Are Your Child's Art Supplies Toxic?

If you paint, draw, sculpt, bead, weave, or otherwise toy with art supplies, you should know you might be exposed to a whole host of unsafe chemicals and toxic fumes. Bad news for anyone, but especially for young budding artists. Pound for pound, kids’ growing bodies are most at risk. And children tend to paint, doodle, and craft more than adults do — lucky them.

Knowledge is power. So here are some of the health hazards associated with specific art materials as well as what you can do about them.

Markers and pens

Markers and pens with permanent inks and scents use chemical solvents to boost evaporation. Scented markers can also contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. Try to use markers that don’t release unsafe solvents and/or are water based. They are safer and they perform just as well!


Bake-able polymer play clays can contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, which are absorbed by the skin as you sculpt. Make sure to wash your hands after using them and before you eat, and look for phthalate-free varieties.


Traditional crayons are made with petroleum byproducts. Better options include those made from beeswax, soy oil, and other natural ingredients, especially natural dyes.


Rubber cements, model glues, spray adhesives, “super” glues, contact cements, and epoxies typically contain dangerous solvents and other chemicals that pollute the air and can be absorbed by skin. Look for water-based adhesives. White glues and pastes, glue sticks, and tape are preferable.

Powdered paints

Powdered paints present inhalation and eye safety risks even if they’re non-toxic. Ready-to-use paints are safer. The best are water-based types like tempera, poster paints, and paint pens. Avoid acrylic paints, which can contain ammonia and formaldehyde.

Spray products

Spray paints, adhesives, fixatives, and other art products typically contain hazardous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), solvents, and even ingredients like heavy metals. Their use creates toxic fumes and microscopic particles of product called aerosols, both of which remain suspended in the air where they are easily inhaled. They’re best avoided.

Instant papier-mâché

Instant papier-mâché can be contaminated with asbestos fibers.

Colored types may contain lead and/or other heavy metals. A much safer option is newsprint applied with a diluted white paste of flour and water.

Remember, the safest art supplies are less safe when common sense precautions are ignored. Take the time to wash your hands before and after your art project, and keep the room well ventilated while working. Make sure to wear a smock. Avoid skin painting. Prevent chemicals from going into your mouth by not eating and drinking while creating art.

For more information about safer art supplies, please check out our new eBook, Easy Steps to Healthy Schools and Daycares.

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