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Natural Art Supplies: How to Choose Safe Materials

03.08.11 Natural Art Supplies: How to Choose Safe Materials

natural art supplies

Making art shouldn't be dangerous for your kids. Or for you. But sometimes it's hard to tell what materials, especially ones that have been used for a long time, are safe. The good news is that there are companies who are doing a great job at making safe art supplies-- free from toxic compounds that end up being absorbed or inhaled or (sometimes ingested!) into your kid's bloodstream. This is how it should be while your kid is happily making an expressive painting!

Using toxic art supplies is especially dangerous in young children as they cannot be expected to follow rules regarding proper use of handling art materials. This subsequently creates the possibility for contact with skin and eyes and mouths! Compound this with the fact that young children are less tolerant of exposure to hazardous substances than adults (smaller, higher metabolic rates, immature organ immune systems). Conventional art materials have potential human carcinogens that live in dusts, powders, vapors, gases and aerosols and can be easily inhaled, presenting damage to lungs from silica or to organs through solvent vapors. Exposure to the toxic chemicals found in some art supplies can result in headaches, nausea, breathing problems, lung and kidney damage, and even cancer.


  • Rubber cement--contains hexane or heptane which are potent neurotoxins (remember rolling up balls of this and placing by your nose? I'm cringing at the memory).
  • Solvent-based and alcohol-based markers (permanent/waterproof ones) contain xylene, which is a neuro, kidney, reproductive, and respiratory toxin.
  • Tempera paints: may contain formaldehyde, phenol, PVC and highly toxic trachloroethane.
  • Paint thinners of any kind.
  • Instant papier maches (can contain asbestos fibers or lead).
  • Materials with a strong smell (solvent is likely present).
  • Oil-based pastels: may contain lead chromate and toxic pigments.
  • Finger paints containing formaldehyde.


As manufacturers are NOT required to list each product’s ingredients on the label, the most helpful tool in using safer art materials is to look for labels from the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI). ACMI is a nonprofit membership organization made up of art supply manufacturers, who voluntarily agree to have their materials evaluated by independent toxicologists and tested by accredited, independent labs for safety every five years, as well as randomly and whenever product formulas change. Any product evaluated by ACMI will bear one of their labels. Always avoid the CL (CAUTION) label that promises toxic materials. 

It's important to also note that the ACMI's AP (approved product) and CP (certified product) labels do not indicate that a product is completely free of toxins—rather, that it doesn't exceed the amounts known to injure humans. So, for example, polymer clays are labeled non-toxic, yet they are made with PVC and softened with phthlates, a chemical linked to reproductive and organ damage. As always, our take is whenever possible, avoid products with unnecessary chemicals and use products made from natural materials.

Two simple tips to incorporate into your art making routines!

  • First, remember to always wash hands thoroughly after using art supplies and always avoid eating and drinking while making art to prevent the dangers of ingesting materials.
  • Second, try making homemade natural vegetable dyes using the following: 
  • Blue: blueberries, red onion skins.
  • Brown: walnut hulls, paprika.
  • Green: oak bark, crab apple leaves, and bark. 
  • Orange: yellow onion skins, oats.
  • Purple: purple grapes.
  • Red: cranberries, beets. 
  • Tan: coffee and tea. 
  • Yellow: apple tree bark, white onion skins, turmeric.  

We know that it can feel overwheming when trying to make sure your kids are safe from harmful chemicals. Rest assured, we have thoroughly explored this when choosing the art materials we have here at MightyNest and that we only choose materials with natural ingredients.

What's in your art box? Planning to make any changes?

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