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Emollient creams

It's important to be aware of the fire safety risks if you, or a person you care for needs moisturising creams – here's how to reduce potential fire risks.

What do we mean by emollient creams?

Emollient creams are moisturisers that can be used to prevent or treat dry skin conditions like:

  • Eczema
  • Bed sores
  • Ulcers
  • Psoriasis

They come in a variety of forms: creams, lotions or gels. All cover the skin with a protective film to reduce water loss. They can be very flammable, so are a fire safety concern, especially when used by people who spend extended periods in a bed or armchair due to illness or impaired mobility.

There is a risk of severe and fatal burns with all emollients, including paraffin-free products. This risk increases with use of greater amounts of emollient, more frequent application and greater surface area of application.

Understanding and reducing the risks

How can you use emollient creams more safely?

If you care for someone who needs emollient creams, lotions or gels, you can help to  keep them safe by understanding and reducing the related risks. 

Understand the risks

Anyone using emollients regularly should keep well away from fire or naked flames, as emollients easily transfer from the skin and create a build up of residue on bedding, clothing, and dressings increasing their flammability. 

Although not flammable in themselves or when on the skin, this build up of residue on fabrics can act as an accelerant, increasing the speed of ignition and intensity of the fire. In turn, this significantly reduces the time available to act to put out the fire before serious or fatal burns are sustained, and may also be harder to extinguish than a ‘clean’ fabric fire.

Wash regularly

Wash fabrics daily at the highest temperature recommended by the manufacturer with plenty of detergent to reduce the build-up of skin cream; but, please remember, whilst washing at high temperatures might reduce the build-up, it does not remove it completely and there may still be a danger.

Furniture

Please be aware, emollients can also transfer from skin onto the fabric of furniture, cushions, and blankets when you are sitting or lying on it.

Smoking

If you are wearing clothing or a bandage that has been in contact with an emollient do not smoke.

If this is not possible, please take steps to ensure you are safe, such as using a flameless lighter or e-cigarette.

Cooking

Emollient users should also avoid cooking and any naked flames or heat source (such as, gas, halogen, electric bar or open fire) whilst wearing clothing or dressings that have been in contact with emollients or emollient treated skin.

Getting extra help

We can provide more specialist advice based on the person you care for's home and individual needs during a Safe and Well Visit.

As part of the visit we may fit free smoke alarms if the person you care for needs them. Specialist alarms can also be fitted – for example, strobe light and vibrating pad alarms for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Extra information for support workers and social workers

If you are a support worker providing care there are some extra steps to take:

  1. Complete the Person Centred Risk Assessment below – this will help you identify areas of risk to the person you care for.
  2. Report the risks to your line manager and ask them to discuss a referral for a free home fire safety visit with the client.
  3. Communicating with the person’s family or other supporting agencies to consider how Telecare can help to keep vulnerable people safer.
  4. Make sure that fire risk is included in the care plan for your client including things like using fire retardant bedding, appropriate management of emollient creams, and how to care for people who smoke.

It is a good idea to use our online DIY Safe and Well Check form to help you to spot signs that may indicate the person you care for is at risk of injury from fire and what steps you can take to reduce those risks.

For further advice and resources visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/safe-use-of-emollient-skin-creams-to-treat-dry-skin-conditions

Person centred fire risk assessment checklist (pdf 237.49 KB)