What Are the Effects of Acetone?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2016
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The effects of acetone exposure are usually mild, unless people are exposed to more than 500 parts per million in the air. Research indicates that people with high exposure levels can experience some skin and throat irritation, along with dizziness and nausea. Chronic exposure, as might occur in a workplace with poorly controlled chemicals, can contribute to respiratory illnesses and loss of strength over time. It is also highly flammable, which poses a risk of burn injuries if people set it on fire or work with acetone near an open flame.

Some acetone is naturally produced in the body as a byproduct of metabolism. When people inhale acetone or absorb it through the skin, the usual routes of exposure, it is typically eliminated within 24 hours. Ingestion of acetone can cause intestinal irritation that may lead to diarrhea and stomach cramping. These effects of acetone resolve as people pass the chemical.

Low exposures typically cause no effects. At higher levels, the side effects of acetone can include runny mouth and nose, throat irritation, skin irritation, and nausea. Some people report feelings of dizziness or irritability at high levels. Workers in enclosed environments that rapidly fill with acetone have experienced delirium and a state of confusion as a result of unusually high exposure. Chronic exposure to such environments can potentially be dangerous.


Repeated episodes of topical exposure may cause the skin to dry and crack, which can lead to irritation. The effects of acetone can also be a concern with people who routinely inhale the chemical, as this could damage the lungs. It can also interact with other chemicals in the environment. These reactions can intensity negative effects on the liver and kidney that may be caused by these medications, although acetone alone doesn’t pose a significant risk to these organs.

Studies do not indicate an increased risk of cancer with acetone exposure. The reproductive health effects of acetone appear to be mixed in nature. Some research shows that it may cause deformation of sperm and could be linked with birth defects, while others do not support these findings.

People exposed to burning acetone, either because of an accident or when it is used as a fuel additive, can experience throat and lung irritation. Unclean burning can also result in a high number of byproducts of combustion, which may increase irritation and can potentially create cancer and reproductive health hazards. There is also a risk of burns if the fire is not adequately controlled.


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