Image Source Wikimedia
One of the common comments I hear from artists who paint in Oils is the odor of Mineral Spirits which most oil painters use on a regular basis. Many choose to use odorless Mineral Spirits which are less harmful, but lets face it you are still breathing the vapors whether you smell them or not.
Mineral spirits of any kind contain Aromatic Hydrocarbons, a basic solvent. Acute or Chronic exposure to breathing the vapors in an environment which is not well ventilated can cause headache, dizziness and in extreme cases has an effect on the nervous system similar to a state of narcosis.
Some artists also believe that a simple dust mask will protect them against inhalation of the vapors given off by Mineral Spirits, but this is a false belief. A dust mask does not conform to the face, which allows the vapors to enter at the sides of the mask or under the chin. The only dust mask that might be adequate is the North N95 mask which has a form fitting foam core that provides a tighter fit.
The better option for your personal protection particularly if you are doing any burning where fumes are created, such as burning designs on a gourd, is to use either a full face, or a half mask air purifying respirator as shown in the image at the beginning of this post.
The air purifying respirator particularly with the silicone face piece fits snugly on the face (clean shaven, no beards allowed), and prevents the inhalation of harmful vapors, and is a very affordable personal protection device.
The hard reality however is that the air purifying respirator is not exactly comfortable to wear, and many would choose not to wear it.
The best solution with regard to mineral spirits, is to not use them at all. After all, oil painters hundreds of years ago managed to work with oil paints without the use of any kind of solvents. An excellent article on this subject can be found by clicking this link Oil Painting Without Solvents. I decided recently to start painting in oils, and I have bought some walnut oil, and will try to avoid solvents as I find that I am sensitive to them.
The best practice is to read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which the vendor must supply on demand at time of purchase. Or you can find the MSDS for pretty much any kind of hazardous product on the Internet.
So in closing, take precautions and protect your health from the hazardous products that you might be using.
Below are a couple of quick links where you can purchase a respirator online at a reasonable cost.
North Half Mask Respirator