About 80% of artist materials are considered hazardous. Organic and inorganic pigments used as a colourant in paints is one of the areas of concern. Dry powdered pigments - which particles can become airborne - pose a greater risk than pigments mixed with binders. Pigments that contain metal and carcinogen are inherently toxic whilst others may be non-toxic in their pure form but turn toxic when heated or mixed with solvents and other materials. Non-toxic pigments generally pose no health risk when they come into contact with skin but can do so when ingested or inhaled. An accumulation of non-toxic pigments - due to the body's inability to expel them by reason of age and physical conditions - can cause minor injuries. At the extreme end, repeated exposure to toxic pigments results in poisoning that can cause anaemia, gastrointestinal problems, peripheral nerve damage, kidney damage, skin cancer, lung cancer, reproductive system damage, and emotional disorders.
Water-based media such as acrylic, watercolour, gouache, and casein paints contain small amounts of ammonia, formaldehyde, and ammonium hydroxide that can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation and skin allergies. Wax or oil-based media such as oil paint, casein paint, and encaustics require the use of turpentine, mineral spirits, and other types of solvents. Alkyd based paints also use solvents. Turpentine can act as a vehicle for the absorption of pigment through the skin that otherwise might not pass. Prolonged inhalation of turpentine, minerals spirits, and other solvents (depending on severity) can result in minor injuries such as dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, and fatigue or serious injuries such as kidney damage and respiratory problems. Ingestion of turpentine and mineral spirits can be fatal. Natural resins (e.g., Copal, Damar, Rosin ) used in varnishes can cause skin allergies. Rosin dust is known to cause asthma.
Artists are advised to take precautions. First, don't rely on manufacturers, institutions, and organisation to protect you from harm—take responsibility for your own safety and self-educate. Second, don't rely on the manufacturer's hazard notification or label on whether the paint contains toxic or non-toxic pigments. What is stated on the label might not truly represent all the ingredients used in making a paint; it's best to obtain the material safety data sheet to find out the content of the paint. Third. avoid lead-based, heavy metal, and carcinogenic pigments and use the least toxic pigments when it can be done without compromising on quality and characteristics. Fourth, use gloves and respiratory protection when working with powdered pigments, chemicals, turpentine, aromatic solvents, encaustic wax, and aerosol sprays. Further, ensure there is adequate ventilation and airflow (i.e., frequent exchange of fresh air) in the studio. Turpentine - if not imperative - should be replaced with odourless mineral spirits where the hazardous aromatics have been removed. Fifth, wet-wipe all surfaces after using toxic materials and store them away with secure lids and proper labels. Sixth, never eat drink or smoke when working with toxic materials and always keep them away from food and drinks. Last, ensure there is a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and list of emergency numbers in the studio.