Acrylics and the Allergic Artist

It has been an exhausting and convoluted journey finding art materials that I am not allergic to.

First… I just want to say my intention is not to endorse or give a negative review on any of the products or companies mentioned in this blog post. This is merely meant for informative purposes to share my ongoing struggles with allergies and the trial and error of products I’ve experimented with to arrived at the materials I’m current able to tolerate in my studio.

I’ve had horrible allergies all my life, but I’m not sure I ever really understood the extent of how bad they could be until I moved to Chattanooga and spent every day working as an artist. For starters, Chattanooga is arguably the worst possible place for allergy sufferers in the entire country, setting me up to fight a losing battle from the get go. But still, who knew there were so many things that one could be allergic to in an artist studio, not to mention the things that are toxic or may even cause cancer.

Fortunately for most people this (allergies) is not a problem. However, it seems that more and more people are becoming aware of allergies and definitely more concerned with toxicity and their health. I’ve had so many people approach me in the last few years to ask me what materials I use and tell me about how headaches and health problems have forced them to stop oil painting all together.

I think many people are just not aware that an allergy is what they are dealing with and just blame it on the toxic fumes. Try telling you doctor that you feel bad and you stay exhausted all the time, and you think it’s probably because you’re an artist and exposed to paint all day long. You usually get the typical eye-roll. Then they smile like you’re crazy and proceed to tell you that unless you have poor ventilation and stay in your studio constantly there shouldn’t be any issue. Hello!.. this basically describes almost every serious artist that I know.

Although many people view painting as a relaxing hobby that retired people do just for fun, artists work very hard and painting can definitely be exhausting, but not to the point that it takes you a full day or two to recover every time you paint. That’s the way I felt for the first year or two that I painted full time. Some days I felt like I could barely walk or talk when I left the studio at night, and sometimes I never even left the studio because I lived there. At times I’ve even slept in my car because I had to get away from the fumes. Fortunately I haven’t had to live in my studio for years, but I think many artist have to do that, or whatever it takes to ‘make it’, at some point in their career.

From most of the research I’ve done, oil paint is typically not toxic unless it contains lead, cadmium, cobalt, mercury, etc. and those may not be of major concern as long as you wear gloves and don’t eat or sand the paint. As much as I love cadmium lemon and cobalt, there are plenty of options for artist to allow them to avoid the toxic chemicals that are in some paints. It’s definitely possible, but I’m assuming most artist that are having headaches and congestion from the ‘paint fumes’ should not be so quick to blame it on the paint. The solvents, thinners, and mediums we use to dilute or paint and clean our brushes… these are the usual suspects that become volatile. Go to any random artist studio and you’ll find the lid off their turp can all day long and they rarely stop to crack a window.

Or what about the plein air painter? Sure you’re outside all day, but most artists keep their turp can right in front of them with the lid off.  So it’s basically going right up their nose. The big question is whether the problem is caused by a allergy or the toxic exposure. I’m not a doctor or scientist… So I make no claims either way, but I’m smart enough to figure out that if something is giving me a headache that it’s probably a good idea for me to get rid of it or reduce my exposure to it. For me, the first obvious problem I was aware of was basically everything labeled as a petroleum distillate, which may include mineral spirits, paint thinners, varnishes, polyurethanes, some resins, etc., even the added impurities in many products that may not be listed.

Then theres the possibility of being allergic to the binder in the paint??… Most of these are derived from plants or natural products, which certainly makes it possible to be allergic to any of them. Okay, so what are the obvious ones? Linseed oil, safflower oil, walnut oil, poppyseed oil, maybe even spike lavender.

Or you could even be allergic to the painting surface. Cotton?? I guessing it’s pretty rare… hopefully not or you would need to get rid of all of your clothes, BUT linen is very much a possibility. flax allergies are becoming more common. For me it’s sort of like being allergic to ragweed and then deciding to roll around in a field of it all day every day and then wondering why I feel bad… hmm? The stuff is all over my studio. It’s probably my favorite material to paint on, too, making it very difficult to find a suitable alternative.

After you do finally become aware you are allergic to something, actually identifying what’s causing the problem is the difficult part. You can get rid of everything, one item at a time until you feel better, or you could try getting rid of everything except what you think you’re allergic to and then see if you still feel bad. I guess you could even take the food allergy approach and remove everything and then slowly introduce everything back in, one item at a time, until you feel bad again, and that’s the source of all your problems. Unfortunately most of us don’t have that much wheel power. We just suffer through it or we give up and quit, which is quite often the same thing.

Here’s a little bit of history about myself. About 15 years ago I quit my engineering career with an unstoppable determination to pursue a career as a full time artist. That first year was pretty rough, not only because I really had no clue about how to make a living as an artist, but also because I found myself having to spend a day or two recovering for every good and productive day I had painting. This was the first time I had ever had the time to actually paint everyday. Previously I had typically blamed my fatigue and lack of focus at work on the fact that I was working my regular job all day and then going home and painting until 1am two or three nights a week. I guess I assumed it was the mere lack of sleep. I had also considered the possibility that it was from the toxicity of the paint, but it had never occurred to me until this point that I might actually be allergic to the paint and solvents in my studio.

My studio was in an old rundown building, which I lived in for the most part, because the rent was so cheap. I think I paid around $150 a month for 1,400 sqft. I’m certain that didn’t help any either. I slowly started to identify all the things that were making me feel bad when I used them: paint thinner, turpentine, damar retouch varnish, most mediums and solvents and even linen canvas especially when I would open up a new roll. If I got rid of all of this there would be nothing left to paint with. I talked to a few professional artist and they said ‘Oh, everybody feels crappy after painting hard and being exposed to the paint all day long’. But it became obvious to me that this was a bit extreme in my case.

I was already taking weekly allergy shots for environmental/outdoor allergies. However, like I said, my first thought was that it was the toxicity of the paint thinner. I think I first switched from cheap hardware store ‘odorless’ mineral spirits to Gamsol, which honestly helped a lot, but the headaches soon got worse again. Next I tried one of the citrus thinners thinners, but it smelled so strong that I could hardly stand to go in the studio. Then I went to an Eco-House product called Neutral Thin, which also helped a lot, but the headaches just didn’t go away. Finally I got rid of all solvents and for years I used no solvents or paint thinners. I just used a different brush for each value of the painting and made sure I tossed the brush aside when the color became too dead and muddy. you really have to get creative when there are no materials that you can use. It makes for great color harmony, but you can tend to have a lot of gray paintings if you’re not careful.

I started using walnut oil and soap or baby oil to clean my brushes at the end of the day. This worked good, and I actually ended up using this method for quite a few years. Somewhere around that time, a representative from M Graham must have gotten wind that I was going for a solvent free approach, because I received a box of Graham walnut oil based paints in the mail, which I was very grateful for. I think this was the first time I had ever realized there were paints available that didn’t use linseed oil as the binder. That’s when another lightbulb started to go off… ‘maybe it’s the binder’! Even then there was a suspect possibility that I was allergic to walnut oil, because I had removed all solvents, but even though the headaches were gone, I was still going home congested and in a daze every night. I was also still using linseed oil based paints. So if one of them was causing the problems, I couldn’t afford to just throw away half of my paint to see if it helped. And you know how it is, there are certain colors by specific brands that you think you just can’t live without.

I continued to suspect that linen could be another possibility because I would feel really bad every time I would roll out a new roll of linen to stretch canvases. After doing a little research I realized that linen and linseed oil both came from the same plant….FLAX!… I had no idea! This could not be a coincidence. I remembered that I had even tried the water soluble oil paints for a while, and they actually affected me ever worse than ordinary paints. Then it occurred to me that even though they were water soluble they still used a derivative of linseed oil for their binder.

Since I was already taking allergy shots anyway, I decided to do some research on the flax plant. It certainly did not grow in Tennessee, meaning that it probably would not have been included in my previous allergy test. You know, it’s basically flax seed oil, the stuff that people were starting to consume large quantities of in their morning smoothies to make themselves healthier. How could you be allergic to that? The next time I went for allergy shots I asked the nurse about it and she looked at me like an idiot and proceeded to explain how this sounded very crazy and highly unlikely. Just to humor me and take my money, I suppose, she said she would special order the allergy test. I came back the next week for the test and it turned out I was extremely allergic…

Flax was added into my weekly two shot concoction, which meant they would slowly shoot a little more flax into me each week to try to build up my immunity to it. About a month later I attended a wet paint plein air event where there were probably about a hundred fresh wet paintings in the room. About half way through the evening my body suddenly started shaking and itching and I had to go outside for air. The next week I told the nurse and she immediately ordered me an epipen for flax which I carried around to every plein air event for years.

For a long time I just dealt with the problem, with a daily regiment that included benadryl and a trip to the steam room at the gym just so I could breath again. A few years ago before the birth of our children I decided to get more serious about it and began only using walnut oil based paints, entirely removing all linseed oil based paints and mediums from my palette. Amazingly, at that point the daily trips to the sauna ended, except for about once a month when i stretch canvases.

Although the no solvent or thinner approach has proven successful, I was really missing the ability to have a thin wash or underpainting to start my paintings, as well as an easy way to clean my brushes. I started doing some research again and stumbled on a company called Art Treehouse, which brands itself as ‘A less Toxic Art Place’. They sell a product called biobased Artist Thinner made from soy beans, which contains no mineral spirits or turpentine and claims to be non-hazardous, very low odor and low VOC. It’s an amazing product and thinner substitute for anyone with an allergy to petroleum distillates or if you just want a healthier studio environment! It’s the first thinner I’ve ever been able to use that actually does what I need it to do and doesn’t give me a headache. I use it for thin washes or underpainting and cleaning my brushes. They also make walnut oil based paints, giving me another alternative for paint.

‘Final Cast’ oil 15×16 was my first painting done using the Biobased Artist Thinner. Currently, for oil painting I only use MGraham or Art Treehouse paints and Biobased Artist Thinner.

Art Treehouse also led me to several other products to substitute in mediums. I discovered their water washed walnut oil. It’s a cleaner and faster drying walnut oil which I often use alone as a medium. For a long time, I’ve been looking at other alternatives to use in the more popular homemade mediums, which typically contain damar, linseed oil and turpentine. I tried the relatively expensive spike lavender as a substitute for turpertine… Allergic to that too! next I tried Rosemary oil which is not cheap either, but it’s actually very helpful for allergies. I found Canadian balsam as a substitute for damar, and I use the water washed walnut oil instead of linseed or stand oil. It’s a little more expensive and doesn’t dry as fast as the turpentine based mediums, but it’s has proved to be a sufficient medium I can tolerate and actually enjoy smelling in the studio.

So, now all of my problems are solved, right? Not quite. I still haven’t found a sufficient substitute for linen. Fortunately, I get the worst reaction when I unroll a new roll and stretch or mount my canvas. Often I will just spend an entire day prepping as many canvases as I can manage to get finished and then let them air out for a few days. I’ve had some good results with Gessoed panels recently, too. I’ve also heard a lot of hype about artist painting on aluminum panels. That may be the next surface I experiment with.

So, I still haven’t found the perfect solution. Other issues that have been hard to deal with are attending shows and plein air events, which I’m stopped doing, and I can rarely go into other artists studios for more than just a few minutes. But the hardest thing to deal with has been teaching. Students typically just bring whatever they already have, or they just shy away because they don’t want to purchase a whole new set of materials. So by the second day, I’m already in a daze.

I recently recalled a couple friends who are really good artists telling me about using these ‘amazing new acrylics that acted so much like oils you can hardly even tell the difference’.  That was four or five years … At the time I came home and immediately purchased a complete set of Golden Open Acrylics that have just set on the back of one of my shelves for years. After digging around in my studio I found the bag of acrylics  and decided to give them a shot. I guess I had never used them because I was afraid of wasting time trying to learn something new, as well as the whole stigma of acrylics not being of the same quality as oils. Using the correct and highest quality of materials you can afford is very important, but I have to believe that it’s not so much about the materials you use as it is about what you have to say and express with the materials you have. I think many of the old masters would have been willing to try them, otherwise nothing in painting would have ever changed or evolved in the past four hundred years.

I’ll admit I was a little nervous about how to mix acrylics and not have them dry out before you ever have a chance to get the paint on the canvas. I was pleasantly surprised and amazed that I could keep the paints wet for hours and blend edges, and they didn’t seem to dry a shade darker the way regular acrylics tend to do. Even thought they do dry slower, I still found myself being able to layer the paint much faster than with oil paints. I actually had more fun painting with these paints than I have with oils in quite some time, just because I was able to experiment with different effects of dragging, scratching and scraping paint and didn’t have to wait forever for my underpainting and layers to dry when working with tonalism techniques. There are a few drawbacks to using the open acrylics. They have to dry for quite a while before you can varnish them and you can’t paint very thick or maintain brushstroke texture like you can with oil. Although I do love impasto painting, the pros definitely out-way the cons. So for me that’s not a deal breaker. The best thing is that I don’t seem to be allergic to them!

Available in the Studio

‘Minor Tributary’ 12×16 is my first attempt at using the open acrylics. I think I was totally sold at that point. Below are a few of the other recent paintings done in acrylics.

Although I do continue to work in oils, I’m pretty much sold on the Open Acrylics. I can use water to clean my brushes and I typically paint on gessoes panels. This basically solves all of my allergy issues and you can hardly tell the difference.

Below are several more example of my recent acrylic work.

Available at Gallery 1401

Available in the studio



By | 2020-02-19T04:06:06+00:00 December 5th, 2017|Features, Life|33 Comments


  1. Karl Ylvisaker January 3, 2018 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this article!

    • Brett Weaver January 24, 2018 at 10:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks Karl!

  2. Marc Hanson January 22, 2018 at 12:22 am - Reply

    Great write up, Brett! I didn’t know about your allergies at all. I also have spent the last 3 yrs or so looking for alternatives. My issue was no where near as serious as yours, but was a result of over exposure to petroleum based products. I was getting 2 migraines a day a few years ago. At the first Olmsted Painting event, Ser Za Vue from Oregon was using WN water soluble oils, and I loved what she was painting with them. So I tried them out, took off to a plein air event with them, then another, then some studio work and did that for about 6 months. Then I realized that I hadn’t had a migraine since I started using them!!! A no brainer, I put the solvents away for a couple of years, using mostly Cobra. I’ve also been using Golden Open Acrylics for about 4 or 5 years and absolutely love them. If they could make them a little heavier bodied, I’d give up the oils altogether. That isn’t stopping me though, I love those paints and feel so much more free to be expressive with them than I do with oils. Anyway, congratulations on your great new work with them. I love it!

    • Brett Weaver January 24, 2018 at 10:07 pm - Reply

      Thanks! That means a lot coming from you. I was trying to avoid namedropping, but you and Brian Sindler are the ‘friends that are really good artists ‘ that I was referring to in the article, who told me about the Open Acrylics. I went home and bought a set of them right after you guys told me about them. Then it took me 4 years to actually try them. Glad I finally did! You should try the biobased (soy) thinner from Art Treehouse with regular oils and see what you think.

  3. Eileen Barrett June 14, 2018 at 11:28 pm - Reply

    Thank you Brett for sharing your story about your allergies to various oil paint products and the solutions that work for you. I, too, have various sensitivities to oil paint products, so paint instead in acrylics. I took a plein air workshop that I thoroughly enjoyed, even while being frustrated with my paints drying too quickly. I thought perhaps I should switch to oils despite misgivings, but want to thank you instead for suggesting the open acrylics. All the best to you.

    • Brett Weaver October 19, 2018 at 4:23 pm - Reply

      Eileen, Sorry for such delay in response. For some reason I haven’t been getting notifications when there are comments and life is very busy. I’m still painting with both the oil and acrylics but I still love the oils more and can’t seem to get away from them. Fortunately I have a process and materials that My body can tolerate.

      Good luck!

      Have you switched to oils yet?

  4. Jo Chadwick September 8, 2018 at 7:23 am - Reply

    Thank you for this great, frank article, Brett. Been struggling with headaches and breathing and can’t seem to terate the water based oils either. Never thought about the linseed! Shall get tested! Love your work, Jo

    • Brett Weaver October 19, 2018 at 4:17 pm - Reply

      Thanks and good luck! It’s an ongoing battle. It does sound like it could be a linseed oil problem.


  5. Cheryl Bennett October 13, 2018 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    THANK YOU!!! for this info. I’ve been painting more with acrylics recently and when I am in my little bedroom that I use as a studio, my eyes burn and tear up, I end up feeling totally wiped out. I even experience muscle aches, and of course my doctor patronizes me because I’m a senior and female. I will be looking into Open Acrylics and going back to my first love, which are water soluble oils.

    • Brett Weaver October 19, 2018 at 4:30 pm - Reply

      Eileen, you might want to experiment with different brands of acrylics. I know not all brands are the same. I have that same kind of problem if I use latex house paint, from the outgassing after it dries. Make sure you’re getting good ventilation no matter what paint you are using. So make open a window and get some fresh air…

  6. Kelly December 20, 2018 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    Brett! Your work is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for sharing your story. My kids love art and are very sensitive so it has been a struggle to find them safe materials to work with, and your post is helpful. I wonder if you have a mold sensitivity? Flax and linen are processed with mold naturally. You might consider wearing a mask and gloves when you stretch your canvasses if you are not already. I am so glad you have not stopped using your talent despite your allergies. It is a double inspiration! !♡

    • Brett Weaver December 23, 2018 at 3:10 am - Reply

      Kelly, Thanks! Yes I do have a mold sensitivity. I can tell you if a house has mold 10 minutes after I walk in the door, and sometimes before I get to the from steps. This is good info. Thanks for sharing. I don’t think I knew that flax and linen were processed with mold. I think I have heard that linen could easily contain dust and mold spores, similar to carpet, linseed oil can quickly become rancid, too, causing a lot of allergy problems. However, I have been tested for flax and found to be highly allergic. I was even prescribed an epipen for flax when I was taking allergy shots and going to a lot of plain air shows with wet paintings, after my body started shaking and I had trouble breathing once. So, if I wore a mask I would have to use it the whole time I’m painting on linen. Good luck finding safe materials for your kids.

  7. Audra October 12, 2019 at 2:43 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the detailed article.
    I’m having trouble with acrylic paints. I took a break painting all together for a few months and am now in Mexico to focus on my work. Yesterday I noticed the fatigue and headaches again and remembered my paint allergy issues. Ugh! I’m thinking it’s the cadmium red but maybe all the paint. Not sure how to proceed.

    • Brett Weaver February 14, 2020 at 9:07 pm - Reply

      I’m sorry I didn’t see your post until just now. For some I didn’t get a notification. I hope you were able to figure out what was causing you problems. I don’t have a lot of experience with acrylics other that the Open Golden Acrylics. I do know that all acrylics are not created equally. It’s possibly a chemical allergy. There are a number of chemicals involved that it could be. I would have to research it a little more… I know some paints give me headaches and some don’t. It’s usually the outgassing that bothers me. A day or so after they start drying I can smell them. I always get sick when we paint our house. Even the ones advertised as Low VOC will bother me. I think cadmium is usually more of a toxicity problem than an allergy and you’re probably not having that much skin contact and hopefully not eating it?? I have heard of people being allergic to cobalt too, but I think the symptoms are usually more like skin rashes, too. I’m certainly not an expert. I believe in removing things one at a time until you feel better. You might be able to find an acrylic that doesn’t bother you. Some brands are definitely better than others. I’m extremely allergic to mold and I think there’s a connection between the mold and chemical allergies, but I’m not sure if any studies confirm that.

  8. Heidi Stoever March 16, 2020 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Eons ago, in the mid1970’s, I liked those paint by number oil “painting s”. But I would get killer sinus migraines. Eventually it occurred to me that the Linseed oil was to blame. Since then I have hobby painted with Acrylics. No issues, until recently. I like the idea of paint pours, but apparently that is too much concentrated fumes all at once. Worst sinus infection ever. It literally went from a cough to headache right after pouring. Guess I will stick to pictures. By the way you could have been painting Bald Eagle My, here in Lycoming County. Beautiful work.

  9. Claire Inayatullah May 5, 2020 at 6:31 pm - Reply

    Wonderful article and product suggestions. I gave up turp decades ago as well as traditional oils. Been using the water-miscible except don’t like their behavior when thinned w water. Ergo: Linseed water-miscible and/or spike oil of lavender for painting and Master’s Soap does a great cleanup most of the time. I really sympathize w your allergies because I know the blistering headaches all too well when working too long, even keeping windows open and special fan running. I don’t know anyone else who has an issue w linseed which I just use very very carefully in my working environment. I’m also much more miserable with any alkyd for accelerating drying so envy my friends who can use such mediums to hurry their pictures’ progress along. I’m an amateur who thus doesn’t usually have the time to paint your hours but in my case I get bothered if I have time to paint and it is too cold or humid or blistering hot to leave the windows open. But anyone who tells me to give up painting goes immediately into my doghouse. So thank you again for all the information in your article.

  10. Maija May 13, 2020 at 4:55 am - Reply

    I painted with acrylics for several years and exposure to them caused me an acrylate allergy. causing me to cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, headaches … The last years, I have focused only on drawing and gouache and watercolor painting. I am now considering testing of water-soluble oil colors but I’m a little worried about the ingredients they contain, because I do not know what ingredients they use . what is used as an emulsifier?

  11. Brenda Johnson June 28, 2020 at 9:09 am - Reply

    Thanks so much for your help! My much loved water mixable oils are making me dizzy, nauseous and causing a cough. I can’t wait to try the Golden Open Acrylics. Regular acrylics bother me. I’ve tried gouache and I just don’t like it. I also feel completely drained the next day after a day of painting. I have allergies of all kinds and get shots too. Have resorted to wearing a P95 mask while painting which is also hard to breathe in.

    • Brett Weaver December 9, 2020 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Brenda,I apologize for not responding. I’ve been busy painting and taking care of little ones, and for some reason I haven’t been getting notifications on comments. Yes, I could not use water soluble more than a few times before I had worse reaction than with regular (linseed) oil paints. My legs would ache, too. Have you tried the Golden Open Acrylics yet? how is that working for you? I actually love gouache, but haven’t tried it on a larger scale painting. It seems that no matter what I use I feel completely drained at the end of the day, and sometimes the next morning, too. So it actually works out good that I usually watch the kids in the morning and start painting in the afternoon. But I totally understand. I used to feel like a complete zombie the next day when I was using linseed oil paints and linen. I got shot for six years and hate wearing a mask, too.

  12. David August 30, 2020 at 11:56 pm - Reply

    Well, I guess I’m not alone. My allergies to oil painting first materialized with really bad headaches that had me breaking out in a sweat. After a little back and forth testing, I realized it was the mineral spirits. Note: It didn’t make a difference whether they were odorless or not (Gamsol gave me far worse headaches than any other brand). I switched to just using walnut oil and if needed Spike of Lavender for clean up. Then I hit another snag. My skin began to break out in welts and rashes. It took some time but I’ve finally realized it’s the oil in oil paints. My skin becomes really oily after I finish painting from all the oil fumes in the air and the welts begin to show up. Great. I have one window, a constant air conditioner churning, and a air filter ($600.00) and it’s made no difference. I’m sure if I had one of those huge studios it might help but I’m in no financial shape to pay the rent on one of those so I paint in a large bedroom. Tried acrylics but don’t care for how they look or how they feel when I paint with them. Also, who’s to say I won’t have a reaction to those. It’s very frustrating after putting in so many years to be a better artists only to experience so many allergic reactions. Lets face it. Painting is not a healthy art form.

    • Brett Weaver December 9, 2020 at 6:51 pm - Reply

      David, Sorry for the delayed response. I totally understand those headaches to petroleum distillates. I don’t use any paint thinner for painting any more. I. start out with a brush and a lot of paint and I end with mostly palette knife so I can keep the paint fresh, to keep me from getting so muddy because I can’t clean my brushes. When I’m done painting I clean my brushes and palette with Biobased Artist Thinner from Art Treehouse. It’s soy based and doesn’t give me a headache from the limited use for clean up. I’m allergic to Lavender, too, and it’s expensive. I sometimes use Oil of Rosemary instead to make some mediums. Yeah, my skin used to feel like that some too. I always felt like it helped me to go for a jog and sweat all the poisons out?? I think our skin is pretty smart and help tell us that our body is struggling inside?? I sort of think ‘You are what you breath’ applies about the same as the old saying ‘You are what you eat’. If only we could be one of those lucky ones with no allergies. I have psoriatic arthritis, too, but haven’t been to doctor in 5 years. We all find our own way of dealing with things. When I eat certain things I always feel worse.

  13. Janet Hughes March 7, 2021 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    Thank you for approaching this so thoroughly, and sharing your experience in detail. It helps to clarify possible routes of inquiry as well as possible solutions. I have I think mild allergies to various things, with a clear reaction to volatile solvents. I have loved painting recently with Cold wax medium – find the citrus-based Zest-it minimally irritating but rather stinky. I clearly get reactions – mostly skin and scalp – to prolonged exposure. Living in New Zealand am very constrained as to the availability of non- mainstream brands.

    Have a wee cautionary tale for people who assume acrylic products are not allergenic. I have used acrylic medium, usually gel, for various purposes, mostly as an adhesive for collagraph plates. I really don’t much like acrylic as a painting medium. Recently I experimented with liquid acrylic medium (Liquitex) as an isolation layer in some multi-media work. My hair fell forward into my face, and I brushed it back to stop the tickling – with the back of my hand, but nevertheless got a streak of acrylic medium on my forehead. Ten minutes later I had a painful red welt there, which became fiercely flaky the next day. My stupid! But the surprising bit was that the scaly itch spread the next day over my face and arms, where no direct exposure had happened. It took a couple of weeks to subside. At least it was clear-cut – no doubt whatsoever about the cause. Thought I would share in case others were wondering if acrylic is a credible candidate…

    • Brett Weaver March 24, 2021 at 6:58 pm - Reply

      Janet, Thanks for sharing. Yes allergies are something to be taken very seriously. I’m not as allergic to acrylics as some people are. for some reason I don’t seem to be allergic to the Open acrylics but I typically try to wear a mask when I’m prepping canvases with gesso or painting the sides of a gallery wrap canvas. However, its typically the outgassing of the acrylics that seem to hit me the worst, with a delayed reaction, on the acrylics. I can’t use cold wax medium either because most of the products available around here have petroleum distillates. Right now my worst enemy is the spring pollen… I’m a walking zombie at the moment, just doing all I can to keep myself from destroying a painting…

  14. Aurora February 1, 2022 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    This article has been tremendously helpful for me! I have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) and am also “allergic” to everything (not necessarily true allergies, but very severe intolerances and sensitivities to so many environmental things, as well as foods, smells, fragrances, chemicals, mold, etc). I have been wanting to try painting as a hobby but have been too afraid the paints would make me sick so have been trying to research paints that are safe for people with MCS. I think I will give Golden Open Acrylics a try. Can you tell me if you use anything to thin the paints? They recommend using Open Thinner, but I’m not sure if that product might have a strong odor?

  15. Cristi April 21, 2022 at 12:28 am - Reply

    Thanks for this…I’m recovering from mold biotoxin illness (illness due to overload on the body from mycotoxins) and looking for non-toxic paints that won’t add to my toxic load. I love acrylics, so I will have to check out the Golden Open ones. (BTW, Your paintings are beautiful 🙂 )
    …Best wishes, also, on your journey in recovering your health.

  16. lynette redner August 15, 2022 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Hello, i know you wrote this some time ago. I just came off a plein air event and have been in bed from fatique, more than out of bed for the last two days. We kept long hours, and my van had the gamsol rags in it .I tend to use a lot of gamsol in washes. When I did a recent daily 10 day plein air paint , I felt this same fatigue but not to this degree. I tested myself for covid,(negative) with the suspicion that some part of the oil painting may be getting to me. There was so much in your blog that I can relate too. I am going to pay more attention to how I feel, what sets me off. Also I am going to start keeping a cleaner practice. Thank you, for opening up and sharing all this. I may need to break up the oil painting times with painting watercolor sessions.

  17. Teresa Purcell May 17, 2023 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Hi, just today Googled can I be allergic to acrylic paint , came across your article describing my symptoms to the point where I honestly think that’s my problem.
    I recently started up painting again using the dotting technique to create mandalas. I was tested years for severe allergies. Tested positive for mold!!! Never ever in my wildest thoughts did I think it was paint related!!! But now I do thanks to your detailed experience. I just yesterday worked quite a few hours on a 12″ mandala and this morning was a bad one to say the least!!
    So all that being said. I now look back over the year’s of my intermittent painting on canvas or my other projects with painting. I can see a pattern where I had increased symptoms afterwards. So after ENT visits / MRI and doctors prescribing allergy meds and still have major migraines etc. I’m going definitely figure this out once and for all.
    Thank soooooo much for the sharing of your experience. And also your paintings are beautiful.

    • Brett Weaver November 24, 2023 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      Teresa, Thanks for your comments. Sorry I don’t check my blog often enough. I’m glad my post has helped you some on your journey with paints and allergies. Thankfully I have learned to manage my allergies pretty well these days. This is not advice, but using Xlear Rescue nasal spray has seemed to help my allergies a great deal the past year or so.

  18. Teresa Purcell May 17, 2023 at 5:32 pm - Reply

    I today first the first time think I may have the reason for my recurring migraines etc. After reading your article! I honestly just googled.. can I be allergic to acrylic paint!? I have recently been painting Mandela’s with acrylic deco art Americana paint. And believe I have issues each time I paint for longer times.thank you so so much for you article I’ve learned alot and my research begins!

  19. Joan Shaver October 24, 2023 at 2:43 am - Reply

    Mr. WEAVER….I read this article on Eric Rhoads news certainly have suffered for your art.My allergies were dormant until my mid twentiesJust was sick a lot…then they broke bad…tested positive for everthing…alergic to planet earth! After college I gave up oils and switched to water color and acrylics. After many years of shots, I live pretty well..but will have to remain on shots the rest of my life.I am glad to hear you carry an epi pen…just in case you are ever exposed to something that could trigger a severe reaction.

    • Brett Weaver November 24, 2023 at 10:48 pm - Reply

      Joan, Thanks for your comments. I don’t carry an epi pen anymore, because I have gotten my paint allergies under control for the most part, as long as I avoid linseed oil and other artists studios. Seasonal allergies are still a problem though and I still try to avoid mold and cleaning chemicals. Recently we were having dinner at some friends house and I suddenly got really tired and couldn’t focus on the conversations. I had to get up and find the bathroom to splash some water on my face to hopefully wake up. On my way I found the culprit, a scented candle burning in the next room. After I kindly asked them if it was okay to put it out, I began to snap out of the daze.

  20. Katrina Horder January 27, 2024 at 6:37 am - Reply

    I came across your blog yesterday after putting in a search on allergies to artist paint. I had wondered if my headache and lethargy I experienced might be a reaction to the acrylics i had been using – interactive acrylics- for about 6 hours (I got caught up in painting and forgot the time). We had really high temperatures over the past few days (41degrees C/ 106 F) so I didn’t have the windows open.
    I had another go painting today- and was okay for a little while, but ended up feeling not so good. Even hours later I could still smell the acrylic paint on my skin.
    I am hoping to develop my art from being a hobby to a point where it can supplement my income. My reaction to the acrylic paint make it unlikely. I plan to try oils, but I still have memories of how I felt when I was young and my father painted in oils…
    I tried to see if I could get the Art treehouse brand but they don’t have a distributor in Australia.
    I’ll keep looking into what might be possible. You mentioned quite a few options in your original blog. Thanks for putting this out there. And thanks for leaving this blog available, 6 years down the track. By the way, I love your work, and I think I wouldn’t have come across it if I hadn’t been doing this search!

    • Brett Weaver February 13, 2024 at 6:35 pm - Reply

      Katrina, Thanks for your comment. Open Golden Acrylics are about the only acrylics that don’t seem to bother me after the outgasing. I even have to wear a mask when I gesso my canvases.

      As far as available paint in your area, you might check out mgraham or Blick artist grade oil paint. I believe Mgraham is made with walnut oil and maybe all but 3 colors of Blick and Sennelier are made with safflower oil as binder (if you’re allergic to flax). As far as paint thinner alternatives I’m not sure what is available in Australia. I really don’t use paint thinner when I’m painting anyway. So you could just look for a soy or corn based natural cleaner or whatever works good for your allergies to clean your brushes when your done painting. I have tried rosemary oil to thin my paint while painting, but I have heard mixed opinions on that and can’t confirm whether it’s a good idea for the long term stability of the paint… Hope this helps.


Leave A Comment Cancel reply