Health Hazards of Artists

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.“ But if you are the artist, you could unknowingly subject your eyes, skin, stomach or lungs to dangers from the materials you use.

Recent medical reports confirm that professional artists are at risk from exposure to toxins in art supplies. However, these hazards also apply to art hobbyists.

Art is an activity popular with creative individuals. However, there are dangerous health hazards linked with this form of expression.

One health risks are solvents, which appear in a many art materials, can be an especially hazardous material. Many artists use solvents to clean their hands or brushes. Solvents are present in varnishes, finishing sprays, thinners, lacquers and glues.

A lot of solvents are fire hazards and skin irritants, and can be a cause of severe problems if swallowed or inhaled. Be careful when using xylene, methylene chloride, hexane (rubber cement thinne), trichloroethene and acetone.

Paint can present several hazards if you inhale the toxic fumes. A lot of acrylic paints and watercolor have varying levels of cobalt, chromium, and cadmium.

If you restore old furniture, painted woodwork, or oil paintings, some of the paints you use may consist of large concentrations of lead.

If your chosen art is pottery making, you also face health risks. You are exposed to lead in some glazes and silicone in clay dusts when working with ceramics. Welding hobbyists and welders are prone to bums on the retina or sustain lung damage from inhaling metalloid fumes. Even photographers who process their own film must be extra cautious of platinum salts and other chemicals used in the developing process.

Being exposed to toxins can produce a number of symptoms, such as poor concentration, fatigue, irritability, dizziness, headache, numbness and tingling. After years of repeated or prolonged exposure, the symptoms can continue, even after you leave the toxin-filled workplace. Your doctor may find it impossible to diagnose these symptoms if he or she is unaware of your exposure. Remember the materials you utilized, ingredients on the labels, and the frequency and length of time of your exposure.

Among both professional hobbyists and artists, some groups of people face exceptional hazards:

  • Elderly persons - With time, your skin loses some of its ability to prevent toxic agents from being absorbed into your body. Aging lungs, kidneys or liver may be less efficient in eliminating hazardous materials.
  • Smokers – Smoking weakens the capability of the lungs to remove toxic dust deposits you inhale from the air. The catastrophic result is smokers may retain more of these toxic chemicals. Also, by inhaling other toxins, the detrimental effects of cigarette smoking are often increased.
  • Infants and young children - Youngsters who ingest a toxic substance retain more and eliminate less than adults who ingest the same material. Children should use nontoxic supplies.
  • Pregnant women - The fetus can be exposed to the same hazardous chemicals as the mother through circulation of her blood to the placenta. Therefore, if you are pregnant, avoid working with any compound containing lead, cadmium or mercury, as well as with solvents. Also, avoid contact with aerosol art products.
  • Persons with a previous health condition - Individuals at risk include those with advanced skin disease or chronic problems with the lungs, liver, kidneys or heart.
  • Hypersensitive persons - This group includes individuals with asthma or allergies to substances in art materials.

Some Creative Tips on the Safe Use of Art Materials

It is alright to express your creativity, but do not forget your health in the process:

  • Refer to the label and read carefully for specific handling precautions and safe ways to work with the art material.
  • Utilize the paint palette to sharpen the brush point, DO NOT use your mouth.
  • It is important to have a good ventilation in your work area. Tainted and toxic air should be exchanged every couple minutes and not just recycled. Air conditioners are not sufficient protections.
  • Avoid working for uninterrupted and extended length of time. Have alternate schedules.
  • Clean your studio regularly. Keep clean of dusts and uncovered materials.
  • Do not let solvents get contact with your skin. If you must use your hands to blend or apply paints, wear specifically-designed gloves for this task.
  • Wear proper safety equipment, such as a mask, when creating art with an airbrush. Choose a mask that is designed to protect you from sprays, dust or fumes.


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