Emollients and risk of severe and fatal burns: new resources available

We inform healthcare professionals of the recent campaign to promote awareness of the risk and new resources available to support safe use following previous advice to health and care professionals.

There is a risk of severe and fatal burns with all emollients – see the Drug Safety Update from December 2018.

Emollients can transfer from the skin onto clothing, bedding, dressings, and other fabric. Once there, they can dry onto the fabric and build up over time. In the presence of a naked flame, fabric with emollient dried on is easily ignited.

Although emollients are not flammable in themselves or when on the skin, 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.

This applies to all emollients, whether they contain paraffin or not.

On 29 July 2020, MHRA in partnership with the National Fire Chiefs Council, charities, and organisations from across health and social care launched a campaign to raise awareness of this important risk. A toolkit of resources is now available for health and social care professionals to support the safe use of emollients.

The resources are freely available for download from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/safe-use-of-emollient-skin-creams-to-treat-dry-skin-conditions and include:

How you can support the safe use of emollients:

  • use the materials to inform patients and caregivers of the risks with emollient products

  • encourage dialogue and learning between colleagues about the safe use of emollients

  • report suspected adverse drug reactions or adverse incidents involving emollients, including fires and burns, to the Yellow Card scheme – your report improves the safety of medicines and medical devices

Article citation: Drug Safety Update volume 14, issue 1: August 2020: 6.

Published 26 August 2020
Last updated 20 May 2021 + show all updates
  1. Added Welsh translated leaflet

  2. First published.