Health & Safety

If you are making or buying art dolls (Reborns or silicone) you should familiarise yourself with some of the health and safety points regarding the materials and processes. In this post I will talk about

  • the chemicals used in making or maintaining dolls
  • how to use the artists products safely
  • considerations when making or selecting a doll for children.

Making & Buying Dolls that are Safe for Children

Art dolls are not toys. Toys in most countries have to be manufactured and certificated to a strict standard to protect our little people from choking, injury and toxicity. In Europe a product that conforms is legally to the toy directive is required to carry a CE mark also stating "unsuitable for children under 36 months" or "Unsuitable for children under 14". Artists specifically making dolls for children, can affordably comply with the law if they follow the requirements of the Toy Safety Directive and feel comfortable that they have protected their little customers. This article covers the requirements for hand made toys very clearly.

Those selling in or into Europe for children should be aware that it is illegal to do so. If you don't want to sell to children - the simplest way around this is to state clearly on your advert AND on the doll "Not suitable for children" and you are exempt from all of the testing. 

As a European parent reading this article you should check with your artist if they meet the CE criteria, or perhaps suggest that they look at compliance. 

Artists who purchase kits made in Europe and the US, or specifically compliant factories elsewhere will usually find it easy to comply. Unfortunately the cheaper kits - often produced without artist's permission in factories outside of the EU and the US can contain dangerous phthalates and other toxic products which would make it impossible to conform to the toy directive. Phthalates are a known carcinogen and endocrine disruptor that is banned in the use of toys in the EU, Canada (but not all banned in the USA). It is not a risk to adults, but to a small child who may but the toy in their mouth it is dangerous. Im not saying that China is bad - many artists have their kits legitimately produced there, but there is less rigorous control over the use of chemicals that are banned in the EU and the North America. Most quality manufacturers will state "Phthalate free" for their kits. Read Phthalates - the dangers in toys and this article on chinese made toys containing pthalates

Making and Caring for Art Dolls 

Many people make dolls in their kitchens and living rooms as part of a wonderfully rewarding hobby, but great care should be taken not to expose your family (and furry family) and yourself to what can be harmful particles and gasses during the process. Unless you are very limited on the painting products you use, it is not safe to make dolls in your family home unless you are very careful to ventilate on completion and do not allow any family or pets into the are when you are making dolls. You also need to secure you art materials away from children and pets. Many items are hazardous, toxic , irritant, poisonous...well just generally a big risk for kids.

Thinners and Solvents

The most obvious, and probably most dangerous one is the thinners and solvents used during painting (both silicone or vinyl babies). These solvents almost always contain VOCs (volatile organic compounds) which are VERY hazardous to health - even if you can't smell them (odourless thinners). All products should, by law, come with their MSDS - a "material safety data sheet" (or a digital copy on the supplier website) which tells you how to properly handle, store, contain and dispose of the product. Ensure you read it and take note. Here are the MSDS of some of the most popular solvents and thinners:

Bob Ross Odorless Thinners



Mona Lisa Odorless Thinners

If you have clicked these links you might be a bit horrified about just how dangerous these are. 

As a professional artist it is your responsibility to ensure that you protect yourself and anyone around you. The supplier only has to provide the document. At a minimum your area should be well ventilated, you should wear skin protection (gloves and full body coverage) and appropriate breathing protection, and if you are using an airbrush, then eye protection too. A dust mask isn't going to be sufficient - you need a proper respirator for organic vapours (the 3m 6055 filters are my personal choice) and you must look after it and wear it according to the manufacturers instructions. I cannot stress enough how dangerous these products are - you must not expose yourself or your family to them. Read this wikipedia page just in case you need to know how harmful they are. It is difficult to have a dedicated work room with suitable ventilation, but if you can't - at the very least ensure that no-one else enters the area until you are fully cleaned up and fully ventilated after your painting.

Heating Vinyl

With vinyl (reborn) dolls, heat cure paints are very popular. This heating process can cause harmful gasses to be given off. These again can include VOCs, plasticisers which make the vinyl softer (including phthalates) and other toxins. So again - a suitable mask/respirator, ventilated area, and a dedicated oven (not for food) is absolutely necessary. Do not heat your artwork in your kitchen with your kids and cat running around!! If you can't find a safe dedicated location and protect from exposure - consider using air dry paints. Also buy your kits from reputable manufacturers who will advise you whether their particular material is safe to heat or not. You can also minimise exposure by only baking when absolutely necessary.

Matting Powder

Matting powders - of any type (that includes powdered sugar, talc, cornstarch, branded nylon, silicon or silica based matting powders) are all dangerous to inhale - because they are fine particles - this is common sense. The same is true of sawdust, house dust, pepper, . They should be used in a well ventilated area with suitable breathing protection. Whilst they may not have the debilitating effects that the VOCs in the painting or heating process may have, it is obvious that inhaling fine particles in your day to day work is not good for you.

Artists should use a well fitting dust mask or ventilator suitable for particles, and change it regularly - and the instructions followed. DIY suppliers typically stock these for carpentry - look for particle size 0.1 micron or less. Just like a carpenter - wear an artists coverall or overshirt to protect your clothes. The key with any powder inhalation is that increased exposure is attributed to irritation. So a collector lightly powdering their dolls once a month with a little cornstarch or silicone velvet is unlikely to have any problems, but an artist using any powder a few times a week really needs to use a good mask and work in a proper dedicated space. Many matting products are designed and approved for use in silicone prosthetic work (on human skin) so the risk is only really to the regular artist with no ventilation or mask. This same advice would be true of the home baker who uses powdered sugar with no protection in her family kitchen on occasions as compared to a professional bakery where masks & protective gear are essential. The occasional DIY person is probably not at risk from wood dust, but work in a sawmill and you must take precautions. Due to their not being toxic or carcinogenic MSDS are not required by law for the most popular matting powders (its not like you get MSDS when buying cornstarch in a supermarket!), but if you ask your supplier they do generally have them available. They are likely to say - don't inhale, wear a mask if you are frequently exposed, it is NOT toxic if consumed (expect talc), safe on skin. OK - its not really a big ask to put on a mask if you have already properly protected yourself for the nasty VOCs in the paint process - you may as well just use the same one! 

And as you are here on my site...a little word on the safety of Silicone Velvet Matte powder. As our product is designed not only for silicone dolls, but also silicone prosthetic work - it has been approved for use in all cosmetics without any restriction. It is not listed as a carcinogen by IARC, NTP, Z List or OSHA. Europe (EU) Hazard Classification : This material is not defined as a dangerous substance regarding EU directive 67/548/EEC and its various amendments and adaptations. Frankly - I still wear a dust mask though as I use a lot of this stuff!