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Is colored pencil safe on skin?

Colored pencils have long been a popular art medium, allowing artists to add vibrant pops of color to their drawings. However, some artists enjoy using colored pencils for more than just paper – they use them to draw directly on skin. This raises the question: is it safe to use colored pencils on skin? In this article, we’ll explore the potential risks and safety precautions for using colored pencils on skin.

The Potential Risks

While colored pencils are not inherently dangerous, there are some potential risks to be aware of when using them on skin:

  • Allergic reactions – Some people may be allergic to the pigments, waxes, or other ingredients in colored pencils, which could cause redness, itching, swelling, or other allergic symptoms when applied to the skin.
  • Infection – Using shared or old colored pencils could potentially expose you to infectious bacteria and viruses. Breaks in the skin increase infection risk.
  • Lead poisoning – Some lower quality colored pencils may contain trace amounts of lead. Lead exposure is unsafe, especially for children.
  • Scarring – Applying too much pressure when drawing on skin can damage the skin, potentially leading to scarring.

The overall risk depends on the specific colored pencils as well as the condition and sensitivity of your skin. Those with allergies, skin conditions like eczema, or weaker immune systems may be more vulnerable to adverse reactions. Healthy individuals are less likely to experience issues.

How to Use Colored Pencils Safely on Skin

While there are risks to consider, you can take steps to safely use colored pencils on skin:

  • Test first – Apply a small amount of color to a discreet area of skin and look for reactions before drawing more extensively.
  • Use quality pencils – Invest in artist grade, nontoxic pencils from reputable brands. Avoid cheap novelty pencils.
  • Sharpen pencils frequently – This provides a clean tip and smooth application.
  • Clean skin first – Wash and exfoliate skin to remove dirt, oils, and dead cells before coloring.
  • Moisturize – Use a moisturizer or petroleum jelly as a barrier to make coloring easier.
  • Avoid breaks/cuts – Only color over healthy, intact skin to reduce infection risks.
  • Apply lightly – A light touch helps prevent skin damage and allows for easier removal.
  • Remove thoroughly – Use makeup remover, cleansing oil, or soap and water to fully remove pencil.

Taking these precautions helps minimize potential reactions and health risks when using colored pencils as temporary “skin art.”

Are Certain Brands or Types Safer?

When looking for colored pencils safe for skin use, prioritize these features:

Artist Grade

Artist grade pencils from reputable arts brands generally contain higher quality, less toxic pigments. They also use gentler binders and waxes. Look for lightfastness ratings to indicate pigment safety. Student grade pencils may contain lower grade ingredients.


See if the brand specifies the pencils are nontoxic or child safe. Specific pigments like vermillion and cobalt can be more hazardous and are sometimes avoided in child-safe pencils.

Fragrance Free

Fragrance ingredients raise the risk of allergic reaction. Brands like Prismacolor and Crayola now offer fragrance-free options safer for sensitive skin.

Water Soluble

Water soluble colored pencils contain binders that make the colors wash away easily with water. This makes removal from skin gentler.

Here is a comparison of some top colored pencil brands for skin use:

Brand Artist Grade Nontoxic Fragrance Free Water Soluble
Prismacolor Yes Mostly Some options No
Crayola No Yes Some options Some options
Faber-Castell Yes Yes Yes Some options

As you can see, all three major brands offer nontoxic, skin-safe options – but Faber-Castell may be optimal with artist grade pigments plus fragrance free and water soluble options.

Precautions for Children

Extra care should be taken when allowing children to color on their own or others’ skin:

  • Use only child-safe, nontoxic pencils rated for children over 3 years old
  • Supervise closely to ensure they don’t press too hard or color over cuts/scrapes
  • Limit continuous use to avoid irritating delicate skin
  • Only allow them to color on others who have consented and tested for allergies
  • Opt for washable pencils

Additionally, avoid coloring on more sensitive areas like the face, around the eyes, and over veins. Overall, supervise and limit use.

Face Painting Precautions

Face painting with colored pencils comes with some extra safety factors:

  • Avoid eye area and lips
  • Use light, minimal pressure
  • Work in small sections and blend gently
  • Use a high quality, nontoxic pencil
  • Apply a barrier like petroleum jelly first
  • Have remover wipes on hand

Also, be aware of potential reactions as the face is very sensitive. Test on arm first.

How to Remove Colored Pencil from Skin

Removing colored pencil thoroughly is key to avoiding lingering pigment or stains. Here are effective removal methods:

Baby Oil or Makeup Remover

Gently massage a small amount of baby oil, coconut oil, or makeup remover wipe over the colored area. The oils help break down waxes and pigments.

Cleansing Oil or Cream

Use a cleansing oil, balm, or cream massaged into skin to dissolve colors. A warm washcloth aids removal.

Soap and Water

Lathering up with soap and warm water while scrubbing gently can help lift and rinse away colors.


Use an exfoliating scrub with tiny grains on skin in circles to slough off lingering traces of pencil.

Rubbing Alcohol

For stubborn areas, rubbing alcohol can help dissolve and wipe away color when rubbed on cotton pad or ball.

Avoid harsh scrubbing and check that all pigment is gone. Most colors will fade within a few days but removing thoroughly prevents potential staining.


When used properly, colored pencils can be a fun, safe way to temporarily decorate skin for events like festivals or sporting events. However, take care to use high quality, nontoxic pencils and handle skin gently to avoid problems. Test for allergies, limit use on children, and remove pencil thoroughly when done. With the right precautions, colored pencils can provide a vibrant, creative way to show your team spirit or get in costume!