Can You Be Allergic To Acrylic Paint?

It is possible to get allergic reactions due to the substances that are present in acrylic paint’s paint fumes. Some acrylics are known to include a small amount of formaldehyde or other substances that delay mold growth. Formaldehyde and similar mediums are responsible for some people developing allergies.

Can You Be Allergic To Acrylic Paint?

If you are a painter and have recently noticed some forms of allergic reactions, you might have started wondering whether they occur due to the paint you use. This article will provide all the information you need related to acrylics and allergies that they might cause. You will read about the possible symptoms, substances that you should avoid, and treatment methods that might help you if you end up with an allergic reaction. Keep reading to get more information on Can You Be Allergic To Acrylic Paint?

Since acrylics are water-based paints, they do not contain any toxic substances or harmful mediums that make you sick. If there are some toxins in the content of the paint, it would be included on the label of the paint since manufacturers are obliged by law to provide all the substances included in a product. Therefore, if you were worried about toxic materials in acrylics, you should relax because there are not any. 

However, some acrylic paints might consist of substances that can cause allergic reactionsOpens in a new tab. in some people. Of course, people are not all the same. Therefore, their bodies react differently to different substances. In other words, some bodies may stand different substances without any damage, while others might develop different reactions to some acrylic paints. 

Acrylics are pigments that have been suspended in a polymer emulsion. They are liquified and thinned by the presence of water, meaning that they are water-based colors. Since they are water-based, they do not need any special or harmful solvents in painting as some other types of paint do. 

Nonetheless, some types of acrylic paints might consist of formaldehyde or similar substances that cause allergic reactions to some people. These substances are used in paint to prevent mold growth, so their effect would be long-lasting and quite durable. They are not harmful, i.e., they do not have a toxic structure. However, they do not work well with the skin sensitivity of some people. 

Do All Acrylic Paints Include Formaldehyde In Their Structure?

It usually depends on the brand; therefore, not all acrylic paints you come across will contain formaldehyde in their structure. However, the quality acrylics usually have a small amount of this substance to act as a preservative. Therefore, if you would like to achieve excellent vibrant colors on your paintings, you should expect that the acrylics would have some formaldehyde in them. 

On the other hand, some acrylic paints use this substance to prevent mold growth so that the paint can stay longer on the surface in good condition. These paints might contain a higher amount of formaldehyde or some other similar substances. Since acrylics are water-based paints, they are more likely to get moldOpens in a new tab., so they need something to prevent that. 

However, not all people are allergic to formaldehyde, meaning that only those sensitive to it will develop some allergic reactions. In some cases, people that are allergic can experience irritation in the eyes, nose, or throat. Nonetheless, it is important to understand that you will experience symptoms if you already have a developed allergy to formaldehyde, i.e., it will not happen all of a sudden. 

That is why it is smart to wear gloves while painting or washing your hands regularly after touching the paint. This way, you will avoid getting paint on your hands and spread it in your mouth or on your face.

Allergy Symptoms To Acrylic Paint

People who are sensitive to formaldehyde or similar substances will develop different symptoms of the allergy. These are not always the same for every individual, so you should expect different reactions. Some people might develop only one of the symptoms, while others can develop all of them. 

The usual symptomsOpens in a new tab. of acrylic paint allergy are sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, and cough. These happen when a person inhales the fumes from the paint, while they can also enter through the eyes. Usually, the fumes of the paint can easily spread if you are painting in a small room without many windows, so there is not much fresh air, and you can easily inhale them. 

On the other hand, you can also experience some symptoms on your skin if you have high skin sensitivity. People who deal with high skin sensitivity usually experience the symptoms through allergic reactions that appear on their bodies. 

Therefore, if you have sensitive skin, you might experience irritation or discoloring of the skin, itchiness, rash, and sometimes blistering. People with susceptible skin might experience swelling and burning, and in these cases, you must seek medical help immediately. Those who are severely allergic might be in danger when there is an extreme allergic reaction to formaldehyde. 

David M. Kessler Fine ArtOpens in a new tab.

Safety Tips

Since acrylics release chemical fumes that can cause allergic reactions and are not good for inhaling altogether, you should always make sure that you are painting in ventilated spaces to provide fresh air. If you are working on a tiny project inside your home, you might not notice the smell and the fumes. However, even if the project is tiny and the smell is not noticed, you should always make sure that you ventilate your workspace. 

On the other hand, if you are working on a bigger project and airbrushing or sanding acrylics, you should opt to work outdoors. If that is not possible, pick a big enough room, and it can be ventilated properly. Also, do not keep food in the room where you paint to avoid any possible touch with the paint in your mouth. 

How To Treat Allergic Reactions To Acrylic Paint

If you are already dealing with some allergy for some time, you probably have some medication or a method to treat the allergy once you get a reaction. However, it is also important to know how to ease the reaction once you have it and make yourself more comfortable when the symptoms appear. Some ways can help you achieve that, and they are effortless, so you will not have to take some special measures. 

Firstly, you need to try to avoid the irritation that might result from the allergic reaction. So, the moment you react, you should avoid exposure to your working space or reduce the amount of time you spend exposed. The best thing you can do is to ventilate the room where you work as much as you can, i.e., open all the windows you have, turn on your fans, or ultimately, start painting outdoors. 

In addition, if you are using acrylic paint in an airbrush machine, make sure that you wear safety goggles to protect your eyes. This is a highly recommended measure since the machine can produce many paint particles that can enter your eyes and harm them, i.e., it is quite dangerous, so protection is mandatory. You can also find some face masks that will cover your whole face while airbrushing or sanding acrylic paint. 

Furthermore, if you notice that acrylic paint makes your skin itchy and irritated, you should put on some gloves. This will help you avoid direct contact with your skin while you handle paints and other substances. You can opt for plastic disposable gloves, or you can also go for the reusable cotton ones. 

Whichever type of gloves you choose, you should know that they play an essential role and will really protect your skin. In addition, if you are aware that you might have an allergic reaction, make sure that you wear long-sleeved attire. If you have had an allergic reaction before, you should ensure that you do not expose a lot of bare skin while you are painting.

Lastly, if you feel like you are losing breath or getting harder for you to breathe, you should step away from your working space and immediately go out for some fresh air. If something like this occurs, you might consider switching to another type of acrylic paint or switching the type of paint altogether. 

Usually, when you have an allergic reaction to your skin, you can probably treat it with some creams or ointments intended for allergies. However, if the allergy affects your breathing, you should better consult your doctor and do some tests. Once you get diagnosed, the doctor will determine the proper treatment you need for the allergy. 

What Chemicals Are Found In Acrylic Paint? 

I mentioned before that some acrylic paints include formaldehyde, which is usually the main reason some people have allergic reactions. However, it is always good to know all of the substances of which acrylic paints are made, so you would know whether there might be a possible allergic reaction so that you could prevent it. So, the usual content of acrylic paint consists of the substances listed below. 


Pigments are substances that give acrylics different colors. They are granular solids that are later broken down into particles and mixed with other substances. Pigments can come from different sources, so if you are afraid that you might develop an allergic reaction, you can choose a paint that includes organic or natural pigments.


Binder is the substance that allows the color to stay once it is applied on a certain surface. Usually, the binder is made of acrylic polymer in acrylic paints that forms a film over the applied paint. That way, it keeps it firmly in place and prevents the disappearance of the colors once the water evaporates.   


This is the substance that combines the pigment and the binder and holds them together. Since we are talking about acrylic paints, which are usually water-based, the main substance that holds the binder and the pigment is water, and it creates a polymer emulsion to combine these two. 


Cadmium is generally used in yellow acrylic paints, and it is a mainly harmless substance if it gets in touch with the skin. However, if cadmium is inhaled, it can result in some undesired reactions in the human body. If cadmium enters the human body, it might cause some respiratory issues or disrupt the function of the kidneys. 


Chromium is not the usual substance in acrylic paints. However, some brands might use it. Chromium can irritate your nose and, sometimes, issues when breathing. It can also cause some irritation on the skin, so rashes and redness could be expected after contact with this ingredient. 

Volatile Organic Compounds 

Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, are usually used in acrylic paints in formaldehyde, toluene, acetone, and benzene. They are usually used as preservatives or means to prevent the growth of mold. However, they can be harmful and can cause allergic reactions when they are inhaled. 

Final Words

As you could see, acrylic paints might include substances that can cause allergic reactions in some people. Therefore, it is smart to check the content of each brand of acrylics and see whether any substances might trigger your allergies. This is the only way you can avoid the occurrence of allergic reactions. 


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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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