People who use emollient creams on their dry skin are at a risk of death by fire, the Government has warned.

Emollient creams used to treat dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can build up in fabrics and cause severe burns or death as these catch fire more easily, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said today (18 December).

The medicines watchdog recommended that packages for such products should include a warning about the fire hazard as well as advice for patients to not smoke or go near naked flames.


Highly flammable


Until now, experts believed that fabrics such as clothing, bedding and dressings could only catch fire after being in contact with emollients containing more than 50% paraffin.

But following an extensive review of available evidence, the MHRA found that all emollients, including those without paraffin, can cause fabric to burst into flames, even after washing. This in turn can result in severe burns and death in the worst cases.

The MHRA added that the risk is higher when the products are used in generous quantities and on larger parts of the body.

MHRA’s vigilance and risk management of medicines division director June Raine 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.

‘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.’


‘Unaware of the risks’


It is estimated that more than 50 deaths in the UK occurred due to build-up of emollients on fabrics, which ‘may have contributed to the speed and intensity of the fire’, said Chris Bell, National Fire Chiefs Council’s lead for emollient creams.

The fire and rescue service representative body chief said that many of these fires occurred due to people smoking and unaware of the fire risks.

Mr Bell continued: ‘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.’