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My wife and I bought some poster paint from The Works (UK arts, books, and stationery shop) for our 1 year old daughter to have a play at "painting" with. The plan would be a large wipe-clean tablecloth taped to the kitchen floor, with paper and paint for her to squish and slide her hands on. Naturally some would end up near or in her mouth, no matter how quick we are with a wet cloth!

Should we be using poster paint for this task at this age, or is there something else we should be using? Like this mixture of corn flour, water, and food colouring?

I couldn't find any obvious "official" medical advice - UK or otherwise - on whether it was safe or not, just this online post:

Is Poster Paint Poisonous?
"Water-based paints, such as latex, tempera, and poster paints, may irritate the skin or mouth in very mild ways..."

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    It sounds like you're seeking medical advice, which is off topic here. The label on the bottle states 3+ (years). That could just be a legality, but obviously a 3 yo isn't going to get as much of a mouthful as a 1 yo, and the makers know that. I personally would not do it (look at my profile if you want background). I'm all for sensory experiences, though. Would pulverized food (presented as paint) like blueberries, raspberries, etc. work? One-time use only, obviously.
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 23 at 17:06
  • Would you be happier if I rephrased my question along the lines of "what age-appropriate paints can my 1 yo use"? I like the fruit suggestion.
    – Ed HP
    Mar 23 at 18:48
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    No, I'm happy that you got a good answer without having to do that! But yes, that would have been the way to go.
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 24 at 7:22

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Poster paint is also known as Tempera paint (in the US, anyway), though not the same thing as Egg Tempera (which you must not use as it does often contain toxic pigments), and is considered a good paint for younger children due to its water-based nature; it tends to be easier to clean up, and is available in "Non-Toxic" formulations. It's often recommended for use for "baby footprints" and such, though I can find no scientific source for this - just lots and lots of parenting articles, which suggest it's popularly considered safe, but of course that is not always accurate.

There are formulations of Tempera/Poster paint that list ages as young as 18 months, such as this one (no endorsement of the product implied or meant). Often age listings on products have more to do with what the product manufacturer is willing to test for, but if you're able to find a paint that lists 18 months you could certainly be more confident in that than one that lists 3 years; it's not possible to say if a 3 year approved paint is okay for a 1 year old, given (as mentioned by @anongoodnurse in comments) there's a lot more likelihood of paint going in the mouth.

If you want more information on what's in poster/tempera paints, you can read this article; it explains that there are relatively simple ingredients (water, calcium carbonate (chalk!), binding agent (usually a starch), pigments, and preservatives). The pigment is the big question mark safety wise - most likely they would be food-grade, but it's just a guess, as manufacturers protect that information as trade secrets. Look for the certification of non-toxic (not just the words, but certified by a government/NGO body that is well respected; in the US there is the "AP" seal for example).

The nice thing about tempera paints is that their simple ingredients lead to a better option: make it yourself. See for example this recipe, though there are hundreds out there; all it takes is corn starch (a.k.a. corn flour in the UK), water, and food coloring. (The calcium carbonate is not necessary, as it makes the paint more matte - but toddlers and infants don't typically care about that!). It's also probably a lot cheaper than poster paint or tempera paint. Just make sure that you don't keep it around for long - just like the soggy bread that it more or less is, it will spoil relatively quickly without the preservatives found in commercial stuff!

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  • Thanks for the research. At that age I copped out and just used Finger Paint. Mar 23 at 18:47
  • I agree with pretty much everything in this answer, so +1. I would be concerned about the pigment, but also about the preservative, unless it was a food-based preservative like Vitamin E or citric acid. And the second link is your recipe. :) Which I wouldn't use, because food coloring. But that's me. I don't mind biological agents as food coloring at all and drink these (a very common one - cochineal, a very pretty pinkish red - is made from crushed bug bodies. We used to call juice so colored "bug juice". We thought it was funny.)
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 23 at 19:07
  • Oh, about the AP seal... I wouldn't go by it for infants/babies.
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 23 at 19:09
  • Hah, I didn't even realize that was the same link from OP! Thanks for pointing that out, when I'm free I'll edit it to make that clear.
    – Joe
    Mar 23 at 19:13
  • Not an issue. I thought it funny that you both came up with the same idea, that's all. :)
    – anongoodnurse
    Mar 24 at 7:27

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