Do You Need a Mask for Acrylic Brush Painting?

Cover image: Do You Need a Mask for Acrylic Brush Painting Image of a person against a graffitied wall wearing a mask - the image on the wall resembles a shark somehow. Name of file: dream_TradingCard (38)

You can create unique art pieces with acrylic paint. And many enjoy painting with acrylics for its versatility and affordability. However, if you’re working with acrylics often, you may be exposed to toxic fumes if you’re not utilizing a mask during your art adventures.

You need a mask for acrylic brush painting due to the health risks associated with exposure to chemicals and fumes. Acrylic paint, even water-based, can be toxic due to chemical compounds. If you choose not to wear a mask, ensure the room is well-ventilated with airflow.

If you are a frequent user of acrylics, keep reading to discover some important information that you need to know. This article will dive into the make-up of acrylic paint and what components would warrant wearing a mask while brush painting with acrylics. Let’s go! Do You Need a Mask for Acrylic Brush Painting?

Breaking Down Acrylics: Why It’s Important to Wear a Mask When Using Them

Some suggest wearing a mask while working with acrylics, while others recommend wearing a mask only if you’re airbrushing with or sanding Opens in a new tab.the acrylic paint. Now, many of the acrylics made are water-based, so they’re typically less toxic. If the components of the acrylic paint are harmful, a warning label with safety suggestions will also be provided. 

So, let’s break down the components that make acrylic paint to understand better how it would be harmful and if you need to use a mask while painting. You’ll also know what to look for when purchasing from countries other than the United States.

The Chemical Components of Acrylic Paint

Most acrylic paintsOpens in a new tab. are now water-based and fast-drying and, as mentioned, are typically less toxic than other versions. 

However, some acrylics are composed of chemicals that can potentially be harmful to your health. Because acrylics are made differently depending on the brand and where they come from, the ingredients within the paint may be toxic for you to inhale. Generally, acrylic paint is made up of the following three main components: 

  • Binder: A substance that binds the pigmentation.
  • Pigment: Granular solids that provide color to the paint.
  • Vehicle: A carrier of the pigment and binder, which would be water for water-based acrylics. 

Some of the pigmentation added to acrylics can contain the following:

  • Lead 
  • Cobalt
  • Chromium
  • Cadmium
  • Manganese

Of the metals listed, lead, cobalt, and cadmium are especially harmful. Adding lead to paints is banned in the United States, but it can be part of the ingredients if you obtain acrylics from another country that allows the use of lead in paints. Heavy metals have been linked to health conditions like organ failure and cancer, especially cadmium. 

Cadmium is listed as a known carcinogenOpens in a new tab. by the American Cancer SocietyOpens in a new tab..

It’s always best to check the manufacturer’s ingredients to decide how safe it is and if you should wear a mask while brush painting with your acrylics. 

The Possible Immediate Symptoms of Acrylic Use

Exposure to the fumes and particles released by some versions of acrylic paint can cause short-term or long-term health issues, depending on how often you’re exposed to the toxicity. Here are some of the immediate symptoms you can experience when acrylic brush painting without using a mask:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Breathing issues
  • Watery eyes
  • Lung irritation
  • Coughing
  • Vision problems

It’s commonly stated that acrylics are safe once they dry. However, harmful chemicals and particles can be released into the air during the drying process, depending on the ingredients your acrylics contain. It’s essential to have ventilation and airflow while working the canvas with acrylic paints.

The Type of Mask Suggested for Acrylics

A typical dust maskOpens in a new tab. is commonly suggested when painting with acrylics. Respirator masks are usually not necessary unless you’re sanding or airbrush painting with acrylics. If you’re particularly sensitive to smells and a dust mask isn’t working for you, consider using a respirator mask, or choose acrylics that are less toxic with subtle fumes.

Dust masks are available at your local hardware store and even some major retailers. 

Here is a popular and highly rated dust mask purchased by many on Amazon: G&F Disposable Dust MaskOpens in a new tab.. This listing contains 50 disposable dust masks designed for comfort and protection against dust, mold, and more. It also has a customizable fitting and is latex-free.

If you’re looking for an excellent respirator, this Amazon product is popular and purchased by thousands of happy customers: Ellipse Nuisance Half Mask RespiratorOpens in a new tab.. This product offers two sizes of S/M and M/L, with filters included. It also can remove unpleasant smells, like those from some versions of acrylics.

What if You Don’t Use a Mask?

If you opt-out of wearing a mask while brush painting with your acrylics, ensure the room is well-ventilated with airflow to prevent the fumes from becoming overpowering. The following are ways you can ventilate your workspace to make it safer while painting: 

  • Use a desk or floor fan.
  • Utilize your ceiling fan if you have one in the room.
  • Open the windows. 
  • Open the doors.

However, this can cause issues while painting because the already fast-drying acrylics will dry faster with airflow circulating in your working area. Because acrylics are water-based, air exposure to the paint will evaporate the water and thicken the paint. It can create a clumpy mess when applying the paint to your canvas.

Ensure you have an acrylic medium or water on-hand to dilute the paint to keep it at a consistency satisfactory to your painting style and preference.

Final Words

Many acrylics are now water-based and less toxic. To make an educated decision on whether or not to wear a mask, review the ingredients to be aware of any harmful chemicals used to make the paint. Always check acrylics purchased overseas because other countries may not have the same restrictions for chemical use in acrylics.

Dust masks are generally used while airbrushing and sanding acrylics. However, wearing one may be warranted if your acrylics contain toxic chemicals. If you don’t feel the need to wear a mask, a well-ventilated workspace with airflow will help prevent inhalation of excessive fumes.

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

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