Frequently Asked Questions

What makes an art material “safe”?

Knowledge of materials and their proper use makes them safe. Be sure to read the label on all products you use so you will know they have been evaluated and are non-toxic or need special handling to avoid possible health hazards from misuse. Look for the ACMI Seals so you will know the product has been evaluated by a qualified toxicologist for both acute and chronic hazards. Or, you may see other indications that the product conforms to ASTM D 4236, the chronic hazard labeling standard that is now part of the U.S. labeling law. Follow all safe use instructions. 

Purchase only products with the ACMI AP Non-Toxic Seal for young children, the physically or mentally handicapped, and any persons who cannot read or understand the safety labeling on product packages. Observe good work habits and teach them to others. 


Why and how are art materials regulated by U.S. Law?

ASTM D 4236 started as a voluntary labeling standard for evaluating chronic hazards in art and craft materials and was already in use by 85-90% of art and craft material manufacturers prior to when the Federal Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act (LHAMA) went into effect (in late 1990). The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) already required manufacturers to evaluate and label for acute hazards. LHAMA amends the FHSA to require art and craft materials manufacturers to evaluate their products for their ability to cause chronic illness and to place labels on those that do. LHAMA encodes ASTM D-4236 into FHSA and provides for encoding future revisions to the standard. Art and craft material manufacturers who wish to sell their products in the U.S. must have their products evaluated by a qualified toxicologist to ensure that they are properly labeled for the consumer and must be labeled “Conforms to ASTM D 4236” in order to be in compliance with LHAMA, whether the product is non-toxic or requires labeling for safe use/potential health hazards. 


Should I get a SDS for each product I use?

Not necessarily. Actually, for consumers the most accurate place to get information on the products you use is right on the label! The label will tell you the ingredients in the product that may cause any potential hazards; what the potential hazards are if the product is not used properly; and how to use the product properly. Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) can also provide helpful information and are intended for potential workplace exposure to hazardous chemicals. Workplaces and schools in some states require SDSs under right-to-know laws.


What should I do if I swallow a product by mistake?

First, read the label and follow any instructions that may appear there. If the product bears a warning, call the National Poison Control hot line (800-222-1222 – this number should be kept handy by the phone.) You will automatically be connected to your local poison control center. Be ready to provide the center with information concerning ingredient content and first aid directions that appear on the label. If the product has an ACMI AP non-toxic seal, there is no need for alarm or action. 


What do “acute” and “chronic” mean?

“Acute” and “chronic” refer to different types of toxic reactions. An acute reaction means the effect will occur immediately after using the product. For example, something that causes a skin rash, irritates your eyes, or causes immediate sickness, is acutely toxic. A chronic reaction means the effect will occur over time (months or even years). For example, something that causes cancer is chronically toxic. Products can cause acute effects, chronic effects, both types, or neither. 


Are common allergens found in art materials?

We get many allergy-related questions. We have developed a paper to address this topic that can be accessed by visiting the "allergen" section on our website.


If a product smells bad, is it toxic?

Although inhalation is a route of exposure to potentially hazardous materials, smell is not a good indicator of toxicity. Sometimes a material can have a strong smell (such as a marker) but be non-toxic. On the other hand, something that has no smell or smells sweet could be highly toxic. Always remember to read the label before using a product. 


Is it safe to use washable tempera paint, other artists’ paints, or markers to face paint or create temporary tattoos?

Even though the ACMI Certification Program includes skin contact, ingestion and inhalation exposures in its evaluation of art material products, there is an entirely different regulatory regime enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for “cosmetic” products. Products such as face paints, surgical/skin markers, nail paints or polishes, etc. are considered cosmetic products under the law because they are intended to be applied to the human body and are regulated under the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. ACMI-certified art material products are expected to have incidental or limited skin contact as a foreseeable or predictable use or application of the product under the laws and regulations of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. 


Is it safe to use art materials during pregnancy?

Products bearing the certification seals (AP and CL) of The Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) are evaluated for both acute or chronic hazards. Those found to be non-toxic bear the AP Seal and those needing cautionary labeling bear the CL Seal. ACMI’s toxicological evaluation takes into account all acute and chronic issues, including fetotoxicity. You should read the labels carefully to see if those that carry a warning label refer to pregnancy or fetotoxicity. If so, do not use them during pregnancy or when contemplating pregnancy, as directed on the label. If you purchase art materials without ACMI seals, look for a conformance statement that indicates they comply to ASTM D 4236 which means they comply to Federal regulations for art materials, regarding chronic toxicity. The ACMI program goes a little further, taking into consideration acute toxicity, allergy issues, whether the product can be used by a child, etc. Also, ACMI acts as additional insurance that the product has, in fact, been evaluated and that the conformance statement is valid as well as the warning labeling, if any. Consumers who are pregnant or contemplating pregnancy should discuss anticipated exposures during pregnancy with their health care provider.


Some products are really dusty. Is dust toxic?

It is important to read the label. Not all dust is toxic. In fact, many dusty or dry products, such as chalk, powdered tempera, and many pastels, are non-toxic, even if inhaled. Other dust- causing products, such as many dry clays, can be toxic, and proper precautions need to be taken. Dust is messy but not always toxic. It should also be noted that the dry powder from clays should not be breathed.


Is the strong odor from overheating polymer clay dangerous?

All polymer clays in the ACMI program have been evaluated and found to be non-toxic and thus bear ACMI’s AP Seal. However, if you do over bake these clays to the point of their turning black, hydrogen gas can be released. The hydrogen gas released would be sufficient to cause eye and nose irritation but would not be expected to cause chest or long-term symptoms. Thus, although the hydrogen gas may have made you uncomfortable, it would not have any long-term effects. You should not experience anything more than the discomfort if you air out your home.