The fire risks of paraffin based skin emollients have long been recognised. A patient’s dressings, bandages or clothing that are saturated with paraffin based emollients can catch fire when exposed to a lit cigarette or naked flame.

The flammability risks are increased when:

  • emollients are applied to large areas of the body.
  • high paraffin content emollients are used.
  • dressings, bandages or clothing become saturated with the emollient.

Examples of paraffin-based emollients include white soft paraffin, white soft paraffin with 50% liquid paraffin, emulsifying ointment, Emollin spray, or Doublebase gel.

The risks associated with the flammability of paraffin containing emollients were communicated to healthcare professionals in a Drug Safety Update issued in January 2008. A further Drug Safety Update was issued in April 2016 as a reminder for healthcare professionals about the advice to be given to patients using paraffin based emollients. This revised safety update was issued following a fatal incident reported to NRLS where a naked flame ignited emollient in contact with a patient’s dressings and clothing.

Patients using paraffin based emollients should be advised:

  • Not to smoke.
  • Keep away from naked flames or other sources of ignition e.g. gas hobs, gas fires or anything that could cause a fire.
  • Chairs and soft furnishings can also become impregnated with the emollient increasing the fire risk.
  • Clothing or bedding should be changed regularly, ideally daily, because emollients can soak into the fabric, causing them to become a fire hazard.
  • Patients who use oxygen should use water based moisturisers such as KY jelly or a non-paraffin containing product.

This advice should be provided to all patients and carers irrespective of the strength of paraffin containing products being used.

Patients who are known to be smokers or who require large quantities of paraffin containing emollient (more than 100g) should be considered for water based emollient therapy.