Is acrylic paint toxic?

Acrylic paint is one of the most widely used paint all across the globe by artists and commercial painters. Due to its reliable performance, consistent spread across the canvas, and being purchasable at an affordable price makes it dominates the paint market.

You might wonder if your trustworthy paint of choice is harmful to you or not and whether it may contribute to any toxic effects or changes in your body. Are we aware of the risks and can any preventive measures be taken for stopping them from harming us?

acrylic paint color
image courtesy: steve; source:

Well, you have come to the right place. As in this article, we will discuss if acrylic paints are indeed toxic for you or not. So let’s find out.

Components of acrylic paint

Primarily there are three main components present in acrylic paint. They are as follows


Grains of solid particles present in the acrylic paint responsible for coloration are called pigments. These grains can be from any origin, that is they can be either natural, synthetic, or organic. They suspend within the paint solution as they are extremely small.


Binder is responsible for keeping the pigment intact after the entire paint solution dries up. The most commonly used binder for manufacturing acrylic paint is an acrylic polymer. This polymer forms a thin film over the surface of the application after the paint dries up completely.


The soluble portion of the acrylic paint responsible for carrying the pigment and binder is called the vehicle. Just like that water-based acrylic paints, water can be considered as the vehicle which when
combined with the paint solution creates a polymer emulsion.

Points of consideration to be made before using acrylic paint

  • The acrylic paint dries very quickly and hence the paint job must be done in a short period. Acrylic paints are water-based. Hence, the rate of drying of the paint after application depends totally upon the rate of evaporation of water which is considerably fast as compared to other solutions under normal weather conditions.
  • Acrylic paint does flex. Acrylic paints are water-soluble. Hence, they dry pretty fast and do not need any strong or harsh solution for cleaning. Once it dries up, acrylic paints become insoluble and flexible as compared to oil paint. Because oil paint has a comparatively brittle texture.
  • The paint can adhere permanently to most surfaces. This is because acrylic paint contains no traces of wax or oil. Therefore apart from using the regular canvas acrylic paints can be applied on metal, wood, stone, glass, plastic, and cardboard.
  • Once dried up acrylic paints are permanent and will not dissolve in water. This is because once the paint completely dries and gets cured, it becomes highly chemically stable.
  • Acrylic paints do not have characteristic odors in them and are non-flammable as well. The binder used in acrylic paint is an acrylic polymer emulsion that is present in the solvent which is water. This leads to the overall characteristics of the paint being water-based. And makes it non-flammable while in a liquid state. However, it is to be noted that after the paint dries up, the water content evaporates completely the characteristics of the paint might change.
  • Acrylic paint comes in a variety of textures and consistency to suit the specific needs of any artist.
acrylic paint mix
image courtesy: zak; source:

Points to keep in mind when purchasing acrylic paints and looking out for toxins

Ingredients of acrylic paint

There are oil-based paints available in the market. Oil-based acrylic paints contain vegetable oils along with solvents and mediums which make them extremely harmful and toxic to human health and the entire environment.

As a much safer option to this acrylic paints contain the same pigments as that oil paints and use acrylic polymer as their binder.

However, you must note the ingredients used in the paint as it may contain some hazardous materials. Therefore checking the label before purchasing the acrylic paint is a must.

ASTM warning label

Before purchasing any tube of acrylic paint lookout for the ASTM warning label behind it which indicates if it is safe or not and whether it is free from any harmful acrylic paint toxins.

The American Society for testing material ASTM can be considered a global standard for verifying the chemical composition of Acrylic paint. If you are planning to use your acrylic paint for different application methods, you need to make sure that it is safe to use.

For example, spray painting involves pushing the paint particles into the air before it adheres to the application surface.

Propylene glycol is released into the environment during the drying up process of acrylic paint. This chemical substance is safe for humans. But it has been proved to be very harmful to the nature and environment.

Therefore, it must not be drained down the pipeline or tossed directly into the garbage. Because it may have some adverse effects.

Are the ingredients used in the manufacture of Acrylic paint is toxic?

Well, the ingredients used for the manufacturing process of Apple Inc. means can be toxic. But it does not apply to every kind of acrylic paint available on the market.

Depends on the manufacturer’s overall cost and the quality of effective infrastructure which determines what content should be used to produce acrylic paints. Though there are brands that manufacture non-toxic acrylic paints the major market is taken by the toxic ones as those prove to be more affordable.

Let us have a look at some of the most toxic elements. 


Usage of lead in the manufacturing of acrylic paints is completely banned in the United States.

However, if you buy acrylic paints from abroad or those manufactured overseas, it is highly probable that the paint will have lead content in it. Because it significantly reduces the cost of manufacturing and is not banned in all countries.

It is not only lead them can be a threat to your health while using Acrylic paints but also the presence of heavy metals in acrylic paints is also common. This can prove to be potentially dangerous.

These heavy metals can have some dangerous effects. While some can cause damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, heart, and others and can even initiate non-curable and deadly diseases like cancer.

If these paints are used regularly over years, heavy metals can be responsible for immediate organ failure. And in extreme cases even death.


Cadmium is commonly used by a lot of manufacturers. It is to be used as the main ingredient of colorant in acrylic paints. It is suspected to be a carcinogen. Therefore, it can be said with utmost certainty that exposure to this element for a significant amount of time beyond certain levels can be the root cause of cancer.

This ingredient is also mixed with another potential key ingredient which is Titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide is also suspected by health experts as a possible carcinogen and the root cause of cancer in several cases.


If consumed in appropriate proportions manganese can contribute to a healthy diet. However, its effects become exactly opposite when it is inhaled as it can be extremely harmful to the nervous system of a human being. Therefore, it secures a prominent place as a highly toxic ingredient present in acrylic paint.

As discussed before, the heavy metals used in the manufacturing of acrylic paint are hazardous to health. Once they reach inside the body, they start accumulating and can eventually replace essential minerals present in the body thereby leading to overall system damage.

With due course of time, the organ system will receive more and more damage which can ultimately lead to organ failure and in the worst cases even death.

Coastal_Colors_acrylic paints

Is Acrylic paint toxic for human beings?

Indeed, most acrylic paints available on the market generally are non-toxic to humans. This is because most acrylic paints are water-based and do not cause harm when used for the typical application of acrylic painting. Acrylic paints can contain toxic chemicals that one can find by reading their label.

Generally, cobalt, cadmium, manganese, lead, and chromium contribute to the toxicity of acrylic paint. With the advancement in technology, there are alternative options of acrylic paint which have close to no harmful chemicals in them and come at a higher cost.

While it will never cause any harm if applied on the canvas with the paintbrush. But it can have some bad effects on health if used for airbrushing or sanding purposes during which there is a chance for the paint to get into your stomach on lungs.

However, speaking in general, acrylic paints are very safe to use when compared with other options available in the market and if used properly. They can easily be washed off from the hands of the painter or other places by using water as acrylic paints are water-based paints.

Is Acrylic paint toxic and harmful if applied to human skin?

The key ingredients used in the manufacture of acrylic paint determine whether is harmful to your skin or not. If it contains any of the toxic ingredients discussed in this article, it will be harmful to you, your skin, and your entire body.

Applying acrylic paints on the skin containing traces of heavy materials. Those materials can give rise to skin irritation and other skin problems.

Not only that the skin can absorb the traces of heavy metals present in it, thereby opening a gateway of possibilities for those ingredients to harm the internals of the human body.

Some paints contain little to no harmful ingredients and can be used to apply to skin for artistic purposes.

In general, with the non-toxic variations of acrylic paints available in the market, application on the skin isn’t dangerous it is only the allergies that have to be dealt with beforehand before proceeding with paint application.


Is acrylic paint dangerous for babies?

Definitely yes!

Whether you choose acrylic paint having harmful substances or choose those non-toxic versions of the paint, acrylic paints are not good for babies and toddlers.

Young children tend to do painting with their fingers. And they are very likely to put them inside their mouths irrespective of what is present in their fingers.

In this scenario, acrylic paints not only will cause skin allergies but also there is a high risk that the paint will be swallowed. Thereby deploying harmful and toxic ingredients inside the non-resistive bodies of toddlers.

Another significant point that needs prior consideration is that young kids and babies are extremely sensitive to irritants. Hence, something extremely mild for an adult might be proved to be extremely harsh on the skin of babies. know more about acrylics usage by kids in this guide for better understanding

Is it dangerous to breathe acrylic paint?

Yes! Acrylic paint can be proved to be hazardous to health if inhaled.

If the ingredients list of the acrylic paint suggests the presence of heavy metals or other toxic substances, it will be extremely risky to paint using the technique of airbrushing as the chances of inhaling those substances directly are incredibly high.

The pneumatic tool used during airbrushing mixes the paint contents with air thereby making it sprayable. The main purpose of this is to atomize the paint and hence highly increase the probability of inhaling it.

The lungs of the human body are not specifically designed to deal with substances and toxins present inside acrylic paints. It is highly recommended to wear a proper filtering mask before performing such a task of painting.

Even if the application of paint is done by using brushstrokes, it can be proved to be unsafe for health. Why? Because during the drying process the paint may release harmful gases.

Some of the commonly released harmful gases or toluene, benzene, xylene, or formaldehyde. In most cases, the acrylic paint is not toxic after drying up. But the drying process may involve the release of toxic fumes. Hence, the presence of a well-ventilated area is a must.


Acrylic paint is toxic to human health and should never be consumed or applied to the skin without prior knowledge of the ingredients used to manufacture the paint. Even if the paint is not toxic for toddlers and young children should not be exposed to such paints as it can have hazardous effects on them.

Inhaling acrylic paints during the process of spray painting or other means can be proved to be potentially dangerous. The heavy metals present in it might contribute to the risk of cancer in an individual.


Can acrylic paint harm you?

In general acrylic paint is extremely safe for daily use. However, there are several toxic elements present in acrylic paint. Those can be a threat to human health if inhaled, consumed accidentally, or applied to the skin without prior knowledge of the harmful substances present in it.

Can you eat toxic acrylic paint?

If you swallowed acrylic paint, then it can mildly irritate your skin and as well as stomach. However, water-based paint is generally non-toxic.

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