Do You Know These 5 Oil Painting Health Risks?

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Do you know about the 5 most common oil painting health risks?

Do you know how to best protect yourself, your family and pets, in the studio?

Many times, new and aspiring oil painters jump head-first into their new passion without giving the safety aspects much thought.

If you're going to paint, especially in oils, you should be familiar with the risks and how to manage your art hobby safely.

We've all heard the saying, "A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."  This is especially true when working with the toxic materials associated with oil painting.

5 Top Oil Painting Health Risks

Here are the 5 main health issues and a summary of what you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your pets.

Oil Paint Health Risks - Quick Guide

Health RiskRecommended Solution
1. Toxic Vapors and FumesGamsol Ordorless Mineral Spirits by Gamblin BUY NOW ON AMAZON
2. Flammable Fire HazardMonique artist stainless steel paint brush washerBUY NOW ON AMAZON

Behrens metal trash can with a locking lidBUY NOW ON AMAZON
3. Toxic PigmentsNitrile GlovesBUY NOW ON AMAZON

4. Toxic MediumsTour Artist Canvas ApronBUY NOW ON AMAZON

5. Toxic Eye and Skin IrritantsNoCry Safety Glasses with Clear Anti Fog Scratch Resistant Wrap-Around LensesBUY NOW ON AMAZON

1. Toxic Vapors and Fumes

There is a diversified selection of solvents available for use with oil paints.

All of them are caustic and emit vapors and fumes. And as a result can be harmful through direct skin contact and inhalation.

The difficulty is trying to find one that is inexpensive, dilutes oil paint well, and cleans brushes thoroughly while at the same time considered harmless.

Some solvents like turpentine are very effective at cleaning brushes, but aren't so great to mix with your paint. And turpentine emits highly toxic fumes.

Recommended solution for toxic fumes:

Gamblin produces odorless solvents and mineral spirits which are better health choices because they emit lower toxic fumes and vapors.

Gamsol by Gamblin is my recommended choice for reducing toxic fumes in the studio.

Gamsol is Gamblin's key product in this area. It has been scientifically formulated to perform well as both a solvent and cleaner, but at the same time being much safer, emitting less toxic fumes.

I have used Gamsol for years and it is my number one choice for my art studio. It is superior both as a paint solvent and a cleaner.

2. Flammable Fire Hazard

Regardless of the type of solvent, there is no getting around the fact that they are all flammable. This poses one of the greatest oil painting health risks.

When solvents are used, anything they come in contact with will in turn become combustible.

This includes the painting surface, the solvent itself and any spills, and most importantly saturated rags or paper towels.

Also, and most importantly, oil and solvent-soaked rags can ignite spontaneously. This means that they can burst into flames from a chemical reaction only.

It does not need an outside source such as a spark or flame to ignite.

Recommended solutions for fire hazard:

Use a stainless steel or metal paint brush washing bucket with a sealed lid.

You want to make sure your flammable solvents and solutions are sealed in an air-tight, flame-proof metal container.  The Monique artist stainless steel paint brush washer has all the features I like in a good washing bucket.

This Monique Artist Stainless Steel Paint Brush Washer will ensure your studio is safer.

The sealed lid also stops evaporation, which means your solvents will last longer.

You will also need a metal trash can with a locking lid to dispose of your oil-soaked rags.

At the end of your day, you should be collecting all dirty rags and paper towels and storing them safely in a metal trash can. You should then make sure the lid is locked and securely closed making it an air-tight and flame-proof seal.

A metal trash can with a locking lid is a necessity in your art studio.

3. Toxic Pigments

There is a small variety of raw artist pigments derived from earth minerals that cause a safety concern. The following pigments are considered carcinogenic:

Known or Probable Carcinogens / Highly Toxic Pigments
antimony white
barium yellow
burnt umber or raw umber
cadmium red or orange
cadmium yellow
cadmium barium colors
cadmium barium yellow
chrome green
chrome orange
chrome yellow
cobalt violet
cobalt yellow
lead or flake white
lithol red
manganese violet
molybdate orange
naples yellow
strontium yellow
zinc sulfide
zinc yellow

Moderately Toxic Pigments / Slightly Toxic Pigments
alizarin crimson
carbon black
cerulean blue
cobalt blue
cobalt green
chromium oxide green
manganese blue
Prussian blue
toluidine red
toluidine yellow
zinc white

Normally, these pigments cause the greatest harm when used in powder form. However, they can also be absorbed into the skin. Oil colors, unlike other forms of paint, are made from raw pigments bound in oil. The oil makes the paint more easily absorbed into the skin, and then into the bloodstream.

Learn more about the top artist oil paint brands.

Recommended solution for toxic pigments:

Wear artist quality nitrile gloves. These nitrile gloves are allergen free and powder free. Powder free means that there will be no powder residue to spill out and accidentally get into your paint mixtures and mediums.

I didn't wear gloves during the first few years that I painted. And I noticed that I always had very itchy and irritated skin around my hands, wrists and arms.  I also noticed that I felt unusually tired and sluggish after a day of painting.

I knew the symptoms were related to direct skin contact of pigments and solvents. So I started wearing painting gloves.

Once I started wearing the painting gloves, the symptoms of itchy skin and fatigue were greatly reduced.

4. Toxic Mediums

Just like solvents, all painting mediums are made from petroleum distillates. And all petroleum-based products have health risks. Follow the same precautions with mediums as you do with solvents.

Never allow prolonged contact with skin or eyes.

If accidentally ingested or splashed into the eyes, seek medical attention immediately.

Recommended solution for toxic mediums:

An artist apron can protect you and your clothes from spills and other accidents that are sure to happen during your painting sessions.

Avoiding splashes of toxic mediums and solvents by wearing protective clothing is one of the simplest ways to protect yourself in the studio.

This Tour Artist Canvas Apron with Pockets can protect you from the inevitable toxic splashes and spills in the studio.

5. Toxic Eye and Skin Irritants

Mediums and solvents are skin and eye irritants. Prolonged contact with skin can cause irritation and over time may produce a carcinogenic effect.

Never allow prolonged contact with skin or eyes.

If accidentally ingested or splashed into the eyes, seek medical attention immediately.

Recommended solution for eye irritants:

Protective eye wear such as goggles can help you avoid splashing dangerous irritants into your eyes.

These NoCry Safety Glasses can help you avoid splashing dangerous solvents and mediums into your eyes.

Summary of How to Protect Yourself

There are several ways to protect yourself while painting with oils and solvents:

These few precautions will ensure you have years of safe fun in your studio. If you know of any more hazards or precautions, please let us know about them in the comments below.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Gary Bolyer Fine Art

    Thanks for your question. I use Gamsol which is made by Gamblin Oil Paints . It is an excellent thinner for paints and is odorless and so safer to use in your studio. Turpenoid is another good solvent, which is also odorless. Thanks again.

  2. Nat Emerson

    Is there an accurate website that lists what the symptoms of long term exposure are? I have developed chronic pain in my hands and chronic throat pain, and I’m trying to figure out if this is because of being a professional artist/painter. I can’t seem to figure out what is wrong with me, and the doctors are baffled.

  3. Daphne Potgieter

    My husband has experienced the same symptoms he is also a professional artist, and we have worked out must be an allergic reaction to the turpentine, he stops and starts and every time now he starts with oil paintings he has a sore throat and because i make herbal healing creams when his hands r in pain the comfrey cream works;

  4. elizabeth marin

    i am a former professional oil painter; for twenty years I painted large canvases with oil and smaller pieces on paper with oil crayons. i used professional grade materials and used cold wax in lieu of linseed oil etc.

    A month ago I was diagnosed with stage 3 copd/emphysema. i was a professional athlete as well and have never been heavy into smoking so I was shocked by this diagnosis.

    i love everything about oils and was reckless with their usage, never taking any of the precautions I was told to. I inhaled it, used it directly with my hands at times, held my hair up with paint brushes and vice versa; my hunger for paint/ing was insatiable at times -I would have eaten it some days (not really but the appetite was ever present) as my love affair with oil paint was stronger than my love for anything else, except my children – there is an irony that the very activity I pursued to have the financial ability to provide for theml will ultimately take away years of life I could have with them as adults.
    i realize now my passion was irresponsible
    I hope others who have this same relationship with oil paint will take the precautions I didn’t.

    1. Gary Bolyer

      Thanks for your comments, Elizabeth. I hope others can learn from your experience and take the precautions they need to take. I suffered from fatigue and itching hands and arms until I made the safety changes and started wearing gloves and other protective wear. Thanks again for your insights.

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