Paints serve two purposes: beautification and protection of the exterior and interior surfaces. Be it homes, offices, shopping complexes or any structure, paints play a crucial role in enhancing their aesthetic appeal and durability. However, it needs to be understood that all paints are not good—some are toxic. Toxic paints can be extremely harmful to human health and the environment.

The obvious indoor air pollution apart, harmful chemicals such as lead, VOC, mercury, cadmium, chromium and asbestos contained in some paints can cause serious short- and long-term health problems if inhaled or ingested. Even skin contact can also be risky. It is important for customers to be aware of the health issues that toxic paints pose, as well as to know how to protect themselves from toxic exposure. Also, paint removal and disposal need to be undertaken in accordance with relevant guidelines on hazardous waste disposal.

Every responsible paint brand must undertake the initiative to raise public awareness about the risks associated with toxic paints and the advantages of using non-toxic, eco-friendly paint alternatives. UAE has in place effective guidelines that call for the use of paint ingredients that cause minimum health risks. UAE paint regulations set the criteria for paint manufacturing to limit the health and environmental risks.

Exposure to toxic paints can lead to multiple consequences. Some of the paint toxicity symptoms are headache, eye watering, dizziness, throat and lung irritation, and vision and breathing problems. Thus, people are advised to opt for wall paints, wood paints and furniture paints that are free of toxic elements.

Now we will examine some of the toxic chemicals in paints and the health risks they pose.


Lead, though a toxic element, is a common paint pigment used to provide brightness and durability. Exposure to lead paints can cause serious health problems, particularly in children, pregnant women, and those who work in the painting industry. Lead poisoning can result in developmental delays, learning difficulties, behavioral problems, and even death in severe cases.

Lead poisoning can happen through the ingestion or inhalation of lead particles from paints. As such, customers are required to check for lead content before purchasing the paint. Even scraping or sanding of old lead paint without proper protective gear can lead to lead poisoning. Also, lead-based paints need to be disposed of in a proper way, in line with local regulations.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Most conventional paints contain chemicals known as Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These chemicals when inhaled can cause respiratory and other health problems. VOCs are released into the air once the paint dries. It is to be noted that post-application, VOCs continue to release for years on end. Exposure to VOCs can cause diverse symptoms including eye irritation, headache, dizziness, and damage to liver, kidney and nervous system.

Thus, it makes sense to use low-VOC or zero-VOC paints and minimize VOC exposure. Low VOC paints contain less than 50 g of VOCs per liter, compared to up to 300 g VOCs per liter in traditional paints. Another safety measure is to reduce exposure to paint fumes by ensuring sufficient ventilation during and after painting.


The toxic heavy metal Mercury is commonly used in paints as a fungicide and mildewcide. But exposure to mercury can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and brain. Children and pregnant women are more vulnerable to the health risks of mercury exposure.


Another toxic heavy metal pigment used in paints is Cadmium. It is found that cadmium exposure can cause respiratory problems, kidney damage, and even cancer.


Next on the list is chromium. This metallic element in paints functions as a pigment and a corrosion inhibitor. The risks of exposure to chromium include skin irritation, respiratory problems, and lung cancer.


Finally, we have asbestos, a carcinogenic element. Though not used today, asbestos had been widely used in paints as a fire retardant. Asbestos paints can still be found in many of the old buildings. Exposure to asbestos can have serious consequences including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other respiratory problems.

Just like VOC-paints, paints containing any of the above-mentioned toxic elements need to be avoided and disposed of in a proper manner.

Non-toxic paints: the way forward

In the best interests of humans and the environment, use of toxic-free paints needs to be encouraged. As toxic paints can be highly detrimental to our health—especially that of children, pregnant women, and workers in the painting industry, paint companies should act responsibly and manufacture non-toxic paints. As a responsible paint company, Gulf Paints always upholds its committed to human health, and manufacture highly efficient paints that are free of toxic materials. Enhance the protection and aesthetic appeal of surfaces with top-class paints from Gulf Paints that do not pose any risk to humans and the environment.