Skin creams containing paraffin linked to fire deaths

Phillip Hoe sat in his living room

Image caption

Sparks from Philip Hoe’s cigarette reacted with a cream he was covered in

Skin creams containing paraffin have been linked to dozens of fire deaths across England, the BBC has learned.

The products for conditions like eczema and psoriasis can leave people at risk of setting themselves ablaze.

If people use the creams regularly but do not often change clothes or bedding, paraffin residue can soak into the fabric, making it flammable.

The medicines regulator has updated its guidance and says all creams containing paraffin should carry a warning.

Despite warnings going back more than 10 years, BBC Radio 5 live Investigates has discovered there have been 37 deaths in England since 2010 linked to the creams.

‘Sneaky cigarette’

Carol Hoe’s husband Philip died after accidentally setting himself on fire at Doncaster Royal Infirmary in 2006 when sparks from a cigarette reacted with the emollient cream he was covered in.

“I got a phone call from the ward sister to say can you get to the hospital as soon as possible, Philip’s had an accident,” she said.

“Philip had caught fire. He had sneaked off onto a landing for a sneaky cigarette, a gust of wind must have caught the lighter, and it set fire to him.”

‘Engulfed in flames’

Within seconds Mr Hoe, who was receiving treatment for psoriasis, was engulfed in flames and he died shortly after being transferred to another hospital in Sheffield.

“When we got there, the staff came to me and told us he was covered with 90% burns,” said Mrs Hoe.

“There was nothing they could do.”

The coroner at his inquest drew attention to the dangers posed by skin creams, and the now defunct National Patient Safety Agency advised that paraffin-based products are easily ignited with a naked flame if used in large quantities.

The Medicines and Health Care Products Regulatory Agency later issued two more warnings, but deaths continued to occur.

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Christopher Holyoake died after his bedding, which was covered in paraffin residue, caught fire

The coroner at the inquest into the death of 63-year-old Christopher Holyoake in Leicester in 2015 heard his bedding was covered in residue from an over-the counter dermatological cream called E45.

When the flame from his cigarette lighter came into contact with the bedding, the residue acted as an accelerant, giving Mr Holyoake little chance of surviving the fire.

After the inquest the coroner wrote to the manufacturer of E45 – outlining her concerns there were no warnings on the packaging about the product being highly flammable.

Pipe smoker died

E45 has since agreed to include a flammability warning on some products and these will find their way onto shop shelves from next month.

Also in 2015, an inquest into the death of 84-year-old John Hills heard he died in a nursing home in Worthing, West Sussex, after setting himself on fire with his pipe.

A paraffin-based cream called Cetraben had soaked into his clothes and was found to have played a part in his death.

Skin creams containing paraffin linked to fire deaths