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.
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.
Exposure to an open flame (or any possible cause of ignition).
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.
Discourage patients from smoking, and offer practical advice to quit; if they intend to smoke, advise them to wear a thick outer covering that is free of paraffin.
Stress importance of frequently washing clothing and bedding that are exposed to paraffin.
Encourage them to share the information with their relatives.
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
White soft paraffin
White soft paraffin plus 50% liquid paraffin
Alternatives to paraffin products
Less greasy emollient creams with lower fire hazard may be suitable.