Is there any holiday that children love more than Halloween? The chance to dress up as a scary monster, brave hero, or favorite cartoon character and eat all the candy you want for one evening — it’s very easy to see why it’s a favorite among kids.
But as much as parents love to see their children having fun on the spookiest day of the year, Halloween comes with its own unique set of safety concerns.
Worries about car accidents, stranger danger, and tampered candy are well-known, but some parents may not even know about the dangers that lurk in the Halloween makeup they use to paint their child’s face.
The Scary Truth About Halloween Face Paints
Parents who opt for painting their children's faces over spooky Halloween masks — which can obscure a child’s vision and put them at risk of tripping or being hit by a car — may be in for a rude awakening about the contents of their little one’s Halloween makeup.
A 2009 study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, entitled “Pretty Scary,” sent 10 popular face paints to an independent laboratory to be tested for contaminants. Ten out of 10 face paints tested positive for lead, and six out of the 10 paints contained nickel, cobalt, chromium, and other known skin allergens.
Just reading the labels alone revealed a number of chemicals associated with organ toxicity, neurological damage, endocrine disruption, as well as ingredients potentially contaminated with carcinogens.
You may be wondering if cosmetic companies have cleaned up their act since the study was published almost a decade ago. Not really, according to the recent follow-up study.
“Pretty Scary 2,” published in October 2016, took an even deeper dive by analyzing 187 Halloween face paint products marketed for children and checking the labels for toxic chemicals. These researchers also sent 51 of the products to independent laboratories to be tested for heavy metals.
Just reading the labels alone revealed a number of chemicals associated with organ toxicity, neurological damage, endocrine disruption, and contact dermatitis, as well as ingredients potentially contaminated with carcinogens.
These ingredients include benzophenones, epoxy resin, formaldehyde releasing compounds, silica, styrene, parabens, polymethylmethacrylate, and other volatile organic compounds. Even talc, which is linked to the rare disease mesothelioma and ovarian cancer, was found listed on the labels of many Halloween face paint products.
The takeaway? Just because a brand of Halloween makeup is being sold at your favorite big box shop, doesn’t mean it’s necessary safe and trustworthy.
This is because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has very little power over the regulation and safety of cosmetics. The agency’s statutory power is largely based on a 75-year-old law, which includes extensive standards for food and drugs, but just two pages of standards dedicated to cosmetic safety, according to the study.
The use of cosmetics among young kids, the sale of cosmetics over the internet, and scientific breakthroughs in understanding the harm of certain ingredients used in cosmetics were simply not a reality back when the The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act was passed in 1938.
As a result, companies can use nearly any materials in their cosmetic products without pre-market safety testing, according to the FDA website, and they don’t have to label the ingredients in cosmetic products sold on the internet. Additionally, the FDA cannot require recalls of cosmetic products without going to court to argue the need for the recall, nor can it force manufacturers to report cosmetic-related injuries. This all adds up to an industry with frighteningly little oversight.
It always pays to read the ingredients label for any cosmetic product you apply to your child’s face — or to your own, for that matter.
Toxic Heavy Metals Not Listed in Cosmetic Ingredients
But sadly, checking the product’s label isn’t always enough. “Pretty Scary 2” revealed some very frightening ingredients not included in the cosmetic ingredients label through independent testing.
Parents shouldn’t have to be organic chemists to make safe choices for their family - manufacturers can and should do better.
Unlike Canada and Europe, the United States does not prohibit the use of lead in cosmetics, according to Mother Jones. Worse yet, the FDA does not perform routine examinations on novelty cosmetics for heavy metals like lead, nor does it even require manufacturers to list heavy metals on product labels. Instead, the responsibility falls on the manufacturer to ensure the cosmetic is safe for consumers.
But as example has proven time and time again, putting the responsibility of product safety in the hands of manufacturers does not usually yield the best results for consumers.
“Pretty Scary 2” found that arsenic, cadmium, and lead are present in many of the examined Halloween makeups, despite not being listed in the product label. Out of the 48 Halloween face paints sent to laboratories for testing, 21 items had trace amounts of at least one heavy metal, and sometimes contained as many as four metals. These heavy metals were more common in darkly pigmented paints.
Heavy metals, carcinogens, and endocrine disrupting chemicals should not be in kids’ face paint and makeup.
The scariest part of the study’s findings? Parents simply have no way of knowing if these popular Halloween paints have heavy metals in them unless they had access to an independent laboratory for testing, like the researchers at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics did.
“Heavy metals, carcinogens, and endocrine disrupting chemicals should not be in kids’ face paint and makeup [...] Even as a scientist working in this area, I am not able to tell what is in the products I buy for my children without lab testing.” Sharima Rasanayagam, Ph.D., Director of Science for the Breast Cancer Fund said in a press release announcing the report. “Parents shouldn’t have to be organic chemists to make safe choices for their family - manufacturers can and should do better.”
No Amount of Lead Exposure is Safe for Children
It is important to note that there is no safe blood lead level in children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lead exposure can affect every system in the body. At high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal, but lead can be extremely harmful to people even if they’re exposed to relatively low levels of it.
Additionally, it’s not easy to detect lead poisoning during its initial stages, according to Mayo Clinic. Signs and symptoms usually only appear once dangerous amounts of lead have accumulated in the blood.
Children six years and under are especially vulnerable to the effects of lead exposure. Lead poisoning can lead to developmental delay, difficulty learning, irritability, fatigue, and other serious long-term effects on the mental and physical development of a child.
That’s a prospect that’s scarier than any Halloween monster for many parents. So where do families turns?
Non-Toxic Halloween Face Paint Alternatives
Just because you want to avoid potentially toxic Halloween face paints doesn’t mean your child’s Halloween has to be any less fun. There are a number of natural face paint brands that ensure their products are free of toxic chemicals that could harm your child, according to Forbes.
Elegant Minerals — a face paint company listed in the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Database — is one good option. It sells a variety of non-toxic face paint colors, including themed kits for popular costumes, like fairy princesses, robots, tigers, witches, and more. Natural Earth Paint also claims its paint kits are free of harmful chemicals such as nanoparticles, heavy metals, parabens, formaldehyde, and carmine.
Whether you use non-toxic Halloween or theater makeup, be sure to do a small patch test on the underside of your child’s arm or behind their ear...
Theater makeup is another good option for parents concerned about harmful metals and chemicals, according to Dr. Joel Schlessinger, a board-certified dermatologist interviewed by The Huffington Post on the subject of toxic Halloween makeup.
“Theater makeup is made with higher quality ingredients and has less risk of skin irritation,” Schlessinger said. “Most theater makeup has the same high pigment payoff, but it’s designed to sit on the skin for long periods of time and tends to be gentler on skin.”
Whether you use non-toxic Halloween or theater makeup, be sure to do a small patch test on the underside of your child’s arm or behind their ear to make sure your child isn’t allergic to any of the ingredients used before you begin your child’s Halloween transformation. If you see redness or any other sign of irritation within 24 hours, don’t use the makeup.
Hurt by a Halloween Product? We Could Help
Toxic face paint isn’t the only thing giving parents a less-than-welcome Halloween fright. Flammable costumes, decorative colored contacts, and other Halloween products have the potential to hurt a trick-or-treater.
Manufacturers have a responsibility to consumers to make sure their products are safe before putting them on the market. So if your child is hurt by any Halloween products, our product liability attorneys may be able to help.
Fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form to learn what our attorneys can do to help your family today.