July 16th, 2019

To Your Health: Moisturizers could increase risk of fire at home

By Gillian Slade on February 11, 2019.

The moisturizers and creams you apply to your face and hands could be exposing you to a higher risk of fire, experts in the United Kingdom have recently warned.

The creams we use, including those for eczema and psoriasis, seeps into our clothes making them more susceptible to burning in a fire.

A video was released showing fabrics bursting into flame within 20 seconds. In a specific test scientists discovered that plain cotton fabric, that was not contaminated with creams, took 65 seconds before it began burning.

It takes it to another level when you consider many of us use body creams before going to bed and our sheets and bedding could be harbouring a residue of emollients.

Like me, you are probably thinking that you regularly wash your clothes and bedding and that would get rid of an residue from emollients. It is not that easy. Some of the residue can remain on the fabric even after being washed.

We tend to favour products that coat our hands and face and remain in place even after hand washing or sweating. If you have ever washed your face and neck at night, rinsed and then taken a white towel to your face you have probably noticed a coloured residue on the clean towel. It can take several washes before it is all removed and truly free of residue.

Scientist are now looking at ideal washing temperatures and procedures that will do the best job at removing residues of emollients.

Bear in mind that we are not only exposed to open flames when there is a building on fire. Most of us use barbecues, light candles, some light cigarettes, and perhaps cook over a gas flame – all exposing us to open flames.

Burning of clothing can result in horrific burns.

In fact there are reports of people being burned or dying after burn when cigarette embers ignited their skin due to a skin cream.

Originally creams with a high percentage of refined mineral oil were considered the most dangerous but the risk in others has now also been noted. Even creams without any mineral oil can build up on fabrics over time making them quicker to burn.

The research was published in the Fire Safety Journal.

Although about 37 deaths were linked in the UK to emollient creams between 2010 and 2017 some fire experts suggest it could be much higher because the connection may not have been identified in other cases.

Particularly in the last week, with extremely cold temperatures, we have all been reaching for additional skin care creams to address dry skin, the richer the better with staying power. Of course that must continue, there is no alternative.

However, it is good to be reminded of the risks and take extra precautions when you are near sources of heat and open flames. It is also a good idea to checking your bedding and clothing after washing to ensure any residue is being washed away.

Here’s to keeping your skin moisturized and protecting yourself from open flames.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or 403-528-8635.

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