Precautions for pastels and spray fixatives

Jul 02 Precautions for pastels and spray fixatives

I love the look and feel I can get from pastels, but now I’m firmly determined that I will stop using soft pastels, and further reduce the use of dry media, which includes Charcoal and pencils. Any dry medium requires spray fixative application. I thought spraying  outside in open air wouldn’t require a mask. But I am very sensitive to toxic air. I may sound over reactive to this issue… but health should be the priority. So, I  hope anyone who loves drawing to be warned and use cautions.

Geisha, Pastels on Paper by Soo Kim, 12×15

Below is the information on Pastel hazards that I found on

Artists using pastels are often unaware of their potentially high exposure to toxic pigments, such as those containing lead, cadmium, cobalt and chromium.  Because pastels are a dry medium, the pigments contained in the different colors become easily airborne, causing exposure by the inhalation and ingestion of particles.  Artists often report seeing their palette reproduced on tissues used on face and nose.  Some pigments, especially chromates, may also be hazardous through skin contact.

The following is a list of precautions to take to reduce exposures to hazardous pigments in pastels.

  1. Find out specific pigment ingredients by obtaining the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) on the various colors from the manufacturer.
  2. Schools in particular should only select pastels from manufacturers that provide MSDSs.  Unfortunately, many companies producing pastels are foreign, and do not have accessible and adequate MSDSs for their products.
  3. Substitute less toxic pigments for highly toxic ones.
  4. Use the least dusty pastels that are available.  Pastel brands differ in the amount of dust created.  Pastel pencils are usually less dusty.
  5. Keep the studio area clean by wet-wiping surfaces and wet-mopping floors.  Vacuum, don’t sweep the studio.
  6. Do not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum, or apply cosmetics in the studio.
  7. These activities all can lead to accidental ingestion of the pigments.
  8. Wash hands after working.
  9. Do not blow off pastel residue from drawing paper.  This just blows the dust straight from the paper into your breathing zone.  Vacuum pastel dust with a mini-vacuum, or tap the easel to allow the excess dust to drop to the ground.
  10. Wear separate work clothes in the studio.
  11. A NIOSH-approved dust mask should be worn if pastels containing hazardous pigments are used and are being inhaled.  A way to check for the inhalation of pastel dusts is to tie a white handkerchief over your nose and mouth when working and see if it turns color.

Spray Fixatives

Both permanent and workable spray fixatives contain toxic solvents.  There is potentially high exposure to these solvents because the products are sprayed in the air, often right on a desk or easel.  You can inhale the plastic particulates that comprise the fixative itself.  The following precautions should be used with spray fixatives:

  1. Obtain MSDSs on the spray fixatives, particularly to get information on the solvents contained in the fixative.  Some spray fixatives contain n-hexane, which can cause peripheral and central nervous system damage, and should be avoided.
  2. Spray fixatives should be used with a spray booth that exhausts to the outside.
  3. A NIOSH-approved respirator with organic vapor cartridges and dust and mists filter can be used for protection against the solvent vapors and particulates if a spray booth is not available. An exhaust fan is also needed to remove the vapors and particulates from the room.
  4. For occasional use of spray fixatives, spray outdoors.

Special Precautions

Because of both pigment and solvent hazards, pastels and spray fixatives should not be used by children, pregnant women, or individuals with respiratory problems.  Oil pastels, pencils, and crayons can be substituted in these situations.

  • MaryP
    Posted on Jun 13, 2017 Reply

    IMPORTANT: Do not vacuum pastel dust unless using a true HEPA filter or the harmful dust can get kicked into the air. “The particles are essentially invisible, they’re carried throughout the house on clothing and shoes, they go right through common vacuum cleaner filters, and they become airborne on even the smallest air current.”

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