Are Oil Pastels Toxic? How Safe Are They

As colorful as they may be, oil pastels can be a little toxic if ingested (eaten), but will not kill you.

Oil pastels contain pigments that can sometimes be toxic if ingested (eaten) but generally, they are low to non-toxic and safe to use. 

These pigments are a mix of various chemicals that give each oil pastel its vibrant color, but some of them may be harmful if not handled with care.

While some cheap oil pastel pigments sourced from unregulated countries are potentially toxic, most well-known brands made in Europe and the USA have been tested to ensure they meet safety standards.

The Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) is one authority that certifies non-toxic art materials, ensuring they are safe for all age groups.

To determine whether your favorite oil pastels are toxic, you can check if the brand has received approval from the ACMI or consult their list of certified art supplies.

An AP seal means the product has been tested and approved for use.

ACMI seal - An AP seal means the product has been tested and approved for use.

An AC label means you should use caution when using the product. 

ACMI seal - An AC label means you should use caution when using the product. 

Understanding the potential toxicity of oil pastels helps you make informed choices about their use. Here are some key takeaways:

Key Callouts

  • Oil pastels may contain toxic pigments in some instances but there are generally safe to use
  • The ACMI certifies non-toxic art materials to ensure safety standards are met.
  • Look for ACMI-approved brands to ensure the oil pastels you choose are safe to use. Products that do not have the ACMI labels arent necessarily toxic. They have just not been submitted their products to be tested. They may still be safe.
  • Oil pastes are generally comprised of pigment and binder.
  • Most have non-toxic or low-toxicity pigments.
  • Some older oil pastels may contain toxic pigments.
  • Toxic pigments can be released when heated or fragmented into dust.
  • There is a low inhalation hazard from oil pastels as they tend not to become like dust when used.
  • Some risk exists if oil pastels are ingested but these tend to be quite low.
  • Artist-quality pastels are usually lower in quality and may have toxic pigments and stick to skin if they are manufactured in locations with lax laws.
  • Wear gloves or use barrier cream for protection.
  • Clean hands with baby oil after use if they are stuck on your hands or use blending sticks or gloves when handling or smudging oil pastels.

What Are Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are a popular type of art medium, distinct from oil paints and soft pastels. They are a blend of pigment, oil, and wax, forming a smooth and creamy texture. Available in various colors, they come in the form of cylindrical sticks that are easy to handle and use.

These pastels are perfect for artists of all levels, as they can create vibrant and rich artwork with ease. Different types of pastel sticks offer various properties, such as firmness, pigmentation, and blending capabilities. Several well-known brands produce high-quality oil pastel sets, catering to different preferences.

Contrasting with oil paints, oil pastels do not require additional solvents or mediums to work. Due to their wax content, they are more solid and less messy than oil paints. They differ from soft pastels, which consist of pigment and less binder and produce more dust.

Using oil pastels is straightforward. With the right techniques, you can blend colors, layer, and create various effects on the canvas. Unlike pastel pencils, which offer precise and controlled application, pastel sticks are more versatile and expressive.

When it comes to safety, oil pastels are generally safe for use. Yet, some may contain toxic pigments that require extra care when handling. Always choose oil pastel brands that follow industry standards and guidelines to ensure you work with non-toxic materials. 

Lastly, oil pastels are not like chalk pastels – they will not create a lot of dust. The particles tend to be much heavier and will usually stick to a surface rather than float around in the air. By design this makes them safer to use.

Best Oil Pastels

Understanding the Toxicity of Oil Pastels

Oil pastels are a popular art medium used by both children and adults. But, you might wonder if they are toxic. Good news, oil pastels are generally considered non-toxic.

The Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc. (ACMI) is the authority that approves the safety of art materials, including oil pastels.

Although oil pastels don’t contain solvents like other art supplies, some pigments used in them can be hazardous.

Heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, are found in some toxic pigments, which could pose health risks if ingested or inhaled.

Handling these pastels carefully is vital for avoiding chronic health problems.

To minimize health risks, follow these guidelines:

  • Choose oil pastels with ACMI approval: Look for brands with the AP (Approved Product) seal to ensure the product is non-toxic.
  • Ventilate your workspace: Proper airflow helps prevent inhaling any potentially harmful pigments.
  • Wear gloves: Using gloves while working with oil pastels can reduce skin exposure.
  • Wash your hands: Always wash your hands thoroughly after using oil pastels.

By following these simple precautions, you can safely enjoy using oil pastels in your art projects.

Embrace your creativity without worrying about potential hazards, and remember that art is about fun and self-expression!

Safety Standards in Art Materials

When it comes to art materials, safety is a key concern. The Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) plays a vital role in evaluating and approving non-toxic art products, including oil pastels.

They use the AP Seal to indicate products that are safe for artists and students.

The ACMI does thorough testing and ensures that products conform to ASTM D 4236, a standard for chronic hazard labeling, as well as the United States Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act (LHAMA).

When you see an art product with the ACMI seal, you can be confident that it is safe to use.

To stay on the safe side while using oil pastels, be sure to:

  • Look for the AP Seal on the packaging, indicating a non-toxic product.
  • Follow handling guidelines and usage instructions on the label.

Remember, safety first! Using ACMI-approved art materials correctly can make your creative journey more enjoyable and worry-free.

Safe Usage of Oil Pastels

I’m here to share my tips on how to safely and efficiently use oil pastels. Oil pastels, typically made of pigments mixed with natural wax, pose little risk in normal use.

However, practicing safe techniques contributes to a better creative experience.

When working with oil pastels, apply light pressure to create fine lines and maintain sharp edges.

This technique ensures a thin layer of pastels on the paper, allowing for intricate details in small areas.

When blending colors, a gentle touch provides a smooth transition between shades without risking unnecessary color mixing.

Developing good hand-eye coordination supports precise line work and gives you better control over your artwork.

Stay aware of your surroundings and avoid blowing dust off the paper. Airborne pastel particles may cause health issues over time.

To minimize risks related to dust, work in a well-ventilated space and follow these practices:

  • Clean your hands regularly to clear away pastel residue.
  • Use a damp cloth or sponge to tidy up your work area.
  • Invest in gloves if you prefer extra layer protection.

Remember, using oil pastels safely enhances your ability to express yourself with this versatile and enjoyable medium.

Adopting these practices, paired with essential precautions, ensures a rewarding artistic journey.

Oil Pastels for Different Age Groups

Oil pastels are a wonderful art medium for people of all ages, especially for young children. They are easy to use and enhance fine motor skills while stimulating creativity.

With their bright and vibrant colors, oil pastels improve color recognition among kids.

Young Children

Oil pastels are non-toxic, which makes them suitable for young children. Since kids often put things in their mouths, using non-toxic art supplies is necessary.

When young children work with oil pastels, they can develop fine motor skills through gripping the pastels and applying pressure while drawing.

School-age Children

At a young age, children can experiment with blending and layering techniques, boosting their artistic skills.

As they grow older, kids can explore more advanced drawing techniques, working their way up to more detailed and realistic drawings.

Oil pastels are an excellent tool for honing these skills over time.

Adults and Professionals

Even for adults, oil pastels are a fantastic medium to work with. Oil pastels offer endless possibilities whether you’re a professional artist or just looking for a creative outlet.

Oil pastels allow artists to experiment with various techniques and styles, from blending to creating complex textures and gradients.

Pregnant Women

So we know I am not a veterinarian or a doctor. But in general, having asked a few artists who are also moms who made art while pregnant they stated that they had no issues.

While oil pastels are typically labeled as non-toxic for general use, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Ingestion – Like anyone else, pregnant women should not ingest oil pastels. Ingesting non-food items can lead to gastrointestinal issues, and the specific risks associated with ingesting the pigments or binders in oil pastels are not well-known.
  • Skin Absorption – While it’s unlikely that significant amounts of pigment or binder would be absorbed through the skin, it’s always a good idea to avoid prolonged skin contact with art materials. This is particularly true for pregnant women, as some materials might contain compounds that could be harmful if absorbed.
  • Toxic Pigments – Even if an oil pastel is labeled non-toxic, some artist-grade oil pastels might contain pigments that are toxic if ingested, inhaled as dust, or absorbed. Always check the label and the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) if available.
  • Ventilation – If oil pastels are heated (which is not a common practice but might be done in some art processes), they could release fumes. It’s important to work in a well-ventilated area.
  • General Precautions – As a precaution, pregnant women might choose to wear gloves when working with oil pastels, wash hands thoroughly after use, and avoid creating dust or particles.
  • Consultation – Pregnant women should always consult with their healthcare provider regarding any potential exposures or activities to ensure they are not putting themselves or their developing baby at risk.

While casual use of oil pastels is likely low risk, pregnant women should always be cautious and informed about the materials they are using.

Remember to keep your workspace clean when using oil pastels. Place a placemat or newspaper underneath the work surface to protect it from potential mess.

This practice applies to all age groups, not just pregnant women, and ensures that everyone can enjoy oil pastels without causing any damage to furniture or belongings.

No matter your age, oil pastels are a versatile and engaging medium to explore.

By starting with simple projects and advancing to more complex creations, you can improve your artistic abilities and enjoy a satisfying and fun hobby.

Are Oil Pastels Toxic To Dogs

So, I am not a veterinarian, but in general many art supplies including oil pastels are not meant for consumption. They can potentially pose health risks if ingested by dogs or other animals. 

pexels lumn 406014

The toxicity of oil pastels can vary based on their ingredients. Here are some things to consider:

Non-Toxic Labels

Many art supplies are labeled “non-toxic”, which usually means they are safe for humans if accidentally ingested in small amounts.

However, “non-toxic” for humans doesn’t necessarily mean safe for dogs. Dogs have different metabolisms and what might be harmless to a person could be harmful to a dog.


Some oil pastels might contain harmful pigments, fillers, or other compounds. Even if these components aren’t acutely toxic, they can still cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs.

Choking Hazard

Apart from the potentially toxic effects of the ingredients, the physical product itself can pose a choking hazard or cause a blockage if large pieces are swallowed.

Clinical Signs

If your dog has ingested oil pastels, monitor for signs of distress such as vomiting, diarrhea, excessive drooling, coughing, difficulty breathing, or any other unusual behavior.

Veterinary Care

If you suspect your dog has ingested any non-food item, including oil pastels, it’s always best to consult with a veterinarian.

They can give you advice tailored to your specific situation and recommend whether your dog needs to be seen.

To ensure the safety of your pets, always keep art supplies and other potential hazards out of their reach.

Do Oil Pastels Become Toxic As They Age?

We’ve all had or seen those oil pastels that have seen better days. The ones that have not seen any sunlight in years or they have a weird wax smell. Are those oil pastels toxic?

Oil pastels themselves do not inherently become toxic with age. That weird waxy smell is just the smell of the oils or wax used to bind the pigments together, getting old. 

It does not make it more toxic than when it was new. 

The components in oil pastels, primarily pigments and binders, remain chemically stable over time. However, there are a few considerations to bear in mind:

Pigment Composition

Some older oil pastels, especially those manufactured several decades ago, might contain pigments that are no longer used or are now recognized as toxic.

These pigments would have been toxic even when the pastels were new. It’s always wise to familiarize yourself with the pigments used in any art product.

Surface Contamination

Over time, oil pastels can accumulate dust, dirt, and other contaminants on their surface. While not related to the pastels themselves aging, this contamination can introduce potential health risks if ingested or inhaled.

Degradation of Binders

While the pigments might remain stable, the binders in oil pastels could degrade or change over time.

This doesn’t necessarily make them toxic, but the pastels might become more crumbly, harder to use, or produce more dust.

Handling and Usage

Regardless of their age, you should handle oil pastels in a manner that avoids ingestion, inhalation, or excessive skin contact.

This includes not eating or smoking while using them and washing your hands after use.

To ensure safety, always work in a well-ventilated area, keep art materials out of the reach of children and pets, and be informed about the specific materials you are using. 

how long do oil pastels last

If you’re concerned about the composition or safety of old oil pastels, it might be a good idea to replace them with a new set from a reputable manufacturer.

So what a the more popular non-toxic oil pastel brands? Let’s have a look.

Popular Non-Toxic Oil Pastel Brands

You may wonder if oil pastels are toxic. Thankfully, there are many non-toxic oil pastel brands available, making them safe for both professional artists and hobbyists.

Sennelier Oil Pastels and Pentel Arts Oil Pastels are both popular choices for artists.

Sennelier pastels provide rich, vibrant colors made from high-quality pigments. They offer excellent lightfastness, ensuring your artwork remains bright over time.

Pentel Arts oil pastels, on the other hand, are budget-friendly while still delivering the necessary performance for various projects.

If you are starting or prefer student-grade options, DOMS Oil Pastels and Crayola Oil Pastels are excellent go-to choices. I have been using Crayola oil pastels with my kids since before they could even write.

The thickness and ease of use is perfect for tiny hands as they explore pre-writing and drawing.

DOMS offers bright, blendable colors that make it easy for learners to experiment. Crayola is a trusted brand known for its non-toxic products that cater to beginners and younger audiences.

Some artists prefer harder pastels, and Holbein Artists or Caran d’Ache have options that cater to this preference. These two brands are on the other end of the quality spectrum compared to Crayola and are aimed at professionals or artists who only want the best.

Holbein Artists’ oil pastels provide a balance of softer and harder pigment mixes, while Caran d’Ache offers quality products with exceptional lightfastness.

When opting for artist-quality pastels, consider Sennelier as they are known for premium-grade oil pastels with a creamy texture. They are highly recommended for advanced and professional artists.

Although not oil pastels, chalk pastels are another non-toxic alternative. They offer a dustier and more delicate finish. Brands such as Caran d’Ache and Sennelier also produce artist-grade chalk pastels.

Remember to keep your preferences, budget, and skill level in mind when selecting an oil pastel brand.

With the wide range of non-toxic options available, you’re sure to find the perfect one to unleash your creativity.

Are Oil Pastels Toxic – Additional Information to Consider

As a visual artist, you should know that oil pastels are a versatile art medium, and they offer unique advantages to your creative expression.

Many professional artists use oil pastels for creating stunning landscapes, abstract art, and realistic drawings. Before using oil pastels in your next masterpiece, consider the following information.

First, let’s discuss the composition of oil pastels. Oil pastels typically contain pigments, a binder like linseed or walnut oil, and a filler such as calcium carbonate.

The linseed or walnut oil helps the pastel glide smoothly across the surface, creating beautiful effects and blending opportunities.

Oil sticks, a variation of oil pastels, have a firmer consistency and are composed of pigment and linseed oil, but without the addition of fillers.

This makes oil sticks an excellent choice when seeking different effects or thicker applications in your artwork.

Next, consider how various art supplies and pastel types may affect your art process.

For example, when using oil pastels or oil sticks, you can employ a small amount of solvent or even soluble oil pastels to blend colors and create a more oil painting-like effect.

Pan pastel and soft pastel products contain less oil and more calcium carbonate, which produces a more chalky consistency; these types of pastels may not provide the same texture or blending results as oil pastels.

When choosing your oil pastels, consider the quality of the product and its ingredients. Brands like Henri Sennelier offer a wide range of colors and high-quality materials in their oil pastel offerings, making them a top choice for many artists.

Be aware that lower-quality oil pastels may contain harmful ingredients, but reputable brands will adhere to safety standards and avoid using toxic materials.

As a responsible artist, be cautious when working with oil pastels. Although the risk is low, some pastels might contain small traces of harmful substances.

To reduce any potential risks, avoid inhaling pastel dust and be mindful of proper ventilation while working.

Handling oil pastels with care and cleanliness can ensure that your artistic endeavors remain a safe and enjoyable experience.

Finally, as you explore new techniques in pastel painting, don’t be afraid to experiment. The best way to learn and grow as an artist is through trial and error.

Try combining oil pastels, oil sticks, and different mediums to achieve innovative results in your artwork. 

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