Acetone—also known as propanone—is a colourless flammable liquid with a strong fruity odour. Acetone is the smallest and simplest ketone and its formula is (CH3)2CO. It is an organic compound and is produced directly or indirectly from propylene. Human beings produce and dispose of acetone naturally as a byproduct of metabolism. People with diabetes produce acetone in higher amounts. The compound is highly flammable, with a flash point of -18°. [1,2] 

Uses [1,2,3]

Acetone is used in a number of different ways, including as a solvent and in beauty products. As a solvent, the compound is incorporated into “blends” for lacquers. It is also used in paints and varnishes and is helpful when using metal for soldering. In cosmetics, acetone is commonly used in nail polish remover to break down the polish. It is widely used because of its ability to mix well with water (another common ingredient). The compound is also used to degum silk. It has also been used as an anticonvulsant in patients with epilepsy.   

Routes of Exposure [4]

Ingestion or absorption are the typical routes of exposure for acetone.

As acetone is naturally produced as a byproduct of metabolism, it is typically eliminated within 24 hours of ingestion or absorption into the body.  

People can also be exposed to acetone through the burning of fuel, when the compound has been used as an additive. 

Health Effects

Acetone poisoning affects a range of systems including the skin, nervous and respiratory systems.

Acute Effects [4,5]

Severity of symptoms depend on the level and type of exposure.

  • Low level exposure to acetone typically causes no effects.
  • Higher levels of exposure could lead to runny nose, throat and skin irritation and nausea. It could also cause dizziness and irritability.
  • Rapid acetone exposure in an enclosed environment could lead to victims experiencing delirium and confusion.
  • Other symptoms include: headache, shortness of breath, narcosis, vomiting and a cough. Prolonged skin contact may eat away at the skin.

Chronic Effects [4,5]

Acetone is toxic to multiple body systems. Long-term exposure to the compound can result in cracking skin, a skin rash and/or inflammation, which can lead to irritation. It can also cause a dry/sore throat and nausea. It has also been linked to a feeling of weakness, the loss of appetite, loss of weight and a possible inflammation of the respiratory tract. For those who inhale the compound regularly (through occupation), damage to their lungs could be a problem. 


~h2First Aid Measures [6]

Ingestion: If only a small amount has been swallowed, give water to the victim to swallow and flush out the toxin. DO NOT induce vomiting. Contact a doctor or a poison centre. If larger amounts have been ingested, place the victim in the recovery position and immediately call a medical professional. 

Skin contact: In case of skin or hair contact, remove/take off all contaminated clothing and immediately wash exposed skin with water. Do not re-wear clothing until it has been decontaminated. Immediately call a doctor or poison centre.

Eye contact: Flush eyes carefully with water for at least 15 minutes. Check for and remove contact lenses if easy to do so. Continue rinsing. Obtain medical attention if irritation occurs or if there is a loss of vision.

Inhalation: Take contaminated person to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. Allow them to rest and contact a medical professional. If there are signs of drunkenness or respiratory irritation (i.e. a headache or dizziness), seek immediate medical attention.

Exposure Controls/Personal Protection [5]

Engineering controls: Safety showers and emergency eyewash fountains should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure. Ensure there is adequate ventilation. Use sealed systems when using the chemical. 

Personal protection: Safety glasses, antistatic and flame retardant clothing, gloves, an apron and an appropriate mask. 

Regulation [7]

~h2United States:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) concentration for acetone of 1000ppm. The recommended exposure limit (REL), set by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) is 250ppm. The REL is a level at which workers would be safe if they were to use this chemical over the course of their lifetime. 

Australia [6]

The National Occupational Health & Safety Commission (NOHSC) has set an 8-hour TWA for acetone of 500ppm. The Short-Term Exposure Limit (STEL)—usually set at 15 minutes—for acetone is 1000ppm. It should be noted that the TWA values are likely to be higher than the biological standards exposure level for the compound; therefore, all reasonable steps must be taken to minimise the level of exposure to a level well below the workplace standard.