View Full Version : Breathing Pastel Dust
05-06-2005, 10:20 PM
I am new to the pastel medium, and I absolutely love it.
I am not sensitive to pastel dust. In fact, I never see pastel dust in the air, only on the easel ledge or on the table.
Yet I have heard that pastel dust can be dangerous to breathe in. So I worry a little about the fact that some pigments can be toxic or carcinogenic.
I have never taken any precautions when using pastels. Should I be wearing a dust mask?
05-06-2005, 11:25 PM
One suggestion...DON'T blow!!
It's up to you if you need a mask. You can get the soft ones in drug stores and they are really nice.
I went through the phase of wearing one but now I don't. Just be careful and vacuum your painting area and easel often and leave a window open if you can.
Lots of other folks around here will give you lots more suggestions on the subject.
05-07-2005, 11:06 PM
A dust mask would be a good idea, as long as you can stand wearing one. I used to have one like the dentists have, but it would shoot hot air into my eyes everytime I breathed. Then I got a nice, heavy-duty one with a vent in it, which works great. I don't like having a mask, but I've worn one ever since I got a whiff of dust, started choking, and couldn't breathe for a really long time (actually was the first time I ever used pastels, and nearly put me off using them entirely).
Another suggestion is vinyl gloves. It protects your fingers from absorbing the dust, and is really helpful when blending on sanded paper :) . Latex works, too, but you can become allergic to them after a while, and they don't blend as well.
05-07-2005, 11:40 PM
Hi dddiam.... Welcome to the Pastel Forum.
I've been painting with pastels for over 18 years now without a mask and have suffered no ill effects. I think if you have any upper respiratory problems like asthma it might be a concern and a mask may help. Our fellow WC-er Kitty Wallis (the paper manufacturer) tells us she has worked in pastels for much longer than I, and in fact makes her own pastels, and has had extensive tests for heavy metals, etc, with no problems. (I'll see if I can scare up the thread where she discussed this and list it here if I find it.) The particulate size of pastel dust is too large to settle into the lungs like coal dust, so we most likely won't die of black lung (or colorful lung) disease. If you're really concerned you can check the pigments used in the pastels you buy to see if they are dangerous, but the FDA reguates things so that there's no longer cobalt or cadmium in them, I believe.
Rather than gloves, you might consider using a barrier cream, which is actually much more effective, if you're concerned about absorbing the pigments through your skin. A good thorough washing rather frequently is perhaps superior to gloves or the cream, however.
05-09-2005, 02:33 AM
I just found an interesting article (from the 90's) about potential health hazards in art schools and it gets pretty specific.
It appears the pigments in pastels still contain carcinogens and other nasty stuff. Apparently just opening a window isn't going to provide much protection. If anyone is interested in scrolling through and picking out their area of interest here it is...
05-09-2005, 12:32 PM
I don't have the time to read this article, so I can't comment about it.
However, I DO know that in my years of painting with pastels I've found there are what I can only term as zealots who desire nothing more than to 'save us from ourselves.' These people believe that we foolish artists are happily deluded by greedy manufacturers who want to sell us materials that will kill us. Instead, they want to ride to the fore to destroy the evil influence--and, by the way, in so doing they will deprive us of our medium. They want to convince the powers that be that when we play in the dirt (pigments are dirt, foks) we'll die. I've seen articles about the harm that certain dirt can do, from radicals who would have pastels banned in the US altogether. They seem only slightly less strident about oils, watercolors and acrylics because the pigments are suspended in a medium--but only slightly. They imply that many of us have played in the dirt so long our brains have already been impacted and we need to be rescued, like junkies who are incapable of seeing clearly because of the effects of their drug. (Hmmmm...do I sound as strident as they? Sorry!)
At any rate, be aware that these people are out there. I won't assure you that the medium is totally benign and will not harm you in any way, but I will say that life is influenced by many environmental factors that a mature, fairly well educated and intelligent person is capable of making rational decisions about.
Here's a link to a former thread with much more discussion of the same topic: Pastel Safety (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=172064) Check out post #13 by Maggie Price, in particular, and #16 by Kitty Wallis.
05-09-2005, 12:39 PM
Bravo Deborah :clap: :clap: :clap: My sentiments exactly!
05-09-2005, 01:22 PM
You have to be comfortable with the health related choices you make for your body as no one knows you better than you! AND sometimes it's darn hard to make the best choices without good info, but there is a good amount of info to read in this link Deborah provided to help ease so many minds out there about the hazards of this beloved medium.
05-09-2005, 02:49 PM
I've been painting with pastels for over 18 years now without a mask and have suffered no ill effects. [...] Our fellow WC-er Kitty Wallis [...] has had extensive tests for heavy metals, etc, with no problems. <snip>
I just found an interesting article [...]
It appears the pigments in pastels still contain carcinogens and other nasty stuff. [...]
[...] zealots who [...] believe that we foolish artists are happily deluded by greedy manufacturers who want to sell us materials that will kill us. [...] that when we play in the dirt (pigments are dirt, folks) we'll die.
Here's a link to a former thread with much more discussion of the same topic [...]
Thanks all. I appreciate the balanced perspective afforded by multiple views.
I will check out the articles and threads and decide what I want to do. My guess is that I will strike a balance, like eating some organic vegetables and some junk food. I know that living in today's technological society is bad for my health, but I risk it anyway for the richness and convenience.
05-10-2005, 07:23 PM
I have fairly severe asthma and a small studio so i find that my small air cleaner works wonders. If I had to wear a mask, I don't think I would paint nearly as often as I like to. The air cleaner keeps the dust down and allows me to paint without it affecting my breathing. Of course, even without the air cleaner, I don't notice it to be too bad. I just notice it to be better when the air cleaner is on.
As for hands - I use baby wipes. They keep my hands clean between colours and allow me to keep going without always having to hop up and wash my hands...
05-10-2005, 09:46 PM
I truly do believe that the EPA and similar organizations become entirely too zealous in their "the sky is falling" judgements. How much of that is the result of the powers that be needing to protect their own jobs is an interesting point. Frankly, I get by just fine with my little air cleaner (and I'm an asthmatic too) and a bit of care with the housekeeping. What sends me into an immediate tailspin is the MTBE the EPA insists we put in our gasoline every winter to "protect the environment"...I have to get someone else to gas up for me during the winter months unless I want to be gasping in panic. I guess it's all relative.
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