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Report finds moisturisers and creams can be flammable hazards

An academic report has found that various moisturisers and creams may cause clothing and textiles to ignite significantly quicker than they would normally when they come into contact.

The report, which was commissioned by Anglia Ruskin University and supported by several partners including our Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, found that paraffin-based products often used by elderly and vulnerable people may present a fire hazard.

Tests have found that, when the water within the products evaporates, the moisturisers and creams leave behind a deposit of flammable chemicals on the skin or materials that they come into contact with – such as clothing, towelling and bedding.

What to look for on products
Within the ingredients that make up the cream or moisturiser (usually found on the back or bottom of the bottle or tub), you should look out for paraffin-based chemicals.

This may be called paraffinum liquidum (liquid paraffin) or even petrolatum (petroleum jelly). Some other products also include warnings about flammability in their instructions. Always read the packaging carefully before applying the product.

Faster ignition times
During testing, it was found that the time it takes for clothing to ignite is significantly shorter when an emollient has been applied.

A 100% cotton t-shirt which had come into contact with an emollient took less than 12 seconds to completely catch fire, compared to the average of 65 seconds that had not.

This means that the time a person wearing the flammable clothing would have to react is around 80% less – something which could potentially make all the difference in the event of a fire.

The report also found that the flammability of the product does not necessarily diminish over time – showing that re-wearing contaminated clothing or bedding still presents a fire risk.

Andre Turner, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, Technical Fire Safety team, said:

“This important research has found that many of our communities’ most vulnerable people – including the disabled and elderly – may be putting themselves at risk of fire without even realising it.

“Most of us have used moisturisers and creams at some point to reduce the dryness of our skin, but until now it has never been clear exactly how dangerous they can be.

“Here in Essex we have been called to several serious incidents where we believe these products have played a significant part in the spread and severity of the fire. This is a genuine issue and I would urge people to follow our advice to ensure they stay safe.”


Our advice
These products – whether they come in the format of a cream, spray, liquid or gel are safe to use and can be vital for various skin conditions. The danger exists when residue from these products gets onto fabrics, bedding, clothing and bandages.

The residue is what makes the clothing more flammable. With that in mind, please follow our advice:

  • If you are using these products, avoid naked flames including smoking materials, fireplaces, cookers and heaters.
  • If there is any risk of the emollient residue being in your clothing, bedding, bandaging or other fabrics, keep them away from other people who smoke.
  • Washing materials at the highest temperature recommended on the fabric care label will reduce the emollient residue, but may not totally remove it. Always remain cautious and stay well away from fire.
  • If you are a doctor or GP, you should highlight the risk of fire to the patients you are prescribing the products to.

Book a free Safe and Well visit
Our Safe and Well team will come and visit you and provide free fire safety and wellbeing advice to help keep you safe in your home, including advice on using emollients where necessary.

To book your visit, please call 0300 303 0088 or visit www.essex-fire.gov.uk/book.

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