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Pretty Scary: Heavy Metals in Face Paints

by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
October 27th, 2009

Pretty Scary report
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Ghosts and goblins are not the only scary things lurking around this Halloween: the lack of cosmetic safety regulations in the United States is pretty frightening, too.

A new report by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, "Pretty Scary," reveals that some children’s face paints contain lead, a neurotoxin, as well as nickel, cobalt and chromium, which can cause lifelong skin sensitization and contact dermatitis. (Click here to download the report.)

Creepier yet, these metals were not listed on the products' ingredient labels. Some products even bore misleading claims (like "hypoallergenic" and “FDA compliant”), making it tough for parents to find safe face paints.

While this is particularly concerning for parents at this time of year, these products are used year-round at festivals and during dress-up. What’s more, everyday cosmetics suffer from the same lack of safety standards in the U.S.

What We Found

For this report, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics sent 10 children's face paints to an independent lab to test for heavy metals. Among our findings:

  • 10 out of 10 children's face paints we tested contained low levels of lead, ranging from 0.05 to 0.65 parts per million (ppm).

Experts say there is no safe level of lead exposure for children and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that parents avoid using cosmetics on their children that could be contaminated with lead.

Lead exposures early in life can lead to hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, IQ deficits, reduced school performance, aggression and delinquent behavior. It can also impact fertility, including increasing risk for miscarriage and reducing sperm quality. Early-life lead exposure can even increase risk for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

  • 6 out of 10 products contained the potent allergens nickel, chromium and/or cobalt at levels ranging from 1.6 to 120 ppm – far above the safety recommendations of industry studies.

Nickel, chromium, and cobalt can trigger skin rashes that appear throughout life with subsequent exposures.

Snazaroo face painting kitWhat You Can Do

Because all the face paints we tested contained lead, and none of the metals we found were listed on ingredient labels, we recommend that parents avoid using face paints on children until safety standards are put in place.

In the meantime, here are some options:

  • Choose costumes that don't require face paint or masks (which may also contain toxic chemicals and impair vision and breathing).
  • Make your own face paint with food-grade ingredients. We've put together a few recipe ideas.
  • If you do use face paint, keep it away from kids’ mouths and hands so they don't ingest it.

Dressing up for Halloween (or dressing up for a night on the town) should be fun, and face paint and everyday cosmetics should not pose a threat to our health. If you agree, sign our Petition for Safe Cosmetics.

More Information

Download the report, "Pretty Scary"
Press release: Halloween Face Paints Contain Lead, Heavy Metals Linked to Skin Allergies (Oct. 27, 2009)
Science: Lead and other heavy metals
What's in your products?: Lead in lipstick