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My daughter loves to explore the world of art every day. She paints her hands with water color paints, make fruits with play dough, color with crayons and draw shapes with markers. When she explores art, the art materials touches her skin directly. How safe are all of these art materials? I wanted to make sure these materials are safe since she touches them and could ingest them before she washes her hands. Some chemicals can also get absorbed by the skin. In this post, I share with you how art supplies can be toxic and what non toxic art supplies are available.
Non Toxic Art Supplies
All art materials sold in US must conform to ASTM D-4236. ASTM D-4236 standard reviews and determines the product’s potential for producing adverse chronic health effects and see if the art materials are properly labeled for acute and chronic hazards. This is required for art materials for all ages. Art materials for children under 12 years old must comply with the requirements of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). The requirements include complying with the 90 parts per million limit on lead in surface coatings or paint and the 100 parts per million limit on total lead content in a product’s substrate. Some products label themselves non toxic since they meet these standards. Although some harmful chemicals are banned or limited by these standards, that doesn’t mean the art supply is completely non toxic. Toxicological assessment is based only on current scientific and medical knowledge of chemical hazards. Therefore, if the chemical is unknown, a manufacturer can state ‘absence of known hazards’ even if it is toxic. Also, although CPSIA limits toxic chemicals such as lead to 90 -100 parts per million, there is no safe lead exposure level according to World Health Organization. Therefore, while it is important to look for ASTM D-4236 and CPSIA labels on the art supply products, these labels do not mean completely non toxic.
There is another label you can look for and further safety to art materials. The Art and Creative Materials Institute, Inc. (ACMI) offers certification program to about 200 art, craft and creative material manufacturers to ensure safety in art and creative products. Their AP (Approved Product) Seal identifies art materials that are safe and that are certified in a toxicological evaluation by a medical expert to contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans, including children. If a product contains potentially harmful ingredients, the product has to have Caution Label mandated by ACMI. Any product that has this Caution Label is not safe for children. AP label also limits toxic ingredients rather than banning it so the product with AP label can still have very low levels of toxic ingredients.Therefore, products with the seal are not necessarily 100% non-toxic. However, they are a better choice than products without the seal.
Many art supply material ingredients are trade secrets so manufacturers do not have to show the complete list to consumers. Therefore, we won’t know complete ingredients. However, select products that are water-based, solvent-free, lead-free, phthalates-free, formaldehyde-free, heavy metal-free, PVC free, petroleum-based pigment-free, artificial dye & preservative-free and use organic, natural, food-safe ingredients.
Let’s take a look what better alternative non toxic art supplies are available.
Play-Dough is the most-well known play-dough brand. It is actually the first play-doughs my daughter played with. What kid doesn’t like Play-Dough right? However, I couldn’t help wondering if it is safe every time my daughter was playing with it. Play-Dough conforms to ASTM D-4236 and is CPSIA compliant. However, is it really safe? According to Play-Dough company, Play-Dough is non-toxic, non-irritating & non-allergenic except for pets or children who are allergic to wheat. Children who are allergic to wheat can have allergic reactions to Play-Dough. It can be also toxic to pets because of its high salt content if pets ingest it. Play-Dough company lists Play-Dough’s main ingredients as primarily a mixture of water, salt and flour. However, dough ingredients are proprietary information which means they are a trade secret. Therefore, Play-Dough is not required to list hazardous chemical.
According to Wikipedia, Play-Dough’s 2004 United States patent indicates it is composed of water, a starch-based binder, a retrogradation inhibitor, salt, lubricant, surfactant, preservative, hardener, humectant, fragrance, and color. That is a lot more ingredients than water, flour and salt. A petroleum additive gives the compound a smooth feel, and borax prevents mold from developing. Wired magazine also listed ingredients of Play-Dough. Among those ingredients, fragrance, borax, PEG compound are known toxic chemicals. EWG’s Skin Deep rates fragrance as highly hazardous since it often contains phthalates which are endocrine disruptors. Borax, also called sodium tetraborate is used in cleaning products to get rid of stains or mold and it can also kill insects such as ants. PEG compounds can also be contaminated with a known carcinogen, ethylene oxide and a possible carcinogen, 1,4-dioxane.
On top of Play-Dough’s questionable ingredients, some modeling clays were found containing traces of asbestos, according to Environmental Working Group tests. The brand includes ArtSkills Clay Bucket and Ja-Ru Toy Clay. Asbestos fibres are easily inhaled and carried into the lower regions of the lung where they can cause fibrotic lung disease (asbestosis). They can also cause the chest cavity (pleura). Long-term inhalation of asbestos fibres also can increase the risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma. This tells me not all play-doughs or modeling clays are safe. Since all art supplies must confirm to ASTM D-4236 and art supplies for children under 12 should be CPSIA compliant in US, they are non toxic to a certain extent. However, it will be best to find out if the company is eco-friendly and they use non toxic, organic or natural ingredients for their products.
Here are some play-doughs with better ingredients.
Eco-dough – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Eco-Dough ingredients include natural and organic fruit, plant and vegetable extracts from annatto seed, blue gardenia, curcumin, black carrot, flour, salt, cream of tartar, organic rosemary oil, vitamin e oil, soybean oil, potassium sorbate and citric acid. There are no chemicals, artificial dyes, or metals. They are colored with dyes from plant and vegetable extracts. They are made in USA.
Green Toys Dough – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Green Toys Dough is made with organic flour and food-safe ingredients. They are also packaged in recycled and recyclable materials printed with soy inks. They are made in food safe facility in USA.
Aroma Dough Play Dough For Kids – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Aroma Dough ingredients include 100% wheat-free rice flour, sodium, water, moisturizing oils, and NATURAL Aromas (no perfumes or pretend “scents”).
They are vegan, gluuten-free, soy-free, artificial fragrance-free, artificial preservatives-free and have all natural aromas. They use non-GMO ingredients.
Most conventional crayons are made from paraffin wax. Crayola is one of the most popular crayon brand and their crayons are also made primarily from paraffin wax and color pigment. Although crayons are considered non toxic, paraffin wax is made from petroleum byproducts. Production of petroleum involves toxic chemicals which are highly dangerous to human. In addition, most pigments used today are either inorganic or synthetic organic ones. According to encyclopedia Britannica, synthetic organic pigments are made from coal tars and other petrochemicals. Inorganic pigments use various chemical compounds including titanium dioxide or cadmium. If a heavy metal such as cadmium were found in the crayons, it will probably be a trace amount due to safety standards for toys in US. However, cadmium is still a toxic chemical and it is possible crayons will contain it. Also, some crayons tested positive for asbestos in the past according to 2015 CNN report. Contaminated crayons could release microscopic asbestos fibers as children use them. Breathing in microscopic asbestos fibers has been linked to lung disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Therefore, it is important to choose crayons from reputable company. Here are some non toxic crayons that do not use paraffin wax or toxic pigments.
Honeysticks Beeswax Crayons – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Honeysticks Beeswax Crayons are made of 100% pure New Zealand beeswax and food grade pigments for color. They contain no paraffin wax or cheap fillers.
Filana Organic Beeswax Stick Crayons – Non Toxic Art Supplies
Filana Organic Beeswax Stick Crayons are made with certified organic beeswax. There is no paraffin or petroleum wax, GMO ingredients, additives and cheap fillers in them.
My daughter loves to paint. She also loves to paint her hand to make handprints. Although this may be a fun activity to my daughter, it always concerned me how safe it is to put paints on her skin. There are different types of paints and some paints should be avoided for young toddlers. For young toddlers, oil paints should be avoided due to the toxic chemical solvents such as toluene and methyl alcohol they contain. Acrylic paints also contain harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and ammonia, therefore, they also should be avoided for toddlers.
Water color paint, finger paint and tempera paints are all water-based and don’t have harsh chemicals like oil or acrylic paints do. Water color paint and finger paint can be used on paper. Tempera paint is thicker than water color and it can be used on different surfaces such as paper, cardboard, wood, etc. Although many children’s water color, finger paint or tempera paints are labeled non toxic, they can still be very mild irritants to the skin or mouth according to National Capital Poison Center. Just like other art supplies, you may want to choose organic or natural ingredients for children’s paints. Young toddlers can ingest paint due to their hand-to-mouth behavior. Therefore, choosing a non toxic paints are very important. Some parents also make home made paints to be safe using flour with food coloring. Here are some non toxic paints for young kids.
Eco-Kids Finger Paint – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Eco-Kids Finger Paint ingredients include natural and organic fruit, plant and vegetable extracts from annatto seed, blue shade vegetable, curcumin, purple sweet potato, red cabbage, rice flour, earth clay. They are made in USA.
Natural Earth Paint Natural Face Paint Kit – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Natural Earth Paint Natural Face Paint is made with certified organic ingredients & mineral pigments. (distilled water, natural clay & mineral pigments, organic castor seed oil, Certified Organic beeswax, Certified Organic Shea Nilotica (Fair-trade Shea butter), glycerin (from coconut oil), cetearyl alcohol (from natural vegetable oils), carageenan seaweed, olive-mulse (olive based emulsifier), and 1% Optiphen (a formaldehyde-free and paraben-free preservative).
There are no nano particles, heavy metals, parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, petroleum-based pigments and animal products.
Natural Earth Paint Children’s Earth Paint Kit – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Natural Earth Paint Children’s Earth Paint is made of natural earth pigments, organic corn starch and gum Arabic (tree sap). They are made in USA.
Wee Can Too Veggie Finger Paint
Wee Can Too Veggie Finger Paint is made with organic vegetable and herb powders. It is vegan, and contains no wheat, no dairy, no sugar and no preservatives.
Permanent, solvent-based markers and inks have alcohol which releases vapors. Markers can be toxic through inhalation or through the skin. They used to be made with toxic solvents such as toluene or xylene. Nowadays, the ink is usually made on the basis of alcohols (e.g. 1-propanol, 1-butanol, diacetone alcohol and cresols). Alcohol based markers include Sharpies. Although markers may or may not contain toxic solvents such as toluene or xylene, alcohols can be still toxic to us including children. According to New Jersey Department of Health, inhaling 1-Butanol alcohol can irritate the nose, throat and lungs, cause headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and damage the liver, kidneys, and sense of balance. Direct contact can also irritate and burn the skin. Butyl Alcohol can affect you when inhaled and by passing through the skin. Therefore, choose water-based markers for kids instead.
Water-based markers are not made with alcohol and are also easily removed from hands and clothing. Examples of water-based makers are Crayola markers. The main ingredients of Crayola markers’ color solution are water and dyes. Specific ingredient information is proprietary. Crayola markers have been certified by Art and Creative Materials Institute’s (ACMI) for APPROVED PRODUCT (AP) seal. They are probably a better choice than many markers out there. However, I am not sure what type of dyes have been used for their markers. Most watercolor marker inks are made with synthetic color molecules and some chemical dyes can be toxic. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency suggests plant-based dyes as a better alternative to commercial dyes for children. Here is a pen product that use water-based ink with vegetable dyes.
Faber-Castell Connector Pens Bucket – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Faber-Castell Connector Pens’ water-based ink is made from food grade vegetable dyes.
Colored pencils are made of wood and may have lacquer finish. Lacquer is applied to wood to provide protection and gloss. Lacquer is a solvent based product. It often contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and can emit VOCs for weeks, months or even years. Colored pencils I listed below have natural lacquer finish or their wood is unfinished.
Lyra Waldorf Selection Giant Triangular Colored Pencils – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Lyra Waldorf Selection Giant Triangular Colored Pencils are unlacquered.
Stubby Pencil Studio Eco Highlighter Pencils – Non Toxic Art Supplies
Stubby Pencil Studio Eco Highlighter Pencils are esponsibly made in Austria (wood from managed forests) with a natural finish so they are biodegradable (no plastics, no ink solvents, no volatile organic compounds).
Chalks are made of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is used widely as a dietary calcium supplement or antacid and is not harmful. However, chalks can contain artificial colors and can be contaminated with heavy metals. Here are some non toxic chalk options.
Prang Hygieia Chalk – Non Toxic Art Supplies
Prang Hygieia Chalk is made from 95 percent pure calcium carbonate. It is free of foreign materials that work their way into the board surface causing scratching, streaking and pitting. It is certified by Art and Creative Materials Institute’s (ACMI) for APPROVED PRODUCT (AP) seal.
Urban Infant Chunky Sidewalk Chalk
Urban Infant Chunky Sidewalk Chalk is made with natural limestone (calcium carbonate) and child-safe, non-toxic dyes.
Many conventional glues are made of rubber cement and they are often used for arts and crafts projects. According to US National Library Of Medicine, breathing in large amounts of rubber cement fumes or swallowing any amount can be extremely dangerous, especially for a small child. Toxic ingredients of rubber cement include acetone, Isopropyl alcohol, trichloroethane, heptane and paradichlorobenzene. One of the ingredients, paradichlorobenzene is used in clothes moths to kill moths. According to National Pesticides Information Center, the vapor of paradichlorobenzene is toxic to insects. In humans and other animals, paradichlorobenzene is broken down in the body to form other compounds that may be harmful to cells or organs such as the liver. People can get exposure to paradichlorobenzene by breathing in its fumes, touching it directly on the skin and ingesting it accidentally. Avoid rubber cement glue or any glue that have a strong smell for children. Many adhesives contain solvents that are toxic by inhalation and skin contact. You can see some glues to avoid for children listed by Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency here. Choose water-based glue instead. Here are some water-based glue.
Tessa Bunny’s Organic School Glue – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Tessa Bunny’s Organic School Glue is made of water, organic non-GMO cornstarch, natural sea salt (no caking agent & kosher certified), organic pea protein, organic quinoa protein, and citric acid. It is gmo-free, petroleum-free, acid-free and vegan.
Tesa Ecologo Glue – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Tesa Ecologo Glue is water-based adhesive. It is free of solvent and heavy metals (Pb, Cd, Hg, Cr6+). It is also odorless.
Art smocks can be made of toxic PVC (polyvinyl chloride or vinyl) material. PVC is the most dangerous and worst plastic material. It has so many toxic chemicals including phthalates. Phthalates are chemicals used to soften or plasticize PVC products. They disrupt hormone, damage development or reproductive system and can even cause cancer. PVC also contains many other dangerous chemicals such as dioxins, lead, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, cadmium, and organotins. Dioxine is a known human carcinogen and you will find all sorts of negative health effects on toxic chemicals listed as pvc ingredients.
Smocks that are listed below are oeko-tex 100 certified. Oeko-Tex Standard 100 is an independent testing and certification system for raw, semi-finished, and finished textile products at all processing levels, as well as accessory materials used. Products are tested for harmful substances. Oeko-Tex Standard 100, class 1 for baby products tests allergenic or carcinogenic dyestuffs, finishes containing formaldehyde, heavy metals such as nickel in metal buttons, prohibited plasticizers, e.g. in plastic coatings on non-slip socks and colour fastness in case babies put a product into their mouths and suck on it. They ensure the products are harmless to children’s sensitive skin and will not trigger allergies.
Baby Bjorn Eat and Play Smock – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Baby Bjorn Eat and Play Smock is made of 50% Polyester 50%/Poly-Urethane Breathable. Textile has been tested and approved by Oeko-Tex Standard 100, class 1 for baby products.
Bumkins Waterproof Long-Sleeved Art Smock – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Bumkins Waterproof Long-Sleeved Art Smock is made of polyester material. Their fabric has been tested and achieved OEKO-TEX® Certification. It is BPA-free, PVC-free, vinyl-free, phthalate-free and lead-free.
Bumpkin Waterproof Short-Sleeved Art Smock – Non Toxic Art Supplies For Kids
Bumkins Waterproof Short-Sleeved Art Smock is made of polyester material. Their fabric has been tested and achieved OEKO-TEX® Certification. It is BPA-free, PVC-free, vinyl-free, phthalate-free and lead-free.
Art supplies often come directly in contact with kids’ skin. Young toddlers can touch and easily ingest art supply materials due to their hand to mouth behavior. They can also breathe in toxic fumes from the art materials. Toxic chemicals can also be absorbed by the skin. Therefore, it is important to find non toxic art supplies. Although many children’s art supplies are labeled non toxic, many art supply ingredients are proprietary meaning trade secret. Therefore, we won’t know exact ingredients that are used even if there are toxic chemicals. However, we can minimize kids’ exposure to toxic chemicals in art supplies by several ways. Make sure art supplies you buy have ASTM D-4236 which is required for all art supplies in US and CPSIA labels which is art supplies for children under 12 in US. If the products have AP (Approved Product) Seal by The Art and Creative Materials Institute, Inc. (ACMI), that will also reduce some exposure to toxic chemicals. However, these certifications don’t mean art supplies are completely non toxic even when the labels say non toxic. To minimize kid’s exposure to the toxic chemicals, look for art supplies that are made of non toxic, organic or natural ingredients or materials. They will be a lot better choice than many art supplies out there.
For healthy toddler shoes, please read my post, ‘Toddler Shoes Guide and Review – Toddler Shoes That Promote Healthy Foot Development‘.
For non toxic toys for toddlers, please read my post, ‘Non Toxic Gifts For Toddlers.’
For non Toxic toy brands, please read my post, ‘Best Non Toxic Toys – What Are The Best Non Toxic Toy Brands?‘