Your skin cream may be a fire hazard

I daresay some readers have already seen the warnings spreading from England about the use of paraffin-based skin creams.

Paraffin-based skin creams may be linked to hundreds of deaths, a senior firefighter has warned.

Chris Bell, a watch commander with West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, said the creams – used to treat a variety of skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis – are safe to use.

But he warned they can become flammable when they soak into fabrics, clothing, bandages and dressings, then come into contact with a cigarette, naked flame or other heat source.

“Hundreds of thousands of people use them, we’re not sure how many fire deaths might have occurred but it could be into the hundreds,” he told the BBC.

His comments come after an investigation by BBC 5 live Investigates and Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire found only seven of 38 products containing paraffin that are licensed in the UK carry warnings on their packaging.

There’s more at the link.

The trouble is, the word “paraffin” may apply to different substances in different parts of the world.  Wikipedia offers the following list, with links to each product for more details:

  1. Paraffin wax, a white or colourless soft solid that is used as a lubricant and for other applications
  2. Liquid paraffin (drug), a very highly refined mineral oil used in cosmetics and for medical purposes
  3. Alkane, a saturated hydrocarbon
  4. Kerosene, a fuel that is also known as paraffin
  5. Mineral oil, any of various colorless, odorless, light mixtures of alkanes in the C15 to C40 range from a non-vegetable (mineral) source, particularly a distillate of petroleum
  6. Petroleum jelly, also called soft paraffin
  7. Tractor vaporising oil, a fuel

I presume the article is referring to items 1, 2 and 5, as all of them may be used in different skin creams and pharmaceutical products.

That’s a pretty sobering thought.  I use moisturizing cream on my arms and face in the dry Texas climate, as many people do.  It’s scary to think that might be a fire hazard, under the right circumstances.  I’ll have to check my moisturizing cream carefully.



  1. I remember when "spontaneous human combustion" was a thing. Turns out, if one is set on fire so slowly the fat renders, soaking the cloth of clothes or bedding, and one becomes a candle. I remember stories of only feet being left and the fire not setting the house alight, just the bed or chair where the person was sitting…. Sooty smoke covering the ceiling and down the walls.

    This sounds similar. DIY self-immolation kit. Watch out for static up there in the dry winter!!!!

  2. That explains something. I know Paraffin as Paraffin Wax and nothing else. Always wondered what was meant when people spoke of a paraffin stove!

  3. Could also be #6. In the Boy Scouts, we made firestarters for our emergency kits by rolling cotton balls in petroleum jelly, then putting them in the waterproof bag with safety matches. The cotton acts as a wick, and the jelly burns even when the cotton ball is wet.

  4. The most important word in the article is "could". Not "is" dangerous, but "could" be dangerous.

    And the bit about "most don't have warnings" strikes me as just more government trying to exercise even more control over the market.

    Maybe this is a problem, but the article is pretty weak sauce, and smells like there's an agenda.

  5. Peter – might I suggest that you look at the Merle Norman line of body lotions etc. Their basic ingredient is Zinc Oxide which is the original sun blocker. Thus after the cream soaks in you are left with a sun blocking topical.

  6. When I flew full-time, if I had to wear cosmetics, I used powder based things only, because of the risks of exposure to pure oxygen (if we had to go on emergency masks). _Business and Commercial Aviation_ had a report of a passenger who had just applied a chap-relief balm to his lips when they had a rapid decompression. The stuff started smouldering in the presence of pure O2, at body temperature. Not a good thing.


  7. I stopped wearing a felt cowboy hat after I watched a close relative become a human candle while working on a carburator.

  8. I know there's a lot of cynicism from people here already but let's inject some more sense here.

    Is petroleum jelly (Vaseline, a trade-name skin product here) flammable? Yes. But just how much does someone actually put on themselves? And how much will actually be absorbed by their clothing?

    What's being (implicitly) stated here is that someone who slathers on a gallon or two every day, then wears the same clothing day after day (to allow a significant amount of absorption from multiple applications) will make their clothing, all of which barring wool is already flammable, a bit more flammable. Duh!

    So? I think it's just more of the (typical here) Nanny Statism that someone, somewhere (if sufficiently stupid and unhygienic) 'might' (if we stretch our imaginations to the limit) just possibly set fire to their (as already mentioned, already flammable) clothing if they just happen to (accidentally – Yeh right) wave a bare flame across it (and of course it wont be 'their' fault, no it'll be because no one put a warning label on their tub of cream, so they can sue the manufacturer). Some infinitesimally rare event 'may' happen so everyone must be restricted 'for their own good'.

    I'd even question the circumstances, and accuracy (of the report) cited by LittleRed1. High-flow oxygen and petroleum jelly is a common occurrence in hospitals and nothing has ever been reported (as far as I'm aware). OK, there's the depressurisation issue here but 'within the mask' there is the opposite (high flow-rate 'cold' O2). I'm no physicist but would be interested if any experiment could replicate body-heat induced combustion (as opposed to 'psychological' induced 'sensations' of such) even in pure O2 in truth.

    Just my opinion (more than willing to proved wrong though).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *