Fire risk from emollients on clothing

Take extra care when treating dry skin with emollients ('medical moisturisers')

November 5, 2021

Emollients are moisturisers that are used to treat dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. They sooth and soften skin, making it feel better. They come in the form of creams, ointments, gels, sprays or lotions. Emollients easily transfer to clothes and other fabrics and dry out. A build-up of dried emollient is a potential fire hazard.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory (MHRA) – which is responsible for the safety of medicines in the UK – has recently issued a warning about the risk of dried emollient catching fire and causing serious burns. The following advice has been issued to keep people safe when using these products.

  • If you have used emollients, or applied them to someone else’s skin, do not smoke if there is any risk of a flame coming into contact with dried emollient. Stay away from naked flames – such as candles, gas burners, heaters, log fires, matches, lighters – if wearing anything that may have emollient on it.
  • Wash any fabrics that may come into contact with emollients as often as possible (daily if you can) and at a high temperature, so that the dried emollient doesn’t build up.
  • Washing fabrics – even at high temperatures – may not remove all traces of emollient so you still need to be careful around naked flames.

Emollients that contain high levels of paraffin have the highest fire risk, but the MHRA advises to be careful with all emollients.

Emollients themselves are not fire hazard, and they will not catch fire in the container or when applied to the skin. The risk is only with a build up of emollient on fabric. You can continue to use emollients safely for your child’s skin condition.

Any fire incidents with emollients or other skin care products should be reported to the MHRA’s Yellow Card safety scheme.