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People who use emollients and smoke are at greater risk of setting themselves on fire, due to the flammable residue that may be left on clothes, bandages and bedding, warns Buckinghamshire Fire & Rescue Service (BFRS).

The warning comes after research from the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), Anglia Ruskin University and De Montfort University, confirmed that both paraffin and non-paraffin emollients can act as an accelerant when absorbed into clothing and exposed to naked flames or other heat sources.

Emollient products, which include creams, ointments, sprays and body wash formulations are used by millions of people every day to manage dry, itchy or scaly skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and ichthyosis. They may contain paraffin or other ingredients such as shea or cocoa butter, beeswax, lanolin, nut oil or mineral oils which can leave a flammable residue.

Commonly prescribed by GPs, nurses and other clinicians – as well as being available to purchase in chemists and supermarkets – emollients are not flammable in themselves. The risk occurs when they absorb into fabrics and are then exposed to naked flames or heat sources resulting in a fire that burns quickly and intensely and can cause serious injury or death.

Testing confirmed that the flammability increases each time the fabric is contaminated with emollient and the risk is greater when applied over large parts of the body.

Repeated washing of clothing, bandages and bedding at any temperature does not remove the fire risk.