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Dermatologist: Why You Should Never Scrub Paint Off Your Skin and What To Do Instead

Plus, the safest and best ways to remove wood stain, super glue and nail polish from skin too!

Spend an afternoon at a painting class with friends, touching up the walls in your family room or doing crafts with the little ones in your life only to find yourself looking like a Jackson Pollock painting afterwards? While some paints are simple to clean off, others require a bit more care to make sure you remove them without causing irritation. That’s why we asked both dermatologists and paint experts how to get paint off skin, hair and nails — no scrubbing required.

Why is paint so tough to remove from your skin?

Paint is formulated with bonding agents — most often resins — that help it adhere to whichever surface you’re painting.

“It happens that those same agents also work very well to adhere paint to your pores and skin,” says house painter Dee Gardner, of Diamond Star Painting. “Oil-based paint is also resistant to water, which makes it even more challenging to remove if it winds up drying on your skin.”

How to Get Paint off Skin: Closeup of woman's hands with paint, artist or creativity concept
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Wet paint is, of course, much easier to remove than dry because if the paint is still wet, you can typically wash it off with regular soap and water, regardless of which type it is, be it water-based, oil, acrylic, etc.

When it comes to dried paint, don’t scrub

If the paint has dried, one thing holds true: “Do not scrub it,” urges dermatologist Anna Chacon, MD. “Paint can irritate your skin, and scrubbing will only make that worse and is unlikely to help remove it. A gentle exfoliator, like a loofah or washcloth will suffice.”

Once you’ve got your loofa or washcloth at the ready, just pinpoint which type of paint you used and try one of the easy strategies below.

How to get water-based paint off skin

Acrylic paint tubes and brushes on messy palette
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This type of paint — latex, acrylic, fabric and spray paint — typically can be removed with good old-fashioned hand soap and water, even once the paint has dried, assures Gardner. “Start in the shower with warm-to-hot water, which will soften the paint, and use a loofah or washcloth with a dollop of dish soap, which will better adhere to and remove the paint than your typical shower gel.”

If the paint is extremely stubborn, try putting a bit of rubbing alcohol on a washcloth and dabbing it over the paint spots — the alcohol will help break down paint molecules and lift them off your skin.

When you’re out of the shower, be sure to follow up by applying moisturizer, advises Dr. Chacon, explaining that hot water, alcohol and dish soap can dry out your skin.

How to get oil-based paint off skin

oil based paint in buckets
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These paints tend to be used for home exteriors and high-traffic areas because they’re more durable. Good news: Since oil-based paints take much longer to dry than other types, chances are if you spilled some on your skin, you can just wipe it off using a clean rag, then rinse with regular soap and water. But if the paint did wind up drying, you’ll need to soften it with a solvent like turpentine, since the paint isn’t water-soluble.

To do: Start by applying glycerin — found in drugstores and the first-aid section in grocery stores — to the area using a cotton ball. “Glycerin is a surfactant, a chemical compound that will loosen the paint’s bond with your skin,” Gardner explains. Then dab a small amount of turpentine onto a rag and gently rub the paint spot. Turpentine thins and breaks down paint and will easily remove it. Follow up by wiping down the area with warm water and a gentle cleanser like baby shampoo to prevent irritation.

To remove super stubborn oil-based paint, you may want to try this tip from @billshowto and use kerosene to remove it:

How to get paint off your face

Woman with paint on her hands and face
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Whether it’s a water- or oil-based variety, you’ll want to be extra cautious in this case to prevent stinging the sensitive skin on your face.

“Baby oil, cooking oil or even petroleum jelly are great ways to remove the paint, as they will bond to and lift it off, yet are extremely gentle on facial skin,” explains Dr. Chacon. She suggests gently massaging the area with oil for about 2-3 minutes to help break down the paint’s bonds with your skin. Once it starts to smudge, you can start trying to wipe it off using a damp, clean rag or paper towel until it’s gone. Follow up with your usual facial cleanser if there’s any oily residue.

How to get paint off your hair

jar of peanut butter used for how to get paint off hair
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Get paint in your hair? Try washing as you normally would — regular shampoo will typically rinse it right out of your hair. If it’s dry, however, you’ll need to massage an oil-based product to soften it, same as you would if the paint were on your face. You can use the same products as above, but peanut butter works especially well here — it’s still oil-based but is much easier to apply and let sit on your hair. Massage it into the paint, let it sit for at least 10-15 minutes to soften the spot, then run a comb over your hair, which should pull the paint flecks right out. Says Gardner, “You may need to repeat the process until all the paint is removed, then just wash your hair like normal.”

How to get varnish or a wood stain off skin

“Most wood stains are water-based, so they’ll typically wash off easily with regular soap and water”, says Gardner. For oil-based or gel stains, use a rag dipped in white vinegar to gently rub the area — the acids the vinegar will work as a solvent to remove the spots from your skin but are gentle enough not to irritate skin. (Click through for more white vinegar uses.)

How to get super glue off skin

Close up of woman washing hands in bowl
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Paint isn’t the only crafting and household project staple to get on our skin. Super glue is also super annoying. In fact, sometimes it seems like super glue sticks to your skin better than it does whatever you were trying to adhere it to. Luckily, you don’t have to live the rest of your life with your fingers stuck together. “The first step is to soak your skin,” Dr. Chacon says. “Simply fill your sink or a shallow bowl with warm water and a couple of squirts of dish soap and submerge the glued skin for about 5 minutes. This helps soften the glue and is often enough to remove it if there wasn’t much glue there.”

If the glue doesn’t come off with soaking, spray a cotton ball with WD-40, which dissolves adhesives, and gently rub it on the affected area until all the glue is gone. Follow up by washing your skin with a gentle soap and lukewarm water to prevent any lingering irritation. (Click through for more uses for WD40.)

To get nail polish off your skin

Often the most obvious solution is the best: “Just soak a cotton ball in nail polish remover, then apply it to your skin and gently rub until the polish comes off, which it usually does fairly easily,” advises Dr. Chacon.

Don’t have nail polish remover on hand? Alcohol can also do the trick, whether it’s rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, vodka or even hairspray. Simply soak a cotton ball and use the same method as the remover. When you’re done, wash your skin with gentle soap and water, then apply a moisturizer, advises Dr. Chacon, since both nail polish remover and alcohol can dry out your skin. (Click here for the best nail designs of 2023.)


For even more removal tips, click through the links below!

How To Remove Permanent Marker From Plastic, Whiteboard, Fabric & Wood

Professional Painters Reveal the Best Ways to Clean Paint Rollers

How to Get Paint Out of Carpet — The Genius Shop-Vac Hack That Makes It So Easy

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