The Health Risks of Artists
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The Health Risks of Artists

Medical reports confirm that professional artists and art hobbyists are at risk from exposure to toxins in art supplies.

Art is a popular activity. However there also are potential health risks associated with this form of expression.

Sometimes, in order to produce a work of art, something has to be sacrificed. Before a masterpiece is released for the world to appreciate, an artist may have subjected himself, either consciously or unconsciously, to the dangers of the materials used.

Medical reports confirm that professional artists and art hobbyists are at risk from exposure to toxins in art supplies.

For example, solvents, which appear in a wide variety of art materials, can be an especially dangerous material. Many people use solvents to clean hands or brushes. Solvents also appear in glues, thinners, varnishes, lacquers and finishing sprays.

Most solvents are flammable, can irritate your skin, and cause severe problems if inhaled or swallowed. Be careful when using rubber cement thinner (hexane), acetone, trichloroethene, xylene and methylene chloride.

Paint can present several dangers – particularly if you inhale the toxic fumes. Some paints contain varying levels of cadmium, cobalt, and chromium.

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

If you enjoy making pottery, you also face exposed hazards. When working with ceramics, you are exposed to silicone in clay dusts and lead in some glazes. Welders and welding hobbyists sometimes sustain lung damage or burns on the retina from metalloid fumes. Even photographers who process their own film must be cautious of platinum salts and other chemicals used in the developing process.

Exposure to toxins can produce a variety of symptoms, including headache, dizziness, fatigue irritability, poor concentration, numbness, and tingling. After prolonged or repeated exposure, the symptoms can persist, even after you leave the toxin filled environment. If your doctor is unaware of your exposure, he or she may find it difficult to diagnose these symptoms. Note the specific art materials you use, ingredients on labels, and the duration and frequency of your exposure.

Tips on Safe Use of Art Materials

Go ahead and express your creativity, but always remember to take care of your health in the process.

  • Always work in well-ventilated areas. Tainted air should be exchanged every 10 minutes and not merely recycled. An air conditioner may not offer sufficient protection.
  • Never “sharpen” the point of a brush in your mouth; instead, use a paint palette.
  • Read the label carefully for any handling precautions and safe ways to work with the product.
  • Don’t let solvents touch your skin. If you use your hands to apply or blend paints, wear gloves specifically designed for this purpose.
  • Vary your schedule. Avoid working for extended, uninterrupted periods of time.
  • Keep your studio clean of dusts and uncovered materials, and clean up regularly.
  • Use appropriate safety equipment, such as a mask, when working with spray paints or airbrush. Be sure to choose a mask that is designed to protect you from dust, fumes or sprays.

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Comments (7)

I recall having indulged in T-shirt printing years back and inhaling textile paint was the shocking part of it. An interesting topic, Athena.

Good points and health thoughts for artist. Great write again Athena.

Ranked #6 in Arts & Crafts

Years ago I worked in cabinet/woodworking factory in the paint department, and have had several intoxication incidents from inadequate ventilation and over-exposure.

Excellent article. I've wondered about stuff like solvents - anything that smells that strong can't be good for you.

Terrific article Athena! A lot of my friends are professional artists and this contains some very good information! Will be sure to pass this on to them. Fab work!

Brilliant and highly useful article.