11 July 2014

Playing with Chemicals: Resin Safety Tips


Reaction to working with crafting-grade resin in an open garage. Used with permission yet no need to disguise her - allergies render her completely unrecognizable. This girl's typically a bombshell!

Resin...you know, that art medium I use? Epoxy resin? It's a couple types of chemical goo that you mix together, add glitter, stickers, baby teeth, bugs, or whatever catches your fancy. It certainly seems harmless enough. When you start Googling to see how to do it you'll find a lot of tutorials with girls working on it with their bare hands and suggesting you blow on it with straws - they're so cute! Resin can't be dangerous!

When I ordered my first bottles I read the entire safety packet that came with it (you know, the fine print) then promptly pushed it aside. I used gloves sometimes but felt they got in the way. Then I was like, whatever. Everyone else is doing it...

This is something a lot of people have but are too ashamed to speak up about...because nobody wants to be like, hey, check out how gnarly I look right now! But even if you haven't ever had a reaction to resin it doesn't mean you won't.

I am not an expert. I coined myself The Glitter Chemist in all cheekiness because I feel like a kid with their first chemistry set and imagine my glitter mixes to be mad scientist concoctions and inventions. Sometimes I wish I had beakers and glass tubes and that things would bubble while sparkles shoot out.

The Glitter Chemist's hands: blistering with dermatitis

Luckily for us all, my dad is a REAL chemist. He is also the smartest man I know. He can answer almost all my questions when it comes to science but if he doesn't know the answer he is always smart enough to say, I don't know. His specific focus is air, actually, and has analyzed a lot of it without your knowing. Like himself, just because you can't see or smell something doesn't mean it isn't there. Entire countries could die if the right things were released and we'd never know as it happened. I could go on about the famous places he's taken care of our air - you've heard of many - but it's too glamorous to get into. He has also patented brilliant ideas for our country.

He kindly answered a bunch of questions I had about resin to the best of his knowledge and I want to share them with anyone who cares to read them. My hope is that people will be more cautious.

I had everything compared to Easy Cast Resin which is the brand I use and is considered the 'lightest' brand available to consumers. It isn't as hard as some that you can get in hardware stores but gives off less fumes making it safer to work with at home (for those of us who don't have garages and yards, etc). However, none of it makes a difference. If you use any epoxy resin these tips are applicable.

Safely reporting for duty!

Before we begin here is a link to my respirator. It's a size medium and adjustable. GET ONE!

REMEMBER TO ALWAYS READ PRODUCT INFORMATION. Many of my answers were in fine print. Remember, the ones I chose to brush off? Experts write them. I bet it even takes them a lot of time.

Here are the questions I asked my dad, along with his answers. I edited some because I asked for clarification but did not alter the content in any way.

I've never had a reaction before so I must not be allergic. Would that be true? You are not allergic to the amounts to which you have been exposed.  However, if you get exposed to a much larger amount, then you may become sensitized, and will be allergic to much smaller amounts after that.

Once you've been sensitized and developed an allergy to resin will it always exist? what can you do other than stop working with resin?

An allergist may be able to get rid of the allergy, or you may be able to work if you take something that reduces allergic response (think over the counter allergy medications).  However, be very careful, as a strong allergic reaction can be life-threatening very quickly.

I have a friend who had her face swell after using resin in an open garage. She was told by a couple people to put a compress on her face but which is better? Hot or cold? She did get medical attention.

It depends a bit on what caused the swelling, but the 'rule of thumb' would be to use cold compresses at first to minimize swelling.  It is also important to wash the face thoroughly to remove as much of the material sticking there as possible, probably wiping first with vegetable oil, then soap and water. *If you haven't read my article on how to clean your face with oil you can find that here.

In her case, it is important to set up some sort of fume hood or glove box to prevent exposure to the fumes.

Some have suggested putting resin in crock pots or dehydrators. What kind of precautions would one need to take to do that safely? and would these methods create more/less fumes or no difference? 

Note: when my dad first read this he thought I meant a crock that is airtight/sealed, not a common slow cooker).

I assume you mean putting the resin containers in these secondary containers.  If you do that, get some activated charcoal from a pet supplies store (aquarium supplies), and put a good layer in the secondary container.  The activated carbon will absorb any of the vapor that leaks out of the primary container.

[But] why would you use a dehydrator?  They usually heat air (to reduce the relative, but not absolute, humidity, then let it rise through the food and out into the room.  They are not sealed.  It will speed curing because of the heat, but it will put the most of the chemicals into the air.  If you use a dehydrator, you must vent it outside.

You could get one of those very large zip-lok bags and put it around a box containing the setting plastic and a cheese cloth bag filled with activated carbon. That would seal everything inside and let the carbon do its job.

If you can't smell chemicals does that mean it's safe? or safer?

Not necessarily.  If you have been out in the open for a while and return, then not smelling the chemical means you probably do not have a big leak.  However, all containers leak, so it is important to either have them in secondary containers with activated carbon or in a fume hood or similar ventilated storage area. 

Should you ever blow on resin? I've heard that breath is better than warm air so lots of people suggest puffing on it like you would fog a window or using a straw to blow 'away' from the resin.

It depends on the nature of the resin.  If it cures faster with water vapor present, then blowing will hasten curing.  In some cases, water vapor slows curing.  Besides exposing the resin to water vapor, blowing increases evaporation of any volatile substances in the mix and cools the mix, slowing the polymerization reaction, and spreading the vapors around the room. 

It is 'OK' to blow on the resin, but I do not know why you would want to do so, unless the resin needs water vapor to set (your breath is humid).

Blowing on the resin speeds evaporation of unpolymerized monomer (increases the stinky evaporation), and cools the mix, slowing its rate of reaction (makes it take longer to set).

Warming the mix speeds the rate of polymerization (setting), so it finishes sooner.  A heat gun can do this, but it is best if you heat it indirectly (heat through the bottom) so you don't spread the vapors all over the place.

Would a heat gun/ blow torch have the same answer as blowing?

A heat gun warms the resin, speeding up the polymerization reaction, but also vaporizing more of the volatile substances and spreading them around the room.

Can you think of anything else someone who is using chemicals in a crafting atmosphere should know?

Treat all chemicals with respect.  Even if you seem to tolerate the fumes well, they can cause harm over a long period of time, and a major overexposure (from a spill) can cause you to develop an allergic reaction to later exposure to minute amounts. It is best to store the chemicals in a well-ventilated area, or in a secondary container with activated carbon.  Remember to change the activated carbon periodically, as it has a large, but limited, ability to absorb chemicals, and it's capacity will eventually be exceeded.

Pet stores usually carry it for fish tank water cleaners.  You can probably find a lot of it online as either activated charcoal or activated carbon - same thing.

Many, many thanks to my dad for taking time out of his superhero schedule of protecting our air to lend advice to resin crafters keeping their air clean at home.

Also thanks to my beautiful friend who allowed me to use unflattering images of her to help spread awareness. 

Sweet Baby by Donna

If your hands become dry or itchy please see a doctor immediately. I now have a medicated ointment to use and 48 hours later they look almost better. However, I am consistently wearing nitrile gloves and a respirator in conjunction with Bliss Kiss nail and cuticle oil and Epically Epic's solid oil lotion. My latest edition is Sweet Baby Oil made by Donna who also suffers from dermatitis. She is working on a balm to be used to help ease the discomfort and sent me a sample along with my order since she knows I have it as well. I have been testing it out and find it very soothing. I will keep everyone posted on its release date.

During my outbreaks I use pure, unscented Aquaphor or Vaseline before bed.

Working with gloves was super annoying at first but my skin and general health is much more important to me. I stuck with them and have gotten used to doing all my fine work with gloves on - including sanding (any exposure to uncured resin or particle dust).

Here are a couple of websites I found while researching safety for myself:

  • http://www.westsystem.com/ss/health-effects-from-overexposure-to-epoxy/
  • http://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=1097

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