Are Non-Toxic Children's Paints Harmful if Swallowed?

By Daisy Peasblossom Fernchild
Paint belongs on the art work, not on or in the artist.
Paint belongs on the art work, not on or in the artist.

According to Medline Plus, the website of the National Institutes of Health, water color paints, which are usually labeled as non-toxic can contain some poisonous ingredients, such as cadmium or cobalt pigments. Several tubes of paint might have to be consumed before symptoms appear, but commercial paint, even when made for children, is not usually intended to be eaten. For especially young artists, purchase or make edible paint that will allow them to sample their art work without adverse affect.

Natural Doesn't Mean Edible

Natural paints made from herbal dyes and ground earth could be eco-friendly, but they might not be completely non-toxic. For example, cadmium is a mineral. It is rated as being extremely toxic and having no known benefit to the human body. Milk paint, a paint ideal for use on walls and furniture for people who are sensitive to latex, is made using hydrated lime. Hydrated lime can cause chemical burns on skin and would definitely be harmful if swallowed. Vegetable dyes sound lovely, but pokeweed berries, which make a bright magenta color, can be toxic if eaten in sufficient quantities.

For the Youngest Artists

Finger paints are a lot of fun, especially for the 2-and-under crowd. Pudding paint, which is regular pudding mix purchased from your local grocery store and mixed extra thick, will allow your budding artist to create a glorious mess completely free of toxins. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and pistachio pudding can create an easy palette for a young artist. Use butcher paper or even sugar cookies for a canvas. Add some sugar sprinkles or cake decorations for extra creativity.

Brushable Paints

Paint is essentially color suspended in a liquid medium. When you brush it onto a surface, you want it to stick on the surface and make a picture. You can help your toddler graduate from edible art supplies, such as pudding paint, to regular paint by making your own vegetable paints. Mix a strongly colored fruit or vegetable dye, such as beet juice or blackberry juice, with a neutral medium, such as a mixture of 1 part cornstarch or flour and 2 parts water. Cook them together to make a thin gravy, and let it cool before letting your child paint with it. Since it doesn't taste as good as pudding paint, your child is less likely to try eating it, but there won't be any adverse effects if she tries.

Graduating to Commercial Paints

Commercial "non-toxic" paints are reasonably safe for youngsters to use to paint on paper. Explain to your child that paint is for painting, not for eating. Be a part of your child's art experience by either sharing a picture to paint or working side by side with her. Set an example of painting only on the art material and using proper clean-up habits. Have a designated spot for pouring paint water where it cannot harm the environment or clog up your drain pipes. Show your child how to store paint brushes and paint so that they will be ready for next time.

About the Author

Daisy Peasblossom Fernchild has been writing for over 50 years. Her first online publication was a poem entitled "Safe," published in 2008. Her articles specialize in animals, handcrafts and sustainable living. Fernchild has a Bachelor of Science in education and a Master of Arts in library science.