Thermal burns associated with the use of ointments

Author: Isabelle Lewis, House officer, Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, New Zealand. DermNet New Zealand Editor in Chief: A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. September 2017.

Introduction

Paraffin–based ointments and creams are often used to treat common skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis. Unfortunately, they are potential fire hazards. Ointments and creams are applied directly onto skin, as well as onto dressings and clothing, and are easily ignited with a naked flame or cigarette resulting in serious thermal burns or death.

The risks include:

Advice to patients in all settings

Patients should be informed of the associated fire hazard of paraffin based products when they are first prescribed them, both in an inpatient and outpatient setting.   

Paraffin fire hazard in the media

Paraffin–containing skin creams have recently come into the spotlight after being linked to several deaths from fire. One BBC article reported that since 2010 there have been 37 fire deaths in England that have been linked to the creams.  

Examples of paraffin based products

Alternatives to paraffin products

Less greasy emollient creams with lower fire hazard may be suitable.

Related information

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