Is acrylic paint toxic?

Topics Discussed

In general, acrylic paints available via arts and crafts supply stores are not / should not be toxic or hazardous to humans or animals. Most ‘store available’ acrylic paints are diluted with water (i.e. water-based solutions), which helps to ensure safe use. Despite this, when used in the wrong way / wrong form of human contact, of course there are dangers to be aware of. 

Acrylic paints that contain toxic chemicals normally always highlight these ingredients on the packaging. The organisation ASTM International (formerly known as The American Society for Testing and Materials) ensures that any dangerous chemicals included within acrylic paints are clearly visible on product packaging.

Unsafe contact such as inhaling or ingesting should also be noted (and obviously avoided). Potential illnesses that may arise from chemical toxicity include the likes of cancer.

Some common (dangerous) acrylic chemicals/metals include:

  • Manganese
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Chromium
  • Cobalt

Other chemicals / substances such as epoxy and polyester should also be used with caution, together with a mask / face protection.

A general rule for thumb for artists or factory workers working around significant amounts of acrylic paints or sprays is to make sure to cover the face at all times. This helps to avoid inhaling toxic chemicals such as those listed above.

acrylic paint tubes

Is acrylic paint toxic to skin?

Establishing the dangers of acrylic paint when in contact with human skin begs the question “What type of testing is conducted in order to establish the extent of these dangers?”. 

It’s also important to consider how brands test the dangers associated with acrylic paint and skin contact. For instance, such ‘tests’ may examine potential dangers when paints are present on paint brushes themselves, as opposed to the dangers of contact with human or animal skin.

Therefore, this information can often be misleading. In order to keep as safe as possible, it is recommended that artists that use acrylic paints and sprays should cover themselves with safety gloves (such as nitrile gloves).

Is acrylic paint toxic to babies?

Considering the potential hazards associated with acrylic paints when in contact with all forms of human or animal skin (such as those outlined above), babies and toddlers are no exception and therefore must be watched closely when in the close proximity of such paints and chemicals. 

Preventing babies and young children from touching or pulling at paint jars containing potentially toxic chemicals is important in order to avoid any potentially dangerous chemicals. To stay on the safe side, simply remove all paints and sprays out of their reach and sight.

Of course, for older children and adults wishing to paint with acrylics, provided that an adult reads the labels beforehand in order to ensure best safety practices, there should be no cause for concern. Linkages to illness and health effects are generally only related to ‘large scale exposure’ to acrylic chemicals in industrial / factory / intensive art environments, as oppose to recreational, small scale usage.

Is it true that acrylic paint may lead to cancer?

Some research has suggested that the chemical ‘cadmium’ (found in acrylic paints and sprays) may lead to cancer in circumstances of significant exposure over long periods of time (industrial and ‘intensive’ art studio environments). Other health effects such as poisoning of the liver as well as respiratory conditions have also been linked to large scale cadmium exposure.

Cadmium-free acrylic paints have therefore become a more popular choice for artists in recent years, however most cadmium acrylic paints should be fine to use, provided the correct safety and precautionary measures are in place.

In general, it should not be assumed that acrylic paint available in a standard arts and craft store will lead to adverse health conditions. Standard volumes of paints and sprays available for small scale recreational use are more than okay to use, provided the safety measures discussed above are in place. 

To reiterate, some precautionary measures include:

  • Room ventilation
  • Face masks/covers
  • Nitrile gloves

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