By Bethany Hemsley
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is working with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Fire and Rescue Services and health charities in a campaign to raise awareness of the fire risks of emollient skin creams and the precautions that should be taken by users.
The emollient skin creams used regularly by many people to manage dry, itchy or scaly skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and ichthyosis become dangerous when they are transferred from skin on to clothing or bedding, regulators have warned.
When materials with dried-on cream come into contact with a naked flame, the fire burns quickly and strongly which can cause serious injury or death.
The skin creams are not flammable on their own nor when they are on the body, however, they contain oils that increase the likelihood for clothing, dressings and fabrics to catch fire when they are dried on repeatedly.
Regulators warn that the fire risk increases with each application of the cream as it transfers, dries and builds up on the fabric.
They also warn that remnants of the cream can remain even after fabrics are washed. It is essential to minimise the risk by removing long sleeved or loose clothing for cooking or using a safety lighter.
Since 2010, there have been more than 50 deaths and serious injuries associated with the use of emollient skin creams, with the most at risk groups being over 60s, smokers and those with reduced mobility. The MHRA advises that individuals in this high-risk group, or their carers, should arrange a fire service assessment of their personal surroundings and be cautious when near naked flames or potential ignition sources, such as lighting a cigarette.
Dr Sarah Branch, director of MHRA’s Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines Division said: “Anyone who uses emollients and has any questions or concerns should speak to a healthcare professional, such as your pharmacist or GP. We strongly encourage anyone to report any issues with such products, or more generally with any medical device, to our Yellow Card Scheme”.
Healthcare professionals should continue to recommend emollient skin creams for chronic dry skin conditions and users should continue to do so as instructed whilst being aware of the fire risks of these creams when they dry on fabrics.