Acetone is a clear, colourless liquid solvent and organic compound known as a ketone. The word 'solvent' comes from the Latin 'solvere' which means 'to loosen'. A solvent is a liquid, gas or solid which dissolves another liquid, gas or solid and which results in a solution that is soluble at a specified temperature.
Acetone is highly flammable and should be stored away from combustible materials, naked flames and sources of heat. Acetone has a wide range of medical, domestic and industrial applications.
Acetone is produced naturally in very small amounts in the body as part of the metabolic process. Acetone is mainly produced from fat. The presence of Acetone increases significantly in the body when fasting. Medically, the detection of Acetone in urine, blood or on the breath may be a clinical indicator of diabetes, known as 'diabetic acidosis'. Acetone is used to de-fat and cleanse the skin prior to injections and Acetone is also used before such cosmetic procedures as 'chemical' peels and exfoliates.
Acetone is well-known to be a key active ingredient in nail polish remover with its associated distinctive smell. Acetone is also widely used in the manufacture of varnish and paint removers.
Acetone is described as miscible with water and is an important solvent in its own right, particularly as a cleaning and degreasing agent in chemical laboratories.
Acetone is used as a solvent and in the production of Methylmethacrylate. Acetone is also widely used in organic chemistry and in the production of plastics, fibres, drugs and other chemicals. At low levels of concentration, Acetone is not very toxic. However, even small amounts can seriously de-fat the skin, causing redness and itchy flaky skin.
Acetone can damage the delicate mucous membranes of the mouth and nasal passages. Inhalation of Acetone fumes should be avoided as this may lead to liver damage. Eye protection should always be worn when working with or handling Acetone as accidental splashes to the eye can cause corneal clouding.
Long-term exposure to Acetone can cause damage to the liver, kidneys and nerves. Studies have also shown contact with Acetone to cause damage to the foetus, with the possibility of birth defects and brain damage. For this reason, pregnant women should not be exposed to Acetone.
Global annual produced of Acetone is over 3 million tonnes, and it is used mainly as a precursor to the manufacture of polymers. It is important that those persons working with or handling Acetone are properly trained in safety, packaging and transport legislation.