Is Skin Flammable? Will Skin Ignite?


Your skin is a lot of things, such as soft, supple, and protective. From temperature extremes to chemicals and bacteria, skin can safeguard us from it all. One thing your skin is not is flammable, right? Can skin really ignite?

Although skin can burn, such as from sun exposure, it’s not going to ignite. Skin is designed to keep your internal organs free from damage, so if it was flammable, it would fail at that basic duty. The flashpoint of skin is up to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

You may still have questions about the flammability of skin, and that’s fine, as we’ve got answers. Ahead, we’ll clear up once and for all whether skin is flammable so you can rest easy.

Your Skin Can Burn, So Can It Ignite?

Imagine this scenario. You’re spending a day on the beach with your buddies, or maybe it’s some family members. You accidentally leave your sunblock at home. You figured that since you put some on before you headed to the beach that you’ll be fine.

Then you get home, and your skin is bright red, painful, and swollen. You’ve burned your skin having fun on the beach. 

If your skin can burn, then can’t it ignite? And wouldn’t that make your skin flammable?

Flammability means that something can be set on fire easily. Your skin thus is not flammable. 

Human skin does have a flashpoint, with a flashpoint referring to the lowest temperature required for ignition. The flashpoint of your skin is 1,600 degrees, as we touched on in the intro.

Even in the hottest conditions, the temperatures are nowhere high enough to ignite your skin. 

What if you were in a burning building? A burning fire can increase the temperature to 2,000 degrees, and that is higher than the skin’s flashpoint.

However, you’d have to be exposed to flames for upwards of two hours for your skin to burn all the way to ashes. No human can withstand that pain, so thus, you’d never have to worry about your skin’s flashpoint being reached.

What About Spontaneous Human Combustion? Is That Just a Myth?

Everyone has heard about spontaneous combustion, right? If you haven’t, spontaneous combustion is when a fire occurs without any external heat source. The most common example is storing bulk quantities of coal or hay that then burns.  

Some people believe in the concept of spontaneous human combustion, which uses the same ideas behind regular spontaneous combustion but applies them to humankind. 

Supposedly, your body could just start burning at any random point. You don’t even necessarily have to be alive and it could still happen.

Many instances of supposed spontaneous human combustion have been reported over the years, but scientific experts have been able to debunk them. In most of these cases, an external ignition source wasn’t properly documented.

Even as far back as 1938, a publication of the British Medical Journal noted that “the recorded cases [of spontaneous human combustion] have these things in common…the body has not burned spontaneously, but some lighted substance has come into contact with it.” 

While spontaneous human combustion is a fun topic to explore in media like films, television shows, and video games, it isn’t something that can happen in real life. All cases of spontaneous human combustion have found a reasonable explanation. 

Tips for Protecting Your Skin from Heat Sources

Although people can’t spontaneously combust, and despite that human skin isn’t flammable, you still want to be wary of heat sources in your day-to-day life. After all, many of these sources can cause burns and other potentially serious injuries as well. 

Here are our tips for staying safe.

Always Wear Sunblock When Going Outdoors

If the sun is up, then UV rays can penetrate your skin. Even on overcast days when you can’t see the sun, it’s still there behind the clouds. Thus, you should make it a habit to wear sunblock whenever you’re going outside for prolonged periods.

One application of sunblock is usually only good for two hours, but that timeframe can be lessened if you’re sweating a lot, or you’ve gotten wet. Be sure to reapply when you need it, as one coating of sunblock is not enough for all-day sun protection. 

When Your Skin Is Sunburned, Avoid More Sun Exposure

Most people experience sunburns in the summer, which is also the time of year when they have a social calendar a mile long. A sunburn should crimp your style for a day or two, especially if you have outdoor plans.

Your already tender and damaged skin is more susceptible to sun damage. If you don’t already have blisters, those could develop. Your sunburn will become redder and more painful and could progress from first-degree to second-degree or worse if you spend an entire day outside.

Try to give your skin a few days to rest and recover before you go out. 

Test Your Hot Water Heater Temperature

The temperature of your hot water heater does not need to be scorching for you to get hot water for your shower or to make your coffee. That’s a common misconception among homeowners. 

The recommended temperature for your hot water heater is 120 degrees. 

If yours is any higher than that, turn the temps down. Should the hot water heater malfunction or break, the scalding water could seriously burn you and your other family members! 

Use Oven Mitts and Potholders When Handling Heavy Pots and Pans

Although you know how your oven and stovetop work quite well, it’s impossible to tell which temperatures these appliances are operating at. Grabbing at a hot pot or pan right after it comes off the stovetop is a great way to get burned. 

Please use oven mitts and/or potholders to protect your skin.

Don’t Cook at Very High Temperatures

You might be in a rush to get dinner on the table but cranking up the temps is rarely the way to go about it. You’ll burn your meal, and you’re at a higher risk of burning yourself as well. 

Fortunately, human skin is not flammable. That doesn’t mean your skin is impervious to damage though, especially sun and fire damage. We hope this article helps you better safeguard your skin!

Mike Pertz

I’m Mike, I’m a full time firefighter/paramedic/diver for a department just west of Cleveland, Ohio and the founder of FirefighterNOW. I’m also a columnist for FireRescue1. If you’re reading this blog my guess is you are interested in the fire service. There's information on fitness, gear, interviews, tests and more. I hope you find what you're looking for.

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