Art for Kids: Are Acrylic Paints Safe for Your Children?

Art For Kids: Are Acrylic Paints Safe For Your Children?

You want to give your children the best possible childhood, and there’s no better way to let them express themselves than with arts and crafts.

Painting is among the most free and easy, since there’s no rigid lines to color in, and no restrictions.

That being said, how safe are acrylic paints for young children to use?

It depends on the age, the application, if we’re talking about finger painting, and other factors. Let’s explore them all together.


Is Acrylic Paint Child Safe?

Acrylic Paint Child Safes

Not all acrylic paint is created equal.

While we, as a society, understand the dangers of using lead in any application, it is still found in some brands of acrylic paint.

It is clearly labeled with warnings, and is generally only used by adults who are aiming to make a painting that will last for long after they’re gone.

For children, we know that lead is dangerous.

Look for lead-free acrylic paint, and do not assume that any brand of acrylic paint automatically comes lead-free.

Even since the Lead Paint Act of 1978, commercial paint for the interior and exterior of homes don’t use lead. However, it isn’t necessarily outlawed, especially if you purchase paint from countries where lead is still used.

But it isn’t just lead. There are four other toxic components that you should be on the lookout for.


Cobalt in Paints

Cobalt is found in nickel refining, and as we all know, nickel can be toxic if consumed.

It’s why we don’t generally have nickel-plated dinnerware or china in production anymore.

Cobalt is a magnetic metal that was discovered in 1730, and has since been used in all sorts of arts: glass, pottery, porcelain, tiles and more.

Cobalt is far more dangerous in its pure form, but its inclusion in acrylic paints make it toxic.


This is something else that you’ll find in very specific paints, though it’s rare to find nowadays.

There’s no question about it: cadmium causes cancer, and attacks your cardiovascular system, neurological system, and even your respiratory system.

It’s bad news, and it rarely found in paint as a result.

If you are to use this type of paint on a canvas, be sure to wear a mask, gloves, and then put the dried painting behind a glass frame.



Manganese is found in stainless steel, and it’s also found in leafy vegetables and nuts.

How’s that for versatile?

In its natural, non-altered form, manganese is healthy when consumed through food, but potentially dangerous when inhaled.

Even as an adult, more than 11mg of manganese in your diet could be dangerous.

Its place in paints is usually to bind the paint together and to the surface it’s applied to, though if ingested, it will directly attack your neurological system.


Chromium, in its usable form, is mostly man-made.

This is the part of toxic acrylic paints that is absorbed immediately into the skin, and is known to cause major allergic reactions, ulcerations, and dermatitis depending on the individual.

Chromium, like the other four elements listed here, are not necessary for acrylic paint.

So acrylic paint has a long history of using ingredients that we now know to be toxic and harmful. However, these are just things that you need to look out for.

Modern acrylic paint is safe for child use, so long as it doesn’t include any of the aforementioned ingredients.

Is Acrylic Paint Toxic on the Skin?

Acrylic Paints

Modern day acrylic paint is non-toxic, but that’s not the same as being safe.

Toxicity is rated based on the reaction that a certain element has on a natural organism, cells, or live tissue.

There are different toxicity scales and ratings, and affect different age groups and genders differently, making it very difficult to measure.

It ushers in the “Better safe than sorry” mindset.

Acrylic paint lacks pharmaceutical grade ingredients, which are skin-safe, even for those with a sensitivity or eczema.

There are paints that are made specifically for the skin, because they’re built in an entirely different way.

They don’t contain acrylics, but instead use a similar foundation to women’s skincare and beauty products.

This makes them entirely safe for application, though they should still be washed off as soon as the fun is done to prevent too much from being absorbed into your skin.

Is Acrylic Paint Toxic if Swallowed?

Girl Eating Paint

Just because something is listed as non-toxic doesn’t mean it can be consumed.

Yes, acrylic paint is toxic if swallowed, which is why you will see a label that states “Non-toxic,” while simultaneously being given a number for Poison Control. Seems a bit conflicting, no?

Acrylic paint is not recommended for young children that may still be susceptible to curiosity getting the better of them.

If they currently stick their fingers in their mouth for any reason at all, they are too young for acrylic paint. Once they’re old enough that you can properly explain to them why it’s bad, they are okay to use it.

Acrylic paint contains similar compounds to plexiglass, and it’s a no-brainer that you wouldn’t want your child to consume plexiglass.

You can base it on the maturity of your child, but it’s best to leave acrylic paints away from children under the age of three.

What to do if Acrylic Paint is Swallowed?

First thing’s first: don’t panic.

Nobody makes a good decision or passes good judgment when they’re freaking out.

If acrylic paint is swallowed, the first thing you should do is contact poison control.

While talking with them it’s important to have you or your child brush your teeth profusely, and gargle saltwater.

So Are There Any Reasons to Use Acrylic Paints?

Acrylic Paint Usage

Yes, there are absolutely reasons to use acrylic paints, and as your children get older they’ll have a ton of fun with it.

Look for the toxicity labels and prepare yourself accordingly, and have fun with it! Some of the best reasons to use acrylic paints are:

Faster Drying Times

Compared to oil paints, acrylic paint dries fairly quickly.

You don’t have to wait a day or two in between using additional coats.

If you’re using a large canvas in a well ventilated area, acrylic paint can dry in about four hours, compared to thirty-six for a lot of oil paints.

Longer to Mix

Getting a little artsy with your own color blends?

Oil paints are actually easier to mix together, but then they just turn into an odd color and bring on each others characteristics.

With acrylics, they take longer to mix together, which is actually a good thing.

It allows you to create different color blends at your own pace, so the more you mix, the darker and more imbued the paint will get.

Less Fumes

The opposite of acrylics would be oils: people usually pick one side or the other, and stick with their favorites.

Oil paints are great, but they have a lot of fumes and strong odors that can take ages to dissipate from a space.

Even if it’s well ventilated, there could still be a lingering odor. Not only that, but you’ll have to use more coats of oil paint, so that scent is going to linger for days to come.

Acrylic paints are by no means scentless, but it’s going to be a lot easier to handle. Face masks are optional.

Durable Coats

Durable Coats

When you put one layer of acrylic on top of another, it sticks to it and dries exceptionally well.

Oil is a lot more difficult to layer on top of itself, because it can bleed into the pre-existing oil.

Once acrylic paint attaches to a surface, like a canvas or wood board, then it’s there to stay as soon as it dries.

This makes it harder to clean if you drip it on the floor at all, but far more durable for a long-term painting with numerous dimensions and layers.

Sticks to More Surfaces

You don’t have to be limited to just a cotton canvas.

Acrylics can stick to numerous materials, including metal, alternative fabrics, wood, and even ceramic.

You have far more options at your fingertips, so your creativity isn’t barred.

You can use some creativity and save some money since you don’t have to solely buy canvases.

Look online for free wooden pallets, free lumber, and even drive around a bit on the night before trash is picked up and find bits of metal out at different people’s cans.

Toss it in the car, finish it, and make a mural out of it; the sky’s the limit.

Time to Get Painting

Painting with Acrylics

Acrylic paints are safe and labeled as non-toxic, but should still be kept away from toddlers who have a tendency to suck their thumb or put their fingers in their mouth.

Pay attention to the ingredients, the warning and approval labels, and you’ll be perfectly okay to let older children use them for finger painting.

While you’re at it, take up your own brush and make something beautiful alongside them; you might find your new hobby.