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Allergies and asthma

From the putting your safety first section


Allergic sensitisation, affecting normally the skin or respiratory system, can develop by being exposed to specific substances. While high exposures may make the allergy develop faster, once the allergy is established (often referred to the person being sensitised) even tiny amounts of the substance can set off an allergic reaction. Then what was often a small problem at the start can cause major problems later when the person affected often can't tolerate any exposure to the substance.

Generally occupational skin problems first affect the hands and forearms, which are most likely to have come into contact with specific substances at work but can spread further. The first signs are generally dry, red and itching skin, which can then become swollen, cracked and blistered. No one substance will affect everyone in the same way – so something that may cause an allergic reaction over time in one person, may not affect others working beside them until years later, if at all. If the person affected has a holiday often the skin problem will improve, and this can be a useful way of narrowing down what is causing the reaction.

Liquids and using water can break down the skin's natural defence barrier, so those working with these are most at risk. As both are things a painter deals with day in and day out, the problem of sensitisation is reasonably common among painters. Extreme temperatures, the sun and other factors can also contribute.

Skin sensitisers are generally either proteins in natural materials or chemicals. Protein reactions tend to be much faster than chemical ones, which tend to develop over time. Skin contact with chemicals can actually cause respiratory allergic symptoms even if the chemical hasn't been inhaled through the mouth or nose.

By design, biocides kill specific living organisms and inhibit growth of others protecting all manner of materials from contamination. At use levels some individuals can be adversely affected and this is something that is a risk with all materials – synthetic and natural. The very fact that allergies exist and have always existed simply highlights the diversity among populations and that the natural environment is full of chemicals that are non-harmful to the majority but can cause a range of effects in certain individuals. Allergies to paint are most likely to be caused by the biocide. Without the biocide then products spoil. Resene focuses on using materials that are effective at low concentration with the least effect on manufacturing staff, end users and the product characteristics.

Where you can, select less hazardous products for the job to minimise the risk - e.g. waterborne products in place of solventborne. If you can't eliminate, then make sure you minimise exposure - generally this will be through wearing and using the right protective equipment and tools, such as gloves, barrier creams, long sleeve clothing to avoid exposure of forearms and pants to protect legs from exposure. Protect the whole body, including face, neck and hands and make sure protective clothing is intact and regularly washed or replaced to avoid chemical build-up. Keep skin clean but avoid excessive over washing – instead protect the skin well first so that in most cases it doesn't get dirty and when it does, it is easy to get it clean. Dilute chemicals correctly to avoid contact with overstrength products and take care when using them to avoid skin contact and splashes. If skin contact does occur make sure that the affected area is washed immediately. Do not eat, drink or smoke while painting.

If you are particularly sensitive avoid painting ceilings where most splatter is likely to occur.

It is unlikely that paint will cause the sensitisation but could trigger an immune system response in sensitised individuals. Or consider employing a professional painter to complete the work. Ensure the painted area is well ventilated for at least 24 hours after completion.

Some decorators may find they get headaches or feel dizzy using solventborne products. This is a sign that more ventilation is needed during the painting process. You can also choose to wear a ventilation mask to reduce the odours that are breathed in.

Trade painters have more routine contact and personal protection is recommended.

If you start to discover skin problems then see a medical professional.


Asthma sufferers are affected by 'asthma triggers', which can be quite specific to the individual and the cause of inflammation of the airways and lungs. Common symptom triggers are associated with strong odours and fumes and fine particles. Some sufferers may be more prone to the effects of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in paints, solventborne paints (high in VOCs), formaldehyde, mould and dust.

We recommend choosing a Resene low or no added VOC waterborne paint, which has minimal odour and does not contain any formaldehyde- containing biocides. Limit exposure to the paint (by covering all exposed skin) to avoid skin contact and ensure adequate ventilation during the painting process and for at least 24 hours after painting.

Treat any area of moss and mould with a moss and mould killer, such as Resene Moss & Mould Killer, to kill the mould. Ensure all areas are well ventilated as mould only tends to develop in high moisture areas. This may require the installation of additional ongoing ventilation in wet areas such as bathrooms and additional insulation, double glazing or heating in other areas.

Any sanding required would be better wet sanded with carborundum paper and water still using a mask. Higher gloss paints are easier to dust and keep clean than lower gloss paints, so may be preferable for those sensitive to dust.

Some asthma sufferers may find a painted or stained (and clear finished) floor preferable to carpet to minimise dust. If you are sensitive to dust, avoid using blackboard paints, as the dust from the chalk may cause sensitivity.

View Sensitive Choice® approved paint


Putting your safety first!
Understanding paint hazards and essential precautions

Safety topics   Problem solver topics   Ask a Paint Expert


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