UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Toxicology

Title: What is the cause of his burn?

Keywords: Tox image, skin (PubMed Search)

Posted: 5/14/2020 by Hong Kim, MD
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A 19 year old man presents with a scalp lesions/burns after an exposure to incendiary agent. His wounds were smoking and they flouresce under UV light. 

What is the causative agent?



Answer: White Phosphorus

White phosphorus is an incendiary agent that is use in certain types of miliary munition (e.g. smoke grenades). It is very lipophilic and penetrates the skin easily.

It self-ignites spontaneously when exposed to ambient air/oxygen and readily burns skin, cloths, and other combustible materials.


  • Prompt irrigation with water and apply damp dressing.
  • Surgical debridement of the lesions/burns are required due to absorption of white phosphorus into skin.


Conner JC et al. White phosphorus dermal burns. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:1530