or naked flames – even after washing.

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.

The MHRA and the medicines industry are working together to develop suitable ways to make sure the warning is displayed prominently on products. The text will clearly warn users not to smoke or go near naked flames due to the risk of severe burns, that fabric (such as clothing, bedding and dressings) which has been in repeated contact with these products burn more easily and can be a serious fire hazard, and that washing clothing and bedding may reduce product build-up but not totally remove it.

Fifty deaths.

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.

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“Our new evidence-based recommendations are intended to empower proper use of these tried and trusted treatments and we are working with industry to support delivery of prompt packaging and labelling warnings and advice.

“Patient safety is our highest priority. We strongly encourage anyone to report any issues with this product, or more generally with any medical device, to our Yellow Card Scheme.”

Watch Manager Chris Bell from West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service and National Fire Chiefs Council‘s lead for emollient creams, said:“We welcome this recommendation. There have now been in excess of 50 deaths in the UK where the build-up of emollients on bedding, dressings or clothing may have contributed to the speed and intensity of the fire. Many of these fires were caused by people who smoked and were unaware of the fire risks associated with emollient build-up on fabrics. 

“We have been trying to raise awareness about this issue with the public and health and care professionals. Ensuring that these products carry warnings will certainly help us as we continue to work with pharmacists, the NHS and care sector to prevent any future deaths.”

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