Are Acrylic Paints Toxic? What You (and Your Children) Need To Know

We absolutely love to use paint, its coloring is bright and bold making it great for use at home, work or school!

However, naturally we can become concerned by questions such as;

Are acrylic paints toxic and harming me? 

Can acrylic paints cause cancer? 

Am I breathing in toxic fumes when I use paints? 

Can kids use acrylic paints?


Many acrylic paint brands have been made to be non-toxic for general art use. Many water based acrylic paints do not have large amounts of hazardous ingredients in them, however you should use it in a well ventilated space and with protective gear on. We go over the hazardous ingredients potentially in paint in this article. [1] [2] 

With any product you are using, you must read the label to understand the toxicity and safe ways to use your art products.

You can also find Material Safety Data sheets online for art products, or request them from your supplier if it is unavailable. 

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The good news is that overtime with strong awareness, art materials have improved in safety a great deal. 

Many art acrylic paint brands are certified as non-toxic. 

Look for “AP-Certified Non-Toxic” or “Certified Non-Toxic”, on the label [3]

So, What’s in Paint?

Close-up view of painted blue color

The 4 Key Ingredients:

  1. Pigment (Color)
  2. Resin Binder (Holds it together)
  3. Water Solvent (Dilutes)
  4. Additives (E.G. Ammonia, Preservative, Thickener) [3]

Resin binder is essentially a glue-like substance which begins a liquid, and dries hard. Products like this give off harmful fumes including volatile organic compounds, especially in high concentrations.

Many pigments today are synthesised rather than being found naturally.

The toxic chemicals commonly used in paint which can be harmful include Volatile Organic Compounds, Cadmium, Cobalt, Manganese, Chromium, Lead, Formaldehyde, Ammonia and Titanium Dioxide. [4][5]

Exposure to some of the hazardous ingredients used in acrylic paint can have adverse side effects if precautions are not taken. 

Pictured: Paint Pigments

Short term potential issues

  • The fumes can be an irritant to your eyes, nose and throat. 
  • You may experience, headaches, dizziness, nausea or trouble breathing
  • If paint gets on your skin it can cause irritation 
  • If swallowed it can be harmful. 

Long term potential issues

  • Nervous system damage
  • Organ damage 
  • Studies suggest that some organic compounds found in paints and pigments are possibly carcinogenic. 

Are you often exposed to large quantities of acrylic paint? 

Make sure that you use protective gear and a space with plenty of air flow. 

The Facts

Here are the facts on different ingredients which are often in acrylic paints today. 

Serious caution should be taken to avoid breathing in or ingesting:

  • Chemical vapours in acrylic paint
  • Sanded particles
  • Airbrushed paint
  • Acrylic paint wet or dry


VOCs are chemicals which let off harmful gases and are sometimes found in paint which include, formaldehyde, toluene, xylene, benzene and acetone. [6] These chemicals commonly enter the body through inhalation. They can have a negative effect on the human body. Long term exposure can have affect the bodies kidneys, liver and central nervous system.


Cadmium is a rich yellow colour which is often used in yellow acrylic paint. 

Handling products with cadmium is usually harmless.

Generally, it cannot enter your body through your skin. 

However, inhaling dust particles of cadmium can trigger respiratory tract and kidney problems which can be serious. If it is ingested in a significant amount, poisoning will occur and can lead to potential organ damage. [7]


While cobalt can be good for human health in small quantities, in large quantities adverse side effects include asthma and pneumonia.
This can occur by breathing it in or swallowing the substance. [8]


Small concentrations can also be good for human health however, large concentrations of the substance inhaled can lead to lung irritation and in serious cases bronchitis or pneumonia. [9]


Health side effects include irritation of the nose and breathing issues. Allergies can be developed to the product. [10]


Lead in paint has been banned in the United States for a number of years. High levels of exposure to lead can lead to lead poisoning. [11]


Is naturally occuring, and has been used in paint, cosmetics, sunscreen and toothpaste for decades. 

While it is considered as low toxicity it can be both safe and unsafe, just depends on how it is being used. 

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, when inhaling this chemical, it is classified as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen, meaning it is possibly carcinogenic to humans. 

Please note like so many compounds, unfortunately research is inadequate in this area. There is a level of uncertainty on this products safety. 

Important precautions to follow:

  1. Reduce your exposure by making your workspace environment safe.
  2. Increase airflow in your art space through open windows and doors, or be situated in an outdoor space. Alternatively consider a mechanical ventilator. 
  3. Consider wearing a particle mask to protect yourself from fumes
  4. Wear gloves and other protective gear when handling paint. 
  5. Ensure your children do not play with paint unsupervised and store paint safely. 
  6. If you get paint on your skin, wash immediately. 
  7. Be aware of what acrylic paint and other products you have and what they contain, so you know how to safely store and dispose of the materials. 
  8. Seek non-toxic paints when purchasing. Check the label and material safety data sheet always!
  9. If you have concerns, immediately seek medical advice. 

Please note! When you wash acrylic paint off your paint brushes and your hands down the drain, our environment can also be affected.

The substances do not dissolve and are washed down the drain and into our oceans.

Make a change by disposing of these substances in an environmentally friendly way.

Remember that with a bit of background information on what is in acrylic paints, you are better informed and can make your own decisions. 

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