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Safe Use of Art Products

The Bottom Line

Art products are mixtures of chemicals and should be used correctly. It's common for children to swallow these products or get them on the skin or eye. Most of the time, the children are fine but mishaps can occur, especially eye or skin irritation.

The Full Story

Art activities are an important part of child development, and lots of fun! Art products are mixtures of chemicals. They should be used correctly. Many young children will swallow or chew pretty, colorful art products. Even older children may splash them into eyes or spill them onto skin.

Poison Control receives many calls about art products. Most of these cases will result in no effects at all, or only minor symptoms. Very few children who swallow, breathe or get art products onto their skin need to go to the doctor.

Poison Control receives many questions about art products such as these:

  • Chalk: Chalk contains a form of calcium. Swallowing a piece does not cause poisoning. It can be a problem if the chalk gets stuck in the throat causing pain with swallowing or a lot of drooling. This can also block the windpipe, causing a cough, breathing problems, or wheezing.
  • Pencils: Pencil "lead" is not really lead. It will not make a child sick if it is swallowed.
  • Ballpoint Pens: The very small amount of liquid ink in these pens is not harmful.
  • Markers: "Water-soluble" markers are not usually harmful. Most other felt-tip markers do not cause any poisoning if small amounts of the ink are swallowed.
  • Erasers: Erasers are not poisons but could get stuck in the throat and cause breathing trouble.
  • Glues: Most school glues (such as Elmers®) are not poisons. "Super glues" (such as Krazy Glue®) do not cause poisoning when swallowed. They can cause mouth and skin surfaces to stick together instantly. Getting any into the eye will stick eyelids together and can cause eye injury.
  • Paints: Water based paints, including latex, tempera and poster paints, may be very mild irritants to the skin or mouth. Swallowing very large amounts may cause stomach problems like vomiting. Oil-based paints may contain solvents and can cause poisoning. Sometimes people are harmed by using oil-based paints every day at work.

Art is an important part of early childhood education programs. Here are some rules to follow when children are using art products:

  • Read the label carefully and follow the instructions.
  • Throw away expired products.
  • Do not eat or drink while using art products.
  • Wash up skin, equipment and environment after use.
  • Never use products for skin painting or food decoration unless the label says it's safe for this use.
  • Store art products in their original containers.
  • Handle art products in accordance with your program's guidelines for safe chemical use and storage.

When choosing art supplies for use in child care centers and schools, the product certification should be checked. Many school art supplies have the seals of the Arts and Crafts Materials Institute (ACMI). Since 1999, ACMI has used two certification seals to rate arts and crafts materials.

  • Products with the AP (Approved Product) seal "contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans, including children, or to cause acute or chronic health problems." These AP products are the best to use with young children.
  • Products with the CL (Cautionary Label) seal are certified "to be properly labeled for any known health risks and with information on the safe and proper use of these materials." This seal is on only 15 per cent of the adult art materials in ACMI's certification program and on none of the children's art products.

If a young artist does chew on a crayon, eat some glue, or splash paint in the eyes, use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. Expert help is free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day.

Evelyn Waring, RN, BSN
Certified Specialist in Poison Information


References

Terman SM. Treatment of ocular super glue instillation. Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care. 2009;66: E70-71. doi: 10.1097/01.ta.0000239358.51680.82

Poisoned?

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Prevention Tips

When children use art products, read the label carefully and follow the instructions. Don't eat or drink while using art products. And wash up skin, equipment, and the play area after use.

This Really Happened

Case 1: A 3-year-old boy tried to glue his own eyelids together with Krazy Glue®. An hour later, Poison Control was consulted by a nurse practitioner (NP) in the emergency room. The child had dried glue around and on his eyelids and face. Poison Control recommended irrigating with warm water for 15 minutes, then applying an ophthalmic (for eye use) antibiotic ointment for 15 minutes to soften the dried glue and help prevent infection. Poison Control also advised not trying to pull off the dried glue which may cause eye or tissue damage. The nurse followed Poison Control's advice which was effective in softening and removing the glue. The child was released to home in good condition about 3 hours after getting into the glue.

Case 2: A 12-year-old girl was jabbed in the foot with a pencil. Her mom called Poison Control, concerned about lead poisoning. Poison Control reassured her that pencils contain non-toxic graphite, not lead. The child was advised to wash the puncture wound with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment. She was then fine.

Case 3: An 18-month old girl licked a paint brush that had been used with acrylic paint and also got some paint on her skin. Poison Control reassured her mom that the paint was non-toxic. She was advised to give the child something to drink and wash her skin, and the child was fine.